Yang Tongbing: The Importance of Customer Operation System to Highway Business Development

2020-03-24 Yang Tongbing

Abstract: This paper discusses a series of great changes in the expressway industry caused by the implementation of two important tasks of "removing toll booths at provincial borders" and "ETC coverage reaching 90%" It provides insight into the industry changes caused by policy changes, and then analyzes the possible development opportunities, gradually demonstrate the necessity and urgency of customer operation system construction for future expressway business development.

1. Changes bring challenges, and challenges are opportunities

On March 5, 2019, the state leaders put forward in the government work report of the Second Session of the 13th National People's Congress that "in order to reduce traffic congestion, make things convenient for the people and further reduce the logistics costs of the real economy, the provincial toll booths at provincial borders across China will be abolished within two years to realize fast toll collection without stopping". Major changes in the development of expressway business began from then on. This was not only a change in customer size and IT support, but also a change in market competition, operation mechanism, organizational structure, KPI management of expressway enterprises, which put forward extremely high requirements for the operation and management of these enterprises.

Seen from the outside, "removing toll booths at provincial borders" streamlines the parking and tolling links in the travelling process, improves the traffic efficiency and the customer experience. In fact, it breaks the barriers in the whole travelling process and forms a nation-wide traffic network, bringing about the concept of entire process and network. The "full coverage of ETC system" also brings the concept of "customer" into the expressway industry. The digital upgrade of the entire process and network gives this industry which just provided tolling service in the past more possibilities to growth. Through binding ETC cards with user information, the relation between users (vehicles/drivers) and customers (natural persons/legal persons) is established. Customer operation has a starting point and a prototype of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) can be preliminarily formed, which lays a foundation for profound insight into customers and establishment of customer portraits. Another important significance brought by the "full coverage of ETC system" is the establishment of customer contacts through ETC cards. Every time your ETC card passes through a gantry, a toll booth or a parking lot with RSU on the expressway, it can be treated as a customer contact. ETC card integrated with operator communication module can connect the customers more frequently. Customers' behaviors such as entry and exit of an expressway, acceleration, deceleration, overtaking, temporary parking, continuous fatigue driving, fault rescue, refueling, leisure & consumption will be connected and sensed through the ETC card. Each connection not only enriches the customer portrait, but also provides more customer operation opportunities.

The digital connection of the whole road network makes the expressway companies of each province stand on the same starting line. The provinces are bound to face competitions in market, customers, incomes and operation, and then they will launch a contest on personalized and differentiated service. Customers for passenger cars/trucks choose their routes according to factors such as congestion degree, cost level, potential safety hazards, etc. Self-driving travelers choose travelling routes according to sceneries along the way and characteristic small stations. Only when you can accurately understand customer demands can you obtain diversified income.

There are two hidden prerequisites for customer operation: understanding customers and reaching customers. Only when we know well about the customers and establish accurate portraits can we do a good job in marketing planning. Only by reaching the customers can accurate marketing be realized, and only by establishing high-frequency connections with customers can marketing efficiency be improved and customer portraits be further perfect.

2. Seize opportunities and meet challenges

Looking back at the policy of "removing toll booths at provincial borders" and "realizing full coverage of the ETC system", we can find that it is a far-sighted industry layout. Through the full application of ETC system, expressway companies will firmly seize the opportunity to establish connections with industry customers, take customers as the center, meet the public's travelling demands, improve the economic benefits of the transportation industry, and deepen the operation process of industry customers. Then, along with the system reform, they will carry out the layout of digital infrastructure and thus lay the foundation for the future evolution of smart expressways and the future development of expressway enterprises.

With the deepening of the system reform, the operating pressure of expressway companies is increasing. It has become a long-term and continuous requirement for expressway enterprises to improve their efficiency through operation. With the rapid development of the Internet and the supremacy of customer experience, customer operation has become the key to market-oriented operation. How to combine the Internet operation thinking, take customers as the center, take scenes as the starting point, integrate cross-border resources, and build an expressway customer operation system of "knowing customers, building marketing network and operating intelligently" is the top priority in the transformation of expressway companies from "resource monopoly" enterprises to "customer operators".

At the same time, competition among companies in various provinces is inevitable. Whoever has outstanding customer operation may have a faster increase in its income scale and occupy a greater advantage in the competition. Therefore, customer operation will be the main theme in the future. Just imagine again if there is the possibility of integration in the expressway market in China in the future? Will companies with good customer operation and good market development integrate those companies lagging behind in other provinces to form regional companies? It is reported that expressway companies in some developed provinces have begun to lay out their presence. While strengthening their own operation capabilities, they have gradually exported their capabilities, encroaching on the markets of neighboring provinces and turning themselves into regional centers.

Good customer operation is conducive to the development of existing businesses. At present, the main content of customer operation is to crack down on toll evasion and increase toll revenue. Customer management is the basis of customer operation. Through the customer management system, customer portraits are continuously enriched, and the customer credit system is established and improved to effectively crack down on toll evasion throughout the network. In addition, personalized products/services, such as family packages, monthly packages, enterprise packages, etc., can be promoted to more targeted customers through customer portraits, and corresponding graded services, such as membership services, VIP services, etc. can also be provided to customers with different consumption demands. It is also possible to make full use of the transportation capacity of expressways to increase the income of expressway companies through the peak-hour and idle-hour packages.

