Prasarana's Rafizah Amran: 'Marketing is not a zero-sum game'

Rapid KL made headlines last year for its way of the handling the situation where a stray dog got into its station and boarded the train. After a post on its Facebook page apologising for causing anxiety and inconvenience to commuters, netizens commended RapidKL for not hurting the dog, and said the organisation did a good job handling the incident with compassion.

The organisation's people-centric marketing strategies is something Rapid KL's parent company, Prasarana Malaysia, is looking to develop in 2020. In a previous statement to A+M, Rafizah Amran (pictured), deputy chief communication and marketing officer of Prasarana, said she is excited that consumers are going back to basics and ask for personal interaction. "Personal touch is becoming a rare commodity and we believe for Prasarana to truly belong to the people, guests must be given access not just to technology, but also to the real people behind the screens," she said.

With the new year well under way, Prasarana will be focusing on tech-centricity. Tech goodies such as in-train wi-fi and a real-time journey planner would greatly enhance the attractiveness of taking public transport. In this series of The Futurist, Rafizah shares how marketer's roles will evolve in 2020, and some of the digital trends she is looking forward to.

A+M: How do you expect the marketing industry to evolve in 2020?

Rafizah: From our observation of 2019, we believe the marketing industry will need to do two things – we need to embrace marketing automation and offer personalised service. This is not a zero-sum game; you really have to do both. We must make it as easy as possible for consumers to access or buy the products or services that we offer, and we must humanise the way we interact with and serve them.

A+M: How has Prasarana had to evolve its marketing to remain relevant?

Rafizah: We realised earlier on that more than 30% of our guests take public transportation because they choose to, not because they have to. So our marketing is not done in the traditional sense where one promotes the routes and fares. Instead, we promote public transportation as the lifeblood of the city, where we offer mobility and connectivity to get you to where you need to be – be it for work or leisure.

For example, we promote lifestyle experience such as hunting down street food in Jalan Alor with your friends. We promote care for the environment as there is a reduction of CO2 emission every time a guest elects to leave the car home and take the train. We promote our stations as town centres where everything you need is just 20 minutes away.

We believe the best way to market Prasarana’s services is to offer a pleasant and safe commuting experience. So we actively market by encouraging our guests to be our eyes and ears and let us know through our social media channels, in real-time, how we could serve them better. Just a few weeks ago, I accompanied a group of guests to MRT Kajang Stadium and the air-conditioning in one of the coaches suddenly went silent. I whipped out my phone and tweeted @AskRapidKL to inform them about the incident. I gave the guests my guarantee that by the time we reach the next two stations (or approximately six minutes later), a technician would come in to rectify the problem, and he did!

Of course not all problems or service interruption could be solved in six minutes. But this six-minute response rate (down from 20 minutes that we observed in the first half of 2019) is testament that we are dead serious about providing a great customer experience. The participatory nature of this process means our guests are involved and invested. They are our best marketing tool and our greatest ally!

The story where a stray dog entered one of our LRT trains in August last year and how our guests came forward in droves to correct any negative perception or misunderstanding and cheered us on is one that I cite often as it was the incident that proved to us embracing feedback, good or bad, could result in very satisfying outcomes. By the way, the customer service officer who attended to my tweet didn’t know who I was.

A+M: How will the marketer's role evolve in 2020?

Rafizah: Marketers must be the customer champion. What this means is, marketers should not focus just on closing sales and running campaigns after campaigns to capture more and more audience in the purchase funnel. We must represent the customers and speak up for them in meeting rooms and product development labs. We should have eyes on the supply chain process and ask “Is this the channel that the customers want? Is that where our customers are? How do we make it easier for our customers?”.

We should put customers experience in the middle, and design everything else to be pliable to fit that. That way, we could be agile in our decision-making processes because anything that is not important to the end-users could be eliminated or de-prioritised. I am very fortunate that in Prasarana, this role is a given.

Lastly, marketers must believe in your brand. I take public transport every day. I don’t do it because I want to empathise with our customers. I do it because I genuinely believe that public transport is the best mode of transportation to move around the city and this belief drives me into making sure Prasarana’s service is up to scratch. Serving 1.4 million guests daily is not easy, and it is always frustrating and disheartening when things break down or service is interrupted. But it is a privilege to serve, and I fly the Prasarana flag proudly.

A+M: What are some marketing trends that excite you most?

Rafizah: I really like conversational marketing technologies and would like to explore more of that. It’s a little bit of art, a little bit of creativity, a little bit of luck and a lot of science and big data. It’s very exciting; chatbots and tactical promos really need to embrace this trend.

The other thing is, over 20 years ago, the buzzword of the day was “experiential marketing”. At the time, it meant going down to the ground and do sampling and events so that customers could, literally, experience the product. I think it is time we redefine experiential marketing to mean marketing our products and services in a way that optimises customer experience and to make this a trend. For some customers this may mean having an e-shop so that they could buy online without having to speak to any humans; for others it may mean being able to rent or lease the product and services rather than buy.

Experiential marketing needs to be personalised. To quote American vocal group Backstreet Boys, the customers should be able to say “I want it that way”.

A+M: What is an area of marketing you feel is overhyped?

Rafizah: Excessive use of chatbots and then calling it AI. I really hate chatbots. Often, they are not able to answer my questions and I am left repeating the question in many different ways before the chatbot could respond appropriately. This is particularly aggravating when you are trying to cancel your online order or ask for a refund (can you tell that I am an avid online shopper?).

I also don’t believe in “digital marketing department”. All marketing campaigns have a digital component.

There should be no distinction between traditional marketing and digital marketing anymore.

All marketers must have the skills and know-how to do both. No digital marketing department; just marketing department, thank you.