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CXO Profiles: Rhonda Allen, MARTA

Welcome to the second in a series of profiles of transit Customer Experience leaders. Today, I am featuring Rhonda Allen, Chief Customer Experience Officer for the MARTA system in Atlanta. In a calm and unassuming way, Rhonda Allen oversees the Customer Experience, Research & Analysis and Information Technology departments, and leads nearly 200 staff who are transforming the MARTA customer experience.

headshot of Rhonda Allen
Rhonda Allen, MARTA Chief Customer Experience Officer

Rhonda's scope includes the customer care center, lost and found, ambassadors who support special events, programs to help people who are unsheltered, passenger information, fare collection, customer surveys, a rider advisory council, sustainability, and even intramural sports for employees! She also oversees a partnership with rideshare companies to help riders during service disruptions (called MARTAConnect) and a demand response pilot program (called MARTA Reach).

You might at first wonder whether Rhonda is working in the right job. She grew up in a rural area where people drive instead of taking transit, and her background is in structural engineering and construction management. But over two decades at MARTA, Rhonda found herself steadily drawn to customer-focused assignments. In particular, she worked to mitigate MARTA construction impacts by going the extra mile to help customers. This ultimately led to an assignment to plan service and ensure a good experience for visitors to the 2019 Super Bowl. Rhonda led an interdepartmental team to oversee every aspect of Super Bowl service and deployed over 600 administrative staff to MARTA stations to welcome and assist over 600,000 Super Bowl riders.

The following year, Rhonda was appointed as MARTA's first Chief Customer Experience Officer, and now her top focus is to help support MARTA's mission: "people taking people where they want to go today and tomorrow." MARTA CEO Collie Greenwood makes it clear that he wants MARTA to see itself as more than lines and dots on a map. There is an opportunity for all employees to rally to create social and economic mobility for riders, connecting them to jobs, families, and important services, such as medical appointments and grocery shopping. And everyone at MARTA has a role to play - even those in support areas like procurement, accounts payable, IT, and HR.

Rhonda distributing masks to riders
Rhonda distributing masks to MARTA riders during the Covid pandemic in 2020

With this goal in mind, Rhonda collaborates with her colleagues to address key customer experience issues: making fare payment easier, making the website and digital signage more user friendly, and helping make MARTA cleaner, safer, and more reliable. For example, she recently worked with the Chief Operations Officer to modify services to meet the needs of employees at a large job center that needed more service during shift changes.

Rhonda speaking into bullhorn in MARTA station, with Rider Alert sign behind her
Providing information to Beyonce Concert goers

Rhonda and her team are introducing CX techniques like use of personas to put a human face on CX issues. They are also building MARTA's User Experience (UX) design practice. For example, last year Rhonda and her team invited customers to provide feedback on new train car design mockups, as well as simulations using virtual reality.

Screenshot from rail car design video. Rhonda at Stadler facility.

There are still plenty of rider challenges, with technology evolving so rapidly, labor shortages, and increased homelessness in particular. Eventually the MARTA CX team will build a comprehensive CX Plan, but for now they have their hands full delivering near term tangible improvements.

As a leader, Rhonda emphasizes volunteering and stepping up to help when needed, serving as a catalyst to improve CX, and soundly executing projects so as to build confidence in the CX program over time. Rhonda patiently explains CX to other employees, helps them see how their jobs ultimately impact the customer experience, and gives them time to take in the new way of thinking.

Rhonda serves as Co-Chair of a new APTA CX committee and believes in networking to learn from peers so that she can continue to learn and grow from the many diverse CX models in the transit industry. Rhonda sees public transit as "ripe for change," and she is well positioned to help lead the charge!


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