Oh, How Easy It Is to Fix Someone Else’s Customer Service Bloopers


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Isn’t it easy to fix someone else’s customer service bloopers? We can be oblivious to our own blind spots, but we can sure tell others how to improve.

I recently took Megabus, “the low cost daily express bus service,” from St. Louis to Kansas City for an unexpected business trip. I am not a bus-taker. There are too many factors out of my control. (There are with flying, too, but Port-O-Potties is not one of them.)

But with gas costs, a 10-hour solo round trip and too little notice for decent airfare, I bought a $50 round-trip bus ticket. In the “social proof” department, several people I know had traveled by Megabus and proclaimed it to be a “pleasant experience; not at all like Greyhound.”

Had I ordered tickets in advance (ha ha), they would’ve cost me only $1 each way (possibly the first clue that Megabus is not for business travelers). But the online ordering experience was efficient, and the website was branded to validate the “fun” aspect of double-decker travel.

Online, Megabus gives the illusion of a grand adventure. Live and in person, my trip as a first-time passenger left me underwhelmed. I wish I could turn off my marketing problem-solving brain when I become a consumer. But I can’t, so here were the bloopers and what I would do if Megabus was my company:

1. No signage marking the pickup spot. Website says, “Bus stops are clearly identified by a sign showing the megadriver logo.” Nope. We had to ask several bystanders to point it out. Then we were, in turn, asked by those arriving after us if this was the place. Easy fix.

2. No seating system. The email ticket confirmation suggested arriving 15 minutes early to get the best (unassigned) seat choice. But there’s no “line” or priority seating system. Everyone “hangs out,” then races to board. I’m typically a last-minute person. But as a first-time customer, I gave up an extra 30 minutes to follow their advice–and it made absolutely no difference. Fix: Get a system. Or delete that line on the confirmation. Just say, “Boarding is by ‘survival of the fittest.'”

3. No notification when departure was delayed by 90 minutes due to weather out of Chicago. OK, we can’t fault Megabus for weather. But after a 30-, 60-, 90-minute delay, never once did we get an announcement about what to expect. Was the bus coming–ever? Should we stay or go home? So all 80 passengers got out cell phones to either update those picking them up or to call Megabus for details. (Did Megabus really need to field 80 phone calls?) Finally, one passenger got thru and circulated an update to all of us. So 80 passengers once again got on their cells to update those on the other end.

Fix: What a perfect application for Twitter! There wasn’t a single passenger who didn’t have a cell phone. The company could easily have offered passengers the chance to *follow* Megabus on Twitter when they made their online reservation.

The payoff for passengers: Departure-update tweets in the “unlikely event” that the bus is late. (A delayed bus driver could initiate these tweets, saving this low-overhead operation from having to hire manpower to deliver this kind of customer service.)

The payoff for Megabus: A double-whammy. Passengers stay informed, instead of angry. And the company creates an online viral marketing opportunity to stake a bigger presence in the search engines, saving marketing costs. Did I mention that Twitter is free?

4. Respect your customers. Duh. But after finally departing 2 hours late, would it have killed the bus driver to offer an apology or announce a new arrival time? Eighty passengers once again got on their cells to alert those picking them up with a guesstimate of when we’d get there.

Fix: Didn’t the bus driver have to report to someone somewhere to establish a new ETA? Wouldn’t this be a great time for another tweet to our cell phones? How about an apology tweet (or a regular email) with a “We’re Sorry You Had To Wait” coupon toward the next ticket purchase…or a free candy bar at the next pit stop?

Megabus could have asked, when I bought my ticket, “Would you like us to notify anyone when you’ll be arriving or if the bus is late?” Wouldn’t this be an incredible free list-building strategy for Megabus! Instead I had to make 6 cell phone calls (to my departure and arrival families) and bother my ride who was already doing me a big favor to pick me up so late.

Megabus opened its doors in 2006 and has transported 900,000 passengers since then. Owned by Coach USA LLC, its $783 million parent company, Megabus’ unