by April 1, 2010 0 comments

Last weekend, I tried to book some railway tickets online-four times,

I must confess I haven’t travelled much by train in the past decade-just five
times. So while I have used the railways online booking system before, I can’t
say I’m really familiar with it.

Despite that, I did try to “train” others, including an elderly neighbour who
insists on sending his driver to book tickets, instead of doing it online. He
finds it too complicated, he says.

This time, I finally tried a third-party booking site, and booked the tickets
in five minutes flat. I told that neighbour, who tried it out-and is now pretty
excited about it.

Some learnings here for the railways-and anyone running online activities for
end consumers.

Simplify. There’s a complexity threshold beyond which people will not use
your site. Think Google and its clear focus on simplicity-you just can’t go
wrong using its search page. And think about why 99% of India’s airline bookings
are online, but less than a tenth of train tickets…

Learn and adapt. Your site was good, even a pioneer, ten years ago, but that
doesn’t mean it’s okay now. Especially with the reference point of so many sites
that give customers a great experience.

Use partners: You don’t have to do everything yourself. Work with others who
can do the job better-in either creating your site, or selling your products.

So what went wrong on, when I tried booking
Delhi-to-Udaipur tickets?

First, I tried to book at midnight. Oops. The railway
booking system is shut for the night. Really? An online system that shuts down
at night? Isn’t that so very yesterday, so very government?

Re-tried again next morning. Learnt that I have to create
an account first. I’m not used to this, with all the airline booking sites I can
use instantly without setting up an account, nor even on the US Amtrak trains.

Got account. Re-tried. Now learnt that I can’t simply say
Delhi to Udaipur. I have to know which station in Delhi. Some searching around
told me that there’s a train from Nizamuddin. Tried that. Failed. Called a
friend, he said, it’s “Hazrat Nizamuddin”. No go. Tried various combos. Finally,
“H Nizamuddin” worked. Wow!

Entered passenger details, and went to payment. Got a mass
of 32 options for “PG”- payment gateway. Why should I have to choose the
gateway? Isn’t that the vendor’s business?

Anyway. Picked AmEx. Completed payment. “Communication
Failure”. Retried with “HDFC PG”. Same result. Gave up.

Finally, switched to, and clicked on Trains.
What a pleasure.

Just entered DEL in the “from” and got the option
“Delhi-All stations”. Of course. Entered UDAI and got Udaipur. Picked first
class, and in a few seconds, got: six seats available. Entered passenger names,
and went on to booking. Enter credit card number (no messing around with “PG”),
and click okay. In ten seconds, I got an SMS with a confirmation-and my PNR.

The only thing that wasn’t obvious at Cleartrip was: where
do I enter the number of kids under 5 (for whom tickets aren’t needed)? A call
to their helpline (it was Sunday evening) got me the answer in a minute: After
entering passenger names, I’ll be prompted for “accompanying infants”.

The whole process-including the call-took five minutes.

IRCTC needs to simplify its site-and work with more
partners like Cleartrip and MakeMyTrip.

Prasanto K Roy
is Chief Editor of CyberMedia’s ICT Publications

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