Doing a good job in customer operation is also beneficial to the development of new businesses. For example, in the operation of service areas, expressway enterprises can carry out commercial layout of the service areas based on their insight into the customers, and introduce the corresponding merchants to the whole road network, so as to better serve the customers and improve the operation efficiency of the service areas.

Good customer operation is also conducive to the value realization of expressway business data. Expressway data is closely related to industries or fields such as automobile manufacturing, automobile supplies, insurance finance, public safety and people's lives. Despite its huge value, the utilization rate of expressway data is now far from enough and there is much room for value exploration. For long-distance transportation, tolls are an important part of operating costs. Expressway companies can provide personalized financial services to customers through customer portraits, and increase their income while serving customers. Cooperation with insurance companies is also a typical scenario for the customer operation of these companies. As vehicles enter expressways, insurance products will be ordered automatically, the owners, drivers, insurers, the insured, beneficiaries and other parties involved will be notified. In the process of driving, considerate and convenient services will be provided to the drivers, such as road traffic conditions and weather conditions; location information and relevant help in case of accident will also be provided timely. This will benefit the relevant travelers and insurance companies, and the expressways will naturally benefit.

There are still many scenarios for customer operation, and a perfect customer management system is the basis for scenario construction. Expressway enterprises in various provinces and cities can make full use of the customer operation system, give full play to local characteristics, continuously enrich scenario-based operation solutions, and truly combine customer traffic and data traffic on expressways to realize value realization.

3. Opportunities are around the corner to assist development

In an era of big-data, IoTs, mobile internet, cloud computing and smart cities, a strong IT support system is the engine of business development and the basis for customer operation.

With the advancement of ETC installation, the free-flow toll collection mode adopts the method of segmented toll collection to solve the toll collection of expressways and improve the customer experience. However, the continuous improvement of customers' experience demands has gradually revealed the inherent defects in the process of customer-oriented service. For example, for public business, the mode of one vehicle corresponding to one related account is not very convenient for toll management of large passenger/freight fleets, logistics enterprises and public agencies. As bank card issuers are developing APP separately and expressway entrances are scattered, the channels for individual customers to recharge tolls are relatively complicated. Deficiencies such as the lack of transparent notification after vehicle tolls are deducted, and the inconvenient for customers to inquire about bills and balances hinder the development of expressway services in the future. It is necessary to continuously improve relevant services with the help of advanced IT technologies such as mobile Internet plus, big data applications, and business middle office, so as to let service capabilities reach customers, truly provide convenient and beneficial services and help the development of expressway industries.

This is the best time to re-plan the top-level IT architecture of the expressway industry. Expressway enterprises should seize this time window, take the lead in sorting out and establishing business models, consolidate IT top-level architecture, unify data collection, billing, tolling, clearing and settlement, inspection, customer service and other related functions under the same business model, change the chimney phenomenon of IT systems, fundamentally eliminate the negative impact it brings, and lay the foundation for the establishment and promotion of customer operation system.

ETC cards not only carry the concept of customer, but also brings more customer contacts and connection opportunities, as well as the opportunity to perfect the account system. Through the introduction of Customer Relationship Management Concept (CRM), we will improve the issuance and management mechanism of ETC cards, form cooperation alliances with Internet financial technology enterprises such as banks and BATJ, broaden service channels, and fully cooperate in customer introduction, customer service and enriching product supply capacity to jointly enhance customer experience and prosper high-speed ecology.

IT system is actually the precipitation and solidification of business, and the construction of business models is the top priority. In the abstract, the business model of expressway business is very similar to that of telecom operators, except that the products/services they provide are different. From the perspective of business process, the operation process of expressways can be simply explained by the three-factor model of "customer + user + account". (See Figure 1)

Figure 1 Three-Factor Model of "Customer + User + Account"

The moment when a vehicle (user) enters a toll booth, a trading relationship is established between the user and the expressway company, and the process of driving on the road is to consume the products and services provided by the expressway company. The gantries and video capture equipment along the expressway will collect the detailed consumption data to form, a " road bill" (called "call bill" by operators). The billing system completes the billing work through the " road bill". The accounting system completes the accounting processing according to the billing data and customer information. The tolling system completes the tolling action based on the accounting data. Customers can choose different payment methods (cash, ETC card, WeChat, Alipay and CMpay) to complete the payment. In the later period, the clearing and settlement system carries out clearing and settlement among various entities according to the tolling results. This process is very similar to that of operators.

Looking back on the development history of telecom operators, the IT infrastructure of telecom operators has been established on the three-factor model, namely, the business model of "customer + user + account". The model is a highly abstract of the business concept of "customer-oriented" and embodies the information of different domains. Customers correspond to social domain information, users correspond to business domain information, and accounts reflect capital domain information. The expressway industry can learn from the three-factor model and combine the current ETC card issuing work to establish a customer operation mechanism, improve customer operation management systems such as customer management system, product management system, channel (cooperation) system, marketing system and service management system, so as to build an expressway business operation support system, and enhance the customer operation capability of the industry.

4. Concluding remarks

In summary, the expressway industry should keep in mind the mission of "continuously improving the safe travel experience of the people", adhere to the original intention of "improving the operating efficiency of enterprises", speed up the construction of customer operation system. Expressway companies should not only start from ideology and organizational structure, but also speeding up the re-planning and construction of IT system to adapt to the changes brought about by system reform, seize the window period of ETC development, make full use of the late-mover advantage, introduce new technologies and mature concepts, and promote the progress and development of the industry.


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