May need premium pricing for in-depth queries: Experts

Mamuni Das

Railway Enquiries

The proposal

envisages outsourcing the enquires to call centres

It plans

to set up call centres throughout the country by Jan 31, 2007

Call centres

to be appointed through competitive bidding

New Delhi, June 15

Indian Railways has thrown a new challenge for its subsidiaries that manage information technology. They are required to ensure that the queries of rail commuters across the country are taken care of through good quality call centres, with the Railways not having to put in any investment.

The proposal also envisages outsourcing the job to call centres or `Railway Enquiry Franchisee(s)', which would be appointed through competitive bidding.

Call Centres

The Railways has recently asked the Centre for Railway Information System and Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation to develop a plan on these lines and has set a target of commissioning of such call centres throughout the country by January 31, 2007, in phases, said Ministry officials.

These call centres will provide basic enquiry service like running status of train, availability of berths or seats, PNR status, routes of trains and rail rules and regulations. They should also provide information regarding value added services like booking of hotels, railway tickets, taxis, auctioning of tickets and SMS based enquiry.

Revenue Model

While the business plan needs to be worked out, industry experts point out that in order to make this venture at least a revenue neutral model (if not revenue earning model) for the Railways, some extent of premium pricing for in-depth queries may have to be brought in. Another possibility could be asking the non-Railway beneficiaries like hoteliers, taxis to pay up for being featured. The call centre operators could also collect revenues by using the "waiting time" during callers' queries to relay some advertisements.

However, this doesn't mean that passengers can be made to wait for long to get their queries answered as Railways also plans to monitor quality of service "through suitable service level parameters, which will take care of overall availability of the call centres, call waiting time and call abandon rate."

Universal Number

The proposal has to be planned in a manner to ensure passengers, from across the country, get the required details by dialling a universal number as a local call irrespective of whether they call from a landline or a mobile phone. "This will work on two-tier architecture of call centres, with tier-1 located in the metro cities and tier-2 in other cities that have headquarters of telecom circles. There will be connectivity between tier-l and tier-2 call centres," said officials adding that "this will be a revenue model with no Railways investment".

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 16, 2006)
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