Customer Communication

By Hugh Mose, Transit Industry Liaison, Avail Technologies

In February I wrote about four types of customers that I believe every transit system has – your riders, your employees and their representatives, your general public and the officials they elect, and your own policymakers.  Today I write about the importance of your communications with each of these constituencies.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that an organization can have the best service, the best products, the best people, the best technology, and the best of just about anything in the marketplace, but if you can’t successfully communicate about it, you’ll never get the full value from your investment.  Nowhere is that more true than in the transit world.

Communicating with your Constituencies

If you accept that your transit agency has four basic types of customers, then you need to think about how you communicate with each of them:

Your riders.  Passengers – and prospective passengers – need to know where, when, and how to access your services to successfully use them.  It’s no longer simply a matter of having printed maps and timetables that are easy to read and readily available, telephone information that is accessible, and employees who know the system and can explain it.  Today it’s so much more.  Today’s customers expect accurate and up-to-the-minute information on delays and detours, routes that show up on Google maps and other platforms, the ability to purchase fares online, etc., etc., etc.

Your employees.  In my view, at least three types of communication with employees are essential to a well-functioning transit agency.  First, employees need to know an appropriate amount of information about your agency and the services you provide.  Second, and perhaps most obviously, they need to have the tools – and access to the information – necessary to do their own job.  And third, they need to know how they themselves are performing – either directly, such as with real-time on-time performance – or indirectly, such as through coaching from a supervisor.

The general public and elected officials.  These are the constituencies that support the funding and make the public policy decisions that can mean the difference between a robust transit environment and one that struggles.  In my experience, it’s almost always good for transit to be kept “top of mind.”  A public that isn’t continually reminded of the value of public transit will soon forget how critical it is in the lives of the people who depend on it.  And elected officials at all levels need to be reminded periodically of the impact of their decisions and thanked for the support they provide.

Your own policymakers.  Whether you’re the manager of a transit agency or you have a lower-level position, nothing is more important than keeping your boss or bosses (and their bosses, where appropriate) well-informed.  In fact, I speak from personal experience when I say that a failure in this area has the potential to do enormous damage, to your agency and to you personally.  Timely, on-point, accurate, complete but concise, and consistent are all key ingredients to reports that you provide “up the chain.”  And effective informal communications with policy leaders are equally important.

Communication is a Two-way Street

An element of communication that doesn’t always get adequate attention is customer feedback.  While it’s critically important that your transit agency “push” information to all of your customers, it’s almost as important that you have a good means to receive “customer comments.”  For riders, this used to mean simply having a system for collecting and processing input received in person, over the telephone, by letters and emails, and in public meetings.  Today it’s all that and more – text messages, social media posts, input received through apps, etc. – coupled with an expectation that your responses will be immediate or close to it.

Your communication to other audiences also needs to have a “feedback loop.”  Employees need a means to voice their concerns, and know that they will get a response, even if the answer is “no.”  The public and their representatives need to have the ability to get messages through to you and your team, regardless of the channel they use, and have confidence that a response will be forthcoming.  And a transit system’s policy body expects to have their questions and comments addressed quickly and completely, and if the request can’t be responded to affirmatively, to know the reasons why.

What Does All This Mean for You?

When you are considering an investment in transit technology, whether it’s on-board your vehicles or behind the scenes, think about not just how good the technology may be, but how it will enhance your ability to communicate with your customers.  Will it facilitate communication of critical information to your riders?  Will it allow you to gather data that you can use to improve employee performance?  Will it provide data on the important indicators that represent value to your community?  Will it enable you to provide timely and accurate reports to your governing board?

Avail’s Enterprise Transit Management Software will give you the tools to not just manage your agency, but also communicate with your key constituencies.  Check out all Avail has to offer at