In an interview with Trainline's chief executive, Pamela Whitby hears how the online platform for rail travel continues to innovate with a customer first approach
In the four years since Clare Gilmartin has been CEO of Trainline, quite a lot has happened. The online platform for rail travel now has 50 million visits a month, operates in 36 countries in 14 languages, has partnerships with 144 different rail carriers, most recently with Japan rail, and has expanded into coach travel. There has been significant investment into mobile, which now accounts for 80% of visits, as well as AI innovation, and most recently voice.
Not bad going for a busy mum of three, who says spent 15 years at eBay before joining Trainline in 2014. But, she insists, it’s a team achievement. “I’m only as good as my team,” she says, of the 500+ people working for the company across the UK and France.
What Gilmartin, who will be speaking in Europe, is “bloody-minded” about, is that the focus has to be on results, and not on hours worked. “I have three kids and a busy home life. We have previous generations to thank for securing the vote and better maternity policy, but this generation really has to challenge how work gets done and I am very focused on working efficiently and having time for life too.”
One way she achieves this is by buying everything online – from train tickets to groceries, swimming lessons and a birthday present. “Not sure I would have kept everything afloat pre smartphones.”
Clare Gilmartin, CEO, Trainline
So it’s in Gilmartin’s own interests too, to make the rail travellers journey 100% more seamless! And that is exactly what the team is trying to do in a $250bn rail and coach market, most of which is still booked offline.
It’s really about finding out what customers use and love
“From just one app, I want it to be super easy for customers to be able to see all their travel options in real time, with up to date journeys, the ability to book seats together, to amend their journeys on the go, and more. There is still some headroom to achieve this right across Europe,” she says.
Ultimately though, it’s really about finding out what customers use and love. Over the past 18 months, the firm has really started to leverage data to develop bespoke and proprietary features that give customers greater insights and knowledge when planning and booking travel. Through 9 billion entries in the firm’s data lake, it has been able to launch some useful features. Price prediction, which allows users to understand how prices fluctuate, so they can secure the best deal, is one. BusyBot, which informs travellers where there are empty seats on a train, is another.
“We are constantly innovating to give our customers better information and better insights for their travel,” she says.
In fact, around 200 changes are made a week, some small, some big, and the pace of change is expected to accelerate over the next few months.
Although, it is early days, voice (an app was launched late last year) is another priority, which Gilmartin believes could add value in customer service queries, but also for booking. “It is fascinating,” she says, “and the good thing for us is that architecturally we are optimised to innovate in voice, because we have a very micro services based architecture.”
One of Trainline’s many small growth teams is applying themselves to the voice. “We try to orient ourselves around growth missions,” explains Gilmartin, who says any team will have multiple functions. Teams at Trainline, she explains, tend to be increasingly small, autonomous and cross-functional. “I think that is essential today,” she says, “if you are going to achieve a certain scale.”
On what she looks for when hiring, Gilmartin says it’s generally helpful if people have a broad understanding of adjacent and related skillsets because of the fact that most work gets done in cross-functional teams.
The customer remains is top of mind at Trainline. “One of best ways to stay ahead is to meet and talk to customers regularly. It may sound simple but trying to intuitively understand the customer needs and dissatisfaction today can be tremendously insightful to a team in thinking about what to innovate tomorrow,” she says.
The power of meeting and listening to customers first hand, also that you can’t deliver step change growth without taking bold risks, are two things she learned at eBay, where she spent 15 years before joining Trainline.
Online businesses have to prioritise this, but it doesn’t happen without effort. To this end, Trainline has a usability lab, and customers come in regularly to use the products and give feedback. Every one or two months, Gilmartin also hosts customer panel discussions, which members of the team join for an informal conversation. The team also goes out into train and coach stations to chat to customers live.
But ultimately, it is really about developing features that customers use and love, says Gilmartin, who believes “we will be judged on the number of other innovations we bring to market”.
We will be judged on the number of other innovations we bring to market
She is also keen to mentor women in the workplace, something she speaks about regularly. “Both in the early stages of my career and latterly I have benefited hugely from having mentors, both men and women. I really encourage women, who are less inclined to do so than men, to find mentors. It is always helpful to speak to someone who has been where you want to take your career,” she stresses.
Incidentally, she continues to have plenty of mentors today and imagines she will “for decades to come”.
Not only does Gilmartin spend hands on time mentoring people within the organisation, there is also a dedicated Trainline mentoring scheme, for both men and women. Trainline also has a women’s network, which is not exclusively for women, but is a platform designed to bring women together to help them further their careers. Gilmartin, and many others in the organisation, also spend time in schools to encourage girls to consider careers in technology.
“I’m constantly, looking at new ways to help and I think a lot of it is about storytelling. You get different ideas from different people, and it’s about bringing women together to support each other and tell stories,” she says.
To hear more from Clare Gilmartin, CEO of Trainline, join us for EyeforTravel Europe in London (June 4-6)
June 2018, London