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News : OC Transpo Customer Service ‘Il-prepared' for LRT: Document
Ottawa, Ont., Canada, July 21, 2016 -- OC Transpo’s customer service approach is "ill-prepared" for the switch to LRT and the agency should have a new strategy in place a full year ahead of the launch, a document prepared for Transpo management shows.
Transpo hired Janet LeBlanc and Associates to assess "customer experience modernization" before the 2018 LRT implementation. Postmedia obtained the consultant’s report through an access to information request.
The consultant grades several aspects of Transpo’s customer service program with the underlying assumption that the agency "needs a strong customer-focused culture to protect it during a period of massive change." Right now, Transpo isn’t doing a great job of managing its customer service resources to handle requests from the ridership leading up to LRT, the consultant says.
Pat Scrimgeour, the assistant general manager of systems and planning at Transpo, said the agency knows it has to work on its customer service strategy, which is why it hired the consultant.
"It’s helping us quite a bit," Scrimgeour said in an interview. "We knew we had to make changes because we have so many new things to talk to customers about as the Confederation Line comes online."
The consultant’s review "stirs things up a little," Scrimgeour said.
The consultant identifies the customer service challenges leading up to the LRT launch. For riders, there will be changes to their normal transit routine, and Transpo employees will be required to learn new skills.
The review brainstorms new ideas, such as giving Presto cardholders front-of-the-line access to the call centre, much like how people with a certain credit card, for example, get the jump on concert tickets before everyone else.
Scrimgeour said it’s an interesting concept for Transpo to consider but he isn’t a big fan of giving Presto customers VIP status on the phone lines. "We don’t want to prioritize a group of customers over other customers," he said.
Then there’s the idea of starting a chat function on Transpo’s website for riders to instantly connect with a customer service agent. It could be another way for customers to reach Transpo, rather than waiting on hold with the call centre.
The consultant points out Transpo has a high rate of callers who hang up while trying to get through. The rate of abandoned calls is an indicator of customer dissatisfaction, according to the consultant. If that’s true, Transpo is having a rough time. Customer satisfaction drops when call abandonment rates go above seven or eight per cent, the consultant says.
The abandonment rate for Transpo’s customer relations calls in 2014-2015 was between 16 and 30 per cent.
But Scrimgeour said call abandonment rates in the transit industry are generally higher than the commercial sector and he believes Transpo’s rates are pretty standard. Plus, there are factors specific to transit operations that might cause people to drop the call. For example, riders who call asking when a bus is coming might hang up when they see the bus approaching, Scrimgeour noted.
As for starting a web chat function to take heat off the phone lines, it all comes down to money and resources. While the consultant emphasizes the different "channels" used by customers to contact Transpo, Scrimgeour said Transpo would need to decide which methods it can realistically support.
Transpo’s workforce will need to be ready for new customer requests that come with LRT, the consultant warns. The transit agency should expect a spike in customer contacts in 2018, but the volume should drop back to normal levels in 2019.
As a discussion point, the consultant offers as an example of a good "persona" for Transpo customer staff: Youthful, but not inexperienced; smart and responsive; confident, dependable, reliable, helpful; down to earth; sensible; enthusiastic about technology, but not a techie; and a demeanour that evokes the sentiments, "There’s something about her smile that makes you trust her," and, "I can relate to her and know that she cares about me."
Transpo’s retention of staff is one of its key strengths in customer relations as it prepares a new transit system, the consultant says, later recommending a "robust recognition program" to motivate staff.
While the consultant recommends having a new customer service program in place by mid-2017, Scrimgeour said Transpo is still working on the timing after already spending more a year thinking about the strategy.
"We want our staff to be fully ready and no longer learning by the time the Confederation Line is in operations," Scrimgeour said. "We want them to be experts when customers call them."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, July 25, 2016