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French national railway company: customer relationship management

Accenture helps transform the passenger branch of French National Railway Company, SNCF, into a profitable business through CRM.


The French National Railway Company has 166,000 civil servants who coordinate and operate rail services for passengers and freight.

Leveraging SNCF’s (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, the country's rail provider) national monopoly and transportation legacy (train is a popular means of travel in France), France has invested heavily in its railway infrastructure, particularly long distance. More than 3,200 miles of high-speed rail lines have been added in the last decade and on-time service has reached 90 percent to 95 percent. Passenger counts continue to increase annually by 3 percent to 5 percent.

Accenture helped SNCF transform its passenger branch into a competitive public company that is a profitable and preferred option for the traveling public.


SNCF’s operations have had to change dramatically as the railways are opening up to competition. The most dramatic shift is that SNCF needs to aggressively sell itself as a company and as a brand, while still competing on price.

Until recently, these were uncharted waters for a state-owned company with a monopoly culture, under optimized cost structures, partial client and consumer knowledge, and historical yield management and promotional expertise. Naturally, the passenger branch was the branch most appropriate to experiment with some of these changes as the branch was facing the multimodal competition on long-distance (national) travel.

Recognizing the importance of change, SNCF set out to strengthen several open-market capabilities while developing others from scratch. To make it happen, the company’s top executives have worked closely with Accenture for more than a decade—Accenture has consistently demonstrated its deep understanding of the French rail organization and culture and a commitment to ongoing client success.

Accenture professionals from the company’s Management Consulting, Strategy, Travel and Transportation, and Outsourcing groups were involved early on in helping SNCF decision makers chart four concurrent work streams—the areas most directly affected by the company’s transition to market-based competition:

  • Make customer relationship management (CRM) a core competence.

  • Improve yield management and commercial flexibility with a new pricing model.

  • Develop a range of new products and services to expand and solidify the company’s appeal.

  • Develop a new strategy for improving the range and cost-effectiveness of ticket distribution.


All of the efforts have helped to transform SNCF's passenger branch into a competitive public company that is a profitable and preferred option for the traveling public. It is also well-positioned to work with business partners that can help ensure its continued growth.

These characteristics are the essence of high performance in the public sector: consistent, innovative, flexible and efficient provision of services—developed in an environment where innovation, standardization, consistency, and process and technology effectiveness predominate.

The overall effort has clearly increased the organization-wide profitability and efficiency. Yet it is also clear what rewards were generated by each individual work stream:

  • SNCF’s new CRM capabilities and systems have increased the organization’s understanding of customers, customer needs and customer preferences.

  • SNCF’s new pricing model (implemented in less than 18 months) has helped both revenue increase and train fill rate increase.

  • The new products and services developed by SNCF and Accenture have enjoyed commercial success.

  • SNCF’s new distribution strategy has helped reduce the organization’s ticketing costs.

SNCF is making a difficult transition from a monopoly culture to a competitive business focused on high performance. And from strategic vision to implementation, Accenture people, insights, programs, tools and methodologies are helping to make it happen.

As described by an SNCF sales director, “Accenture has systematically been able to bring together strategy and business skills, as well as delivery teams for IS and outsourcing.”

In addition, the initiative was a finalist in the 2008 Ken Ernst competition—Accenture’s annual recognition of its most innovative and high-impact client work in management consulting.