Management & Operations

As good as it gets?

Posted on April 1, 2006 by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher

Sometimes we get so focused on the bottom line that we forget how important customer service is . . . to the bottom line. Whether you’re operating transit buses, passenger rail or motorcoach operations, you need to pay attention to the quality of your service. No matter how good your service is now, it could be enhanced in a way that will better fulfill your organization’s mission. These days, it’s essential that you take every opportunity to deliver a quality experience to the traveling public. We’re competing against too many other forms of transportation, including the personal automobile, to provide customers with merely adequate service. I bring up this issue after reading the Q&A with Art Leahy, CEO of Orange County (Calif.) Transportation Authority, beginning on pg. 38. Art mentions the valuable input provided by a customer advocate who was given carte blanche to scrutinize all of OCTA’s operations. In a report to the board of directors, the customer advocate provided 100 ideas on how to improve the agency’s service. Although some of the ideas were too expensive to seriously consider, many of them have since been implemented. It took a lot of courage to give an outsider access to the agency’s operational program and to solicit a no-holds-barred critique, but, according to Art, the results were worth any potential embarrassment. Beyond territorial boundaries
The issue of customer service is also raised in the contractor roundtable beginning on pg. 28. Our participants argue that transit systems that outsource their fixed-route or paratransit service can provide their communities with the greatest amount of service while retaining control of the operation and flexibility in its delivery. Not all transit systems, especially those that run their own buses or trains, would agree with that assessment, but the fact remains that customer service should be the bottom-line objective of a public transit system. Sure, both quantity and quality need to be factored into the equation. If a contractor is not capable of delivering the service specified in its contract, then it should be held accountable. But transit systems that dismiss the notion of outsourcing their bus and/or rail service without conducting an objective evaluation are not providing their customers with the best possible service. Falling from a tree
In his book Even Monkeys Fall From Trees, customer service expert Doug Lipp says providing outstanding customer service requires an organization to balance art and science. What he’s saying is that companies have to satisfy the emotional needs of their customers on the one hand and, on the other, understand the technical needs of the system, such as procuring and maintaining the rolling stock and building schedules that optimize load factors. Lipp, who was a keynote speaker at the 2005 BusCon event in Las Vegas and will be presenting at this year’s APTA Bus and Paratransit Conference in Anaheim, Calif., says learning from your mistakes is how you get better. To ensure that a transportation operation meets and exceeds the expectations of its customers, it needs to reach beyond its grasp. Although this will result in an occasional fall, the smart organization will learn from its mistakes and make the necessary improvements. The bottom line should always reflect your ability to move people safely, efficiently and with service levels that go beyond their expectation.

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