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Being a Change Agent can be a Lonely Journey

To improve experiences for transit customers often requires that transit agencies undergo change. Previous assumptions and practices may need to be reconsidered. Priorities may need to be adjusted. The agency may need to broach difficult issues.


The problem is that few people like being told they need to change, especially if they are comfortable doing things the way they've always done them. And those with experience will know there is risk in change, especially if it impacts contracts, labor agreements, or political considerations.

lone hiker walking down path away from the camera

In this context, people will look at you as the change agent and may ask: Why are you rocking the boat? They may even assume that you are trying to make a name for yourself at their expense... They may not understand why someone would feel a calling to make public transit better. That concept may be foreign to how they see themselves.


That is why serving as a change agent can be a lonely journey. No matter how much you reach out to build relationships, see things through the eyes of your colleagues, and collaborate on solutions, there will be setbacks. You may reach impasses or sense resistance to change.


With this in mind, here are five tips for CX change agents:

  1. Invest in relationships. Don't wait for difficult issues to arise before you get to know the key stakeholders. Reach out regularly, even when there aren't any major issues to discuss, ask them how things are going, and offer to help them resolve issues that they are encountering.

  2. Backchannel, backchannel, backchannel. Your colleagues are more likely to dig in their heals if you try to get them to agree to a change with their peers watching. It's best to anticipate difficult issues and have backchannel conversations to try to resolve issues one-on-one.

  3. When you get stuck, always bring the discussion back to the customer. Recap the data that led you to identify an issue as a major pain point. Remind everyone how many customers experience the problem on a daily basis. Quote from a recent complaint, say from Ms Jones, and take your colleagues back to the beginning and ask: So given all the challenges, what are we going to do for Ms Jones?

  4. Get yourself some thick skin. You may not always be the most popular person in the room, but if you consistently bring customer voices into the room and handle yourself with dignity and honesty at least you will earn respect.

  5. Work with an executive coach on a regular basis to help you navigate the challenges you face, and to get emotional support.

One final thought - it is extremely important that everyone sees that the CX Program has unqualified support from your CEO. That will make your journey a lot less lonely, and a lot more successful to boot.

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