The Coasthopper bus in North Norfolk is a fantastic service. It proves you don’t have to be a huge corporation to do great service design.
If you’re tired of hearing the same old service design case studies, here’s an example of a simple public service delighting its users by meeting their needs.
Frequent, cheap, on time
In Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith advises that the first step in service marketing is to “get better reality”. For a bus service like Coasthopper this means you need to be frequent, cheap and on time.
It turns out Coasthopper already has great reality.
Buses run at least twice an hour throughout the day, which is exceptional for a rural timetable. A 90 minute journey along the Norfolk coast costs less than a 10 minute hop into Bristol’s city centre. And in catching eight buses over three days, every one arrived within three minutes of its scheduled time.
Word gets around
You can’t get near North Norfolk without hearing about Coasthopper.
A huge part is the name. “Coasthopper” communicates the whole service in three syllables – it runs along the coast and you can hop on or off at any point. Word of mouth matters in service marketing, so helping users form an accurate mental model of the service in a single word is a killer tactic.
The buses look distinctive too. You only need to see the cheerful yellow and blue colour scheme once to realise what’s on offer.
But it’s more than that. We first heard about Coasthopper in the Guardian. Our King’s Lynn hotel had timetables on reception and in our room. The tourist guide had a timetable in the back. Someone at Coasthopper is doing fantastic work with the national press, local businesses and the regional tourist board to get the word out at every possible touchpoint.
My favourite thing about Coasthopper is the clear, friendly communication.
Timetable design is a tricky business. Coasthopper’s is clearly laid on a large square, with Monday-Saturday on one side and Sunday on the flip. It lists every time, for every bus, at every stop, but the text is large enough for the many pensioners using the service. The (difficult) decision to stick to a single linear route helps, an example of how constraining your service can reap rewards.
The writing is even better. Just compare the empty marketing drivel for First’s Bristol fares with the friendly and informative text for Coasthopper. You can’t fake it – the writer was thinking about who reads it and what they want to know.
Even the drivers are great communicators. One calls out personal introductions to “Sunny Hunny” (Hunstanton) and “Chelsea By The Sea” (Burnham Market) as you pass through. Others make polite, friendly and well-received interventions when people have music too loud or eat on the bus.
Everybody loves special treatment
But what makes Coasthopper exceptional is they clearly know their users and cater to their needs. Some examples in their own words:
- “If you are walking in a large group and you want to use Coasthopper, then please let us know at least seven days in advance, so we can do our best to make sure you’re not left behind!” (incredible service for walkers)
- “Wheelchair users have priority over all other passengers in using the dedicated space” (unambiguous inclusion of people with disabilities)
- “Dogs are welcome on board Coasthopper, and we do not charge for them” (explicit acceptance for people with pets)
- “Coasthopper Rovers come in 1, 3 and 7 day versions, so you can hop on, hop off as much as you wish” (perfect for holidaymakers without a car like me)
- “If you have any further questions, please email us or call us on 01553 776980” (real contact details at the top, not the bottom, of their FAQ page)
Coasthopper wins awards and carries over half a million passengers every year. Their service does more than take people from A to B – it gives you a reason to return to North Norfolk. Did you think a bus service could do that?
Let me know what you think about this on @myddelton. You can find out more about Coasthopper on their excellent website or, preferably, by going to the North Norfolk coast yourself. It’s beautiful…