Customer Service is a Stranger on the Train


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Last week in Dallas a commuter train broke down in a small tunnel on a day when there were a lot of passengers traveling from the downtown area after a parade for the Maverick’s basketball team winning the championship. Many of those passengers were new to the system and unfamiliar with most of the processes such as purchasing tickets and learning their way around getting on and off the train.

After the breakdown, having waited for quite some time with no word from the driver about what had happened and what they needed to do, some of the people opened the doors, got off the train, walked up the tunnel and walked back to one of the stations. It is likely that some who would not have gotten off on their own followed others.

After several days some information came out:

  • The transit authority scolded the passengers for getting off the train, citing safety issues. No apology was released.
  • The train driver said he had made several announcements about the breakdown and instructions on what to do.
  • The passengers said they heard none of the announcements.
  • The head of the transit authority did not know how many people, if any, had gotten off the train to walk until he saw it on the television news.

This has become a public relations issue for the DART train organization at time when ridership is down. What could have been done differently?

I think the biggest issue throughout was a lack of communication in the customer service process. The driver did not go into the train cars to make certain that the announcements were heard. Considering the type of breakdown, he should have considered that the PA system was affected along with everything else. Neither the driver nor DART chose to pass the situation on to someone higher up; there is no indication what level of management was involved directly after the incident. Safety procedures were not adequately communicated to passengers; even regular riders were probably stymied about what to do.

And now the public has been issued a reprimand from a service provider that seems to firmly believes it is completely in the right and doesn’t owe an apology to anyone. This perpetuates the stereotype that city services don’t care about the people it serves.

Apologizing is not admitting wrong-doing, however. Nobody expected the head of DART rail to approve of passengers going against safety regulations. But that seems to be how he saw it.

The better option would have been to issue an apology for the breakdown and lack of communication from the driver. It could then have been stated that passengers getting off the train was a safety risk that is highly discouraged practice. Perhaps a review of the safety procedure communication path is in order. For example, if the train door merely said not to open it while the train was moving, it would make sense to most people that, since the train was not moving it was OK to open it.

As far as intratrain communication, some training in critical thinking may be in order for the driver.”If the train has stalled, realize the PA system may also be out. Walk through the train and make sure the announcement was heard.” Seeing the driver in person would have reassured people that the problem was being addressed.

From the top down this is an organization that needs to redesign their communications process, make certain everyone is trained on it, that the process itself is easy to access especially for cases that don’t occur very often (such as a train stall). And while they are doing that, they need to shift their culture to one of helping their customers get where they are going safely while treating them as people.

Do you have processes in place to keep communications flowing? Especially in emergency situations? Have you trained everyone on what to do? Is it clear to those who are not part of the organization how to proceed in this type of case?

These are things we need to think about and have in place before the train stalls. And if we don’t, we need to make certain our customers are treated with respect, even if their actions were in the wrong. Too much of the wrong communication may stall the business for good.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Hoyt Mann
As co-founder and president, Hoyt oversees all operational aspects of the business, including sales, marketing, service delivery, and customer support. His extensive resume encompasses over 15 years as an innovator, entrepreneur, and overall technical evangelist with leading Dallas-based companies, including EDS, EpicRealm, MCI and OpenConnect Systems. Before forming PhaseWare Inc., Hoyt served as director of engineering for RamQuest Software, providing executive support to Founder and CEO Randall Nelson.


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