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September 2013

SEPTA enhances customer outreach through Twitter

While no stranger to Twitter, having used multiple accounts to cover its buses, rail lines, and alerts for the whole system since 2008, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is getting better acquainted with its customers and their concerns through its @SEPTA_Social account.

Members of the transit system’s customer service team run the account, answering questions and providing information. However, they go one step further, emphasizing the “social” in social media by initiating and engaging in conversations with followers.

The agency started the new account in January to accommodate the increasing number of customers, particularly younger ones, who primarily connect with others through social media. The account has grown rapidly, now at more than 2,700 followers.

@SEPTA_Social stands out from the typical transit agency Twitter accounts because it is designed to initiate conversations and not just send out alerts or promotional information, Kim Scott Heinle, assistant GM, customer service and advocacy, SEPTA, said.

“It’s not us asking people to listen to us,” Heinle said. “It’s us listening to other people.”

In fact, this engagement is especially important for letting people know that the agency hears their complaints or concerns. That is where the Social team at SEPTA excels, he added. They see complaints and address them.

“They proactively reach out, tweeting, ‘What happened? Let’s see what we can do to fix it.’ Frankly, that amazes people sometimes,” Heinle said.

Part of the proactive approach is letting people know they have the ability to use social media like Twitter to directly engage with the transit system. For example, Philadelphia’s recent Made in America Music Festival drew a large tech-savvy, under-30 crowd from all over the region, but many didn’t know about @SEPTA_Social.

“If they mentioned ‘Philly bus’ or ‘SEPTA train,’ and our agents saw that, or sensed that somebody was asking their friends for information about SEPTA, they tweeted back, ‘We’re here, how can we help you?’” Heinle recalled. “That creates a lot of positive buzz about the agency and its willingness to be proactive and reach out to customers.”

As a result of cultivating relationships and good will by chatting with followers, SEPTA developed a solid core of regulars on the page.

Heinle pointed out that a major advantage of using Twitter as a customer service tool is that a customer service agent can talk to many people at once in real time, as opposed to phone calls and emails which can only help one custom-er at a time.

More importantly, @SEPTA_Social followers can share those conversations with their followers who may not be talking to SEPTA, increasing the agency’s ability to get information out to the public.

Many customers, particularly younger ones, are not calling or even using the transit system’s web form to reach out. That shows, Heinle said, that both at SEPTA and in the transit industry, Twitter and other social media is increasingly where the customers are going to be.

“We’ve got people who will never give up their phones and call us from their land line. [Others] email us, use the web form, but a whole new group says, ‘No, our world is in social media. If you want to connect with us, you’ve got to be there.’”

While SEPTA plans to continue research into who follows them and why; do more to leverage its most influential followers; and have more targeted conversations with people to follow up on issues, that takes extra time, effort and staffing, Heinle said. The agency also hopes to increase its hourly coverage, particularly in the evening, and may start earlier in the morning to better accommodate peak travel time.

RELATED: "Utah using social media to discuss rail project"


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