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CXO Profiles, Alicia Leite, Connecticut DOT

In the bustling world of public transportation, where efficiency and reliability are paramount, there exists a quieter yet equally vital aspect—the realm of Customer Experience (CX). Behind the scenes of Connecticut's Department of Transportation (CTDOT), Alicia Leite leads a dedicated team that is reshaping the landscape of transit, one passenger interaction at a time. In an exclusive interview, we delve into Alicia's CX journey.

portrait photo of Alicia Leite

Origins of Alicia's passion for CX

Alicia's path to transit and CX was deeply rooted in personal experience. Following a job loss in 2012, Alicia stumbled upon a trainee position at CTDOT while pursuing a master's degree in public administration. Her upbringing in a household reliant on public transit imbued her with a profound appreciation for transit's role as a lifeline. At CTDOT, Alicia worked on the launch of Connecticut's first Bus Rapid Transit system, and the transformative impact of this high-quality transit project further ignited her passion for improving customer experiences.


Crafting a Vision with CX at Its Core

With impetus from CTDOT leadership, Alicia embarked on a journey to shape a customer-centric vision for public transportation in Connecticut. She was asked by the CTDOT Bureau Chief to create a scope of work for visioning the future of public transportation in the state of Connecticut. It was important to her that the vision be focused on customers, so she started doing research and came across the LA Metro and Vancouver TransLink CX Plans. Having discovered these models, she felt that "This is it. We need to focus on CX with everything we do."


Alicia kicked off that effort by defining CX as customers' holistic perception of experiences throughout their journey, and she set out to connect with riders, understand evolving needs, define a customer-centric vision, and get agreement on actions for improvement.


Challenges and Triumphs Along the Way:

Transitioning into the realm of CX posed initial challenges. At the time, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) had not yet created a CX committee, and the CX paradigm was still just emerging in the transit industry. Also, the few CX models that existed in transit involved transit agencies that operated services. CTDOT, however, played more of a funding and oversight role, so they had to navigate their own path to some degree.


Nevertheless, through dedicated outreach, engagement, and stakeholder collaboration, CTDOT's CX Program gained traction and industry-wide attention. Surveys, focus groups, and innovative engagement like bus seat labs empowered customers to actively shape their future transit experience.


CTDOT tabling event - staff talking with riders and asking them about their transit experiences

From over 70 outreach events, focus groups, interviews, and surveys that engaged over 10,000 people, Alicia and her team were able to dig deeply into customer needs. The team was happy to find that transit riders, many of whom were transit dependent, appreciated having public transit, but pealing back the onion helped surface pain points. For example, riders talked about the need for accurate real time information about delays. With good quality delay information, riders can try to figure out alternative transportation and other workarounds. Moreover, delay information enables riders to notify their employer or other impacted parties. In contrast, waiting for a delayed bus without knowing what's going on creates a lot of stress. Beyond problems with delay information, other pain points that surfaced included conditions at stations and stops, frequency of service, and ease of trip planning and fare payment.


Survey results and insights from the thousands of conversations was followed by figuring out remedies for rider pain points. Alicia and her team held workshops with service providers and leadership to talk about everything they heard and consider potential solutions. This ultimately led to a comprehensive Customer Experience Action Plan, along with measures to track progress and ensure accountability to customers.

chart showing initiatives to improve service, make transit easier to use and enhance accessibility and comfort

Nurturing a Culture of CX Excellence:

With a dedicated CX team and consultant support, CTDOT's commitment to CX is palpable. The team operates as both doers and catalysts, driving initiatives while fostering collaboration among service providers. Alicia's leadership style, characterized by a dominant but vulnerable disposition, emphasizes the value of teamwork, openness to failure, and innovation.


Lessons Learned and Tips for Success:

Reflecting on her journey, Alicia emphasizes the importance of building teams that not only support the mission, but also help you see your blind spots. As advice to new CX practitioners in transit, she suggests immersion in the customer experience—riding the system and engaging with passengers and operators—to fuel their CX work.


CTDOT outreach to people with disabilities

Finally, one fun fact about Alicia: she has two Siberian huskies and loves Sci-Fi movies!


Conclusion:

As the transit landscape evolves, the significance of Customer Experience in shaping public perception and satisfaction cannot be overstated. Through Alicia's leadership and CTDOT's unwavering dedication, the journey towards CX excellence continues, making public transit more seamless and user friendly across Connecticut's transit systems.


For more information about the Connecticut DOT CX program, visit www.transitcx.com.


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