Putting the customer first with South Western Railway

Design Research
Service & Experience Design

Client : South Western Railway

The challenge

Improving the customer experience

South Western Railway (SWR) were looking to improve their customer experience and positively change some of the negative feedback they had been receiving from customers in regard to an overcrowded rail system under strain.

With the outbreak of Covid-19 and the drastic drop in passenger numbers, they had an opportunity to stop and focus on customer experience and so reached out to DK&A to help them with the process. The goal was for some quick wins at a small number of stations, that would demonstrate genuine customer focus and could be rolled out across the network in the future. 


The approach

Uncovering issues, co-creating prototypes & implementing solutions

We used ethnographic research, to truly understand what customers thought of SWR and uncover potential areas for improvement in their services. The research techniques employed varied from quick intercept interviews with SWR customers at a range of stations, to observations and site walk-arounds with station managers, in-depth interviews and shadowing of customers on their journeys. We accompanied customers from ticket purchase to arrival, gently interrogating their thoughts and actions throughout. We selected passengers, travelling for a variety of reasons from leisure to commuting. They committed to keeping digital diaries, for a set period, to yield as many insights as possible.

Following the gathering of research insights, we ran a design thinking co-creation session, hosted both online and in-person, bringing together management and frontline staff. The session explored the customer journey to generate fresh ideas for improving the customer experience. Workshop outputs were assimilated to identify three clear areas of opportunity, from which concepts were developed and prototyped at three different stations on the SWR network.

Concierge Desk

How might we build on the quality of personal relationships with our customers so they feel welcomed to the station and understand the Covid rules and measures in place?

A basic version of a concierge desk was conceived as a pop-up stand for Basingstoke station, with local leisure promotions incorporated into the design and a covid-kit conceived as a promotional giveaway. It brought SWR staff out of the ticket office to the front of the station, to help direct and reassure customers.

Interaction was increased, with over 600 customer interactions recorded over peak periods in a 5 day trial.

Customers valued the warm welcome, whilst queuing for tickets and advice from the ticket office was reduced.

Proportion of ticket sales via TVM increased by 5% during the trial.

On top of that, the SWR commercial team estimate a revenue and journeys forecast increase by 0.19% for all leisure journeys starting at the station, given the improvements in customer experience.

Cleaner & Cleaner

How might we create and demonstrate a culture of hygiene and cleanliness within SWR and make the output visible to customers?

We ran a photoshoot with the cleaners of Bournemouth station and then turned it into a station campaign, highlighting the work that the cleaners were doing in the stations to make customers safer and nudging passengers to play their part too to keep travel safe.

Over half who had seen the ads felt more reassured (61%).

The campaign made local news, increasing positivity around the station amongst staff and customers.

The impact

  • Design Thinking embedded

    SWR colleagues were taught how to use design thinking, with their ideas from the co-creation sessions taken forward. They then helped deliver the various prototypes across the stations.

  • Next stage of development formed

    As a result of the success of the prototypes, the project is now in it’s next stage, with further development and testing at more stations.

  • Customers satisfied

    Each prototype answers a clear problem, during the pandemic and beyond, with customers responding positively to them in terms of satisfaction and behaviours.

The statistics



Reveal more

Wimbledon, Bournemouth, Basingstoke


Journeys shadowed


Customer journeys


Customer interviews

Reveal more

Lapsed & low users


Front line staff interviews


Customer intercepts

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