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US highways are experiencing their annual seasonal peak in traffic volumes as millions of drivers travel for the holidays. And many of those drivers will be traveling over toll roads that are not only congested but reflect widely disparate conditions and services.
What could make travel less stressful and help tolling agencies start the New Year off on the right foot? Accenture research shows that making and keeping a handful of resolutions could make 2014 an especially bright year for tolling agencies across the country.
Improve customer satisfaction. Happy customers are at the top of most tolling agencies’ agendas. Putting customer needs at the center of the travel experience makes good business sense and improves overall satisfaction. To do so, agencies could consider providing easy-to-use tools that most consumers are accustomed to, like prepaid card or mobile web sites. Improving customer service is also key, which could require investing in systems that better integrate customer accounts and developing service staff to answer customer questions quickly. All these initiatives enhance the customer experience and make things easier for customers.
Operate to obtain a clean audit. Tolling agencies are responsible for significant funds and the public expects accountability for how these funds are managed and used. Consequently, tools and solutions that make a clean audit possible are a business imperative. Agencies need to improve controls on how staff processes account adjustments, how financial information is maintained and accessed, and how transactions are tracked to pass audit scrutiny. Financial management solutions that leverage industry-leading commercial software and reporting tools can accurately and reliably provide traceability from a general ledger entry all the way down to source event at the lane level.
Get creative to generate more revenue. Agencies need to consider raising revenue by attracting new customers and new revenue sources. For example, a number of agencies are investing in and expanding electronic tolling to provide barrier-free access to roads. These investments are accompanied by systems that improve license plate recognition and customer conveniences such as prepaid and mobile accounts that are easy to load and maintain. However, Accenture research (see "Road-user charging services in North America: Navigating the journey ahead" [PDF, 748 KB]) suggests that the conversion doesn’t guarantee high adoption rates, so agencies must develop focused plans to increase adoption if they want this approach to be successful. Creative toll agencies are also seeking to raise revenue by repurposing assets and moving into complementary services. Initiatives include leasing booths and billboards for advertisements, leasing right of ways and underutilized offices, and partnering with organizations from the state department of motor vehicles to airport parking operators to offer package deals.
Lower operating costs. Many tolling agencies are already increasing automation to reduce costs, promoting the adoption of all-electronic tolling and expanding customer self-service features. These efforts, combined with a flexible labor force that can support spikes in traffic volume can potentially trim operating costs and yield meaningful savings. But there are other avenues to consider as well, such as shared services arrangements achieving greater interoperability among tolling systems. For example, Accenture believes that national interoperability in the United States can be achieved by leveraging commercial software and cloud-based infrastructures; this would result in modernized back office operations, the cost of which is divided among agencies.
Embrace technological innovation. New ideas and new technologies continue to change every industry, and tolling agencies can do the same by embracing the on-going digital revolution. Advances in fingerprinting and analytics, for example, are dramatically increasing video license plate review automation levels, with some systems achieving auto-processing rates above 90 percent. And mobile devices continue to offer agencies a relatively low-cost way to redefine the customer experience with digital products that allow people to download an app, register and drive.
Furthermore, digital outreach provides ways to engage and increase customers, helping to increase adoption and improve service. Several agencies use big data analytic solutions to mine data stores of customer information and generate insights about customer behaviors. This helps an agency refine service offerings and provide more personalized customer service. Integration architectures are making it is easier for systems to share information across competing tolling vendors and among tolling agencies to improve end-to-end service and customer care.
Some tolling agencies are already reaping the benefits of making and keeping these resolutions, but many are just getting started. The good news is that agencies have the power to make their own wishes come true, while satisfying the needs of the traveling public. Maintaining the focus on a handful of goals, and the key capabilities needed to achieve them, will make for a more peaceful and profitable New Year.
By Michael Wilson, Managing Director, Accenture North America Public Transportation Practice
First published in TollRoadNews, January 6, 2014.
January 15, 2014
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