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Transit CX Building Blocks

A systematic, agency-wide approach is needed to create an effective customer experience program. Here is a quick overview of key building blocks (along with links to more detailed blog posts):

hexagon shapes labeled with key components of a transit CX program: Rider Pain Points, Plans, KPI’s, UX Testing, Standards, Budgets, and Culture

CX starts with understanding customer pain points using valid surveys and real time "live listening" through social media and call centers.

Tip: The best source of information for CX is in-the-moment surveys to detect issues during the customer journey that might be lost if we wait for people to recall their experiences and feelings through later surveys. In-the-moment surveys can identify points where customers feel anxious or confused for example.

The CX team then shares the research insights and collaborates across the organization to develop initiatives to remedy the pain points. These CX initiatives are subsequently considered during agency budget deliberations. Finally, a CX Plan identifies responsible parties, due dates, and KPI's to gauge customer impacts over time.

CX Plans should synchronize with other plans created by your organization. For example, many transit organizations create Short or Long Range Transit Plans that cover at least five years. Any unfunded CX initiatives should be identified in these Plans along with strategies to obtain the funding required. CX should also synchronize with strategic plans, capital investment plans, accessibility plans, equity analyses, and other key plans developed by your organization.

Cover of MBTA FY23-27 Capital Investment Plan

To institutionalize CX in your transit organization, it's also important to look at key standards. Most transit organizations adopt service standards, for example, that define minimum levels of service and maximum crowding levels. These standards have far-reaching impacts on the customer and should be reviewed from a customer lens. For example, service standards commonly set maximum load factors at 1.30 (meaning up to 30% of customers may need to stand during their trip). Is this the experience transit riders want? Do 30% of car passengers have to stand when commuting by car? What would it take to have enough vehicles, facilities, and staff to reduce the load factor standard?

Excerpt from cover page of Chicago Transit Authority Service Standards and Policies document

Most transit organizations also maintain facility and vehicle standards that govern the look and feel of stations and vehicles and have a big impact on the customer experience in terms of signage, seating, air flow, noise, cleanliness, and other features. These standards impact passenger comfort and clarity of information and should also be reviewed from a customer lens.

Also look at new services being planned for the future. Are you planning new busways, rail, or other transit services? What kinds of speed and reliability will they offer? Are they adequate to provide a good customer experience?

Also, are you planning to renovate old stations? Are there opportunities to bring customer voices to the table when making key decisions about alignment or other features to ensure that the final product meets customer needs?

New Jersey Transit 2030 Ten Year Strategic Plan cover

More generally, all new or improved products should be user-experience (UX) tested. That means convening a representative and inclusive sample of riders to test mockups or prototypes. This should address for example websites, apps, fare payment equipment, digital signs, and vehicle interior layouts and seating. UX testing is commonplace in modern corporations and use of UX testing is growing in the transit industry. LA Metro for example recently adopted an administrative procedure that requires UX testing with a five-star rating system, sets thresholds of customer acceptance required before product launch, and awards Seals of Excellence to top products.

Customers waiting in line to see BART Fleet of the Future mockup
Customers waiting in line to see BART Fleet of the Future mockup

Last but not least, employee culture is an essential element of a comprehensive CX program. Top-down plans can only tackle a handful of top customer pain points, but there are undoubtedly thousands of pain points customers experience every day so it's important to promote CX attitudes and behaviors across the organization at all levels from top leadership to front-line employees and everyone in between. This requires identifying core values like empathy for customers, passion for giving back to the community, and teamwork, and integrating these ideas into all aspects of employee relations - from hiring and training to coaching, evaluation, and recognition. Repetition is important.

It's also important to make sure that employees feel valued and supported, and that they have the information, tools, and authority to fix customer pain points. And it's important to streamline internal processes so that employees are able to deliver CX initiatives quickly.

More Tips:

  1. Conduct occasional CX surveys among your employees to see if more employees are adopting customer-centric attitudes and behaviors, and to detect and remedy obstacles employees face when trying to improve customer experiences.

  2. Consider engaging "process mapping" experts to identify additional opportunities to streamline internal processes like procurement, inventory, IT support, or hiring for example.

Bus operator welcoming customers on to the bus

Culture change is challenging and takes a long time. A coherent approach and endless repetition are essential to achieve culture change.

Comprehensive CX programs also examine the experience of other stakeholders that interact with your organization, including contractors, people who attend your public meetings, and out-of-town visitors that go on-line to find information about your fares and services. Pain points experienced by any of these stakeholders can impact your organization's reputation and effectiveness.

Tip: It takes time to develop a CX staff and devote adequate resources to tackle all of the elements described in this blog post. If your organization hasn't made that commitment yet, it's best to bite off just a few pieces rather than spreading yourself too thin. Ultimately though it will take a comprehensive, systematic CX program to deliver consistent improvements to the customer experience, and that means finding resources to staff and train an effective CX team.


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