How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.
How does Metro’s customer relations team answer queries and complaints?
In a very real sense, complaints are the reason for being for Metro’s customer relations team. All day, every day they work with confused or unhappy riders who look to them for relief. Their job is customer satisfaction and it can be a challenge.
And yet, customer relations reps report that most people — probably 75 percent — are courteous even when reporting a problem, which certainly speaks well for Metro patrons, as well as for the representatives who undergo extensive customer service training to help them learn how to help the public in a positive way.
The customer relations section was designed to be an easy access point for Metro patrons, the general public, elected officials and residents to present complaints, inquiries and concerns to Metro management. Reps also are responsible for making friends for Metro, even following a less than pleasant transit experience. They are there to provide customer education, when necessary. And they provide Metro management with timely reports that reflect the transit system as viewed by the customer.
It’s not all negative interaction. The team of seven representatives receives between 7,000 and 8,000 pieces of correspondence a month and many are questions, comments or suggestions for how to make Metro more user friendly.
Comments arrive and are answered in English and Spanish by telephone (about 4,200 calls per month); via on-line comment cards (about 450); through email (about 860); in letters (about 80) and from walk-in customers (about 2,100 comments). Comments are acknowledged, if not answered, generally within seven working days. No fancy tools are involved. It’s pretty much person-to-person contact, with the customer relations representatives acting as problem solvers.
In addition to knowledge about a wide range of bus- and rail-line facts, representatives are trained to be patient, polite and to listen carefully. It’s not possible to change the experience of a late bus but it certainly is possible to offer sympathy, apologize and pass on a complaint to the appropriate authorities. Many on the customer relations team ride mass transit themselves so they understand the frustration of a missed connection. Likewise, they pass on compliments about operators who have gone out of their way to be helpful or new programs that customers feel are beneficial.
Customer feedback is taken seriously. Most Metro bus routes and schedules are the product of customer comment. Bus stops are placed or moved based on customer requests. The addition of bike racks to buses was due to customer appeals. Many articles in the rule book followed by bus and train operators are based on customer input.
It can be a highly stressful occupation and can lead to early burnout. To help avoid burnout, job candidates are carefully screened. A candidate must be articulate and possess good listening and writing skills and have empathy for the plight of others. Maturity is considered an important characteristic. Possible candidates have a desire to help people, have a thick skin and above all, approach the job with a high level of professionalism. Training plays an important role in developing coping skills. Although the job is demanding, the customer relations representative with the highest seniority has been working in that position for 15 years.
Have a question or comment for Metro? The quickest way to contact customer relations is via email. The waiting time for a reply will vary, depending upon the complexity of the problem being investigated. But hopefully, all of your problems will be minor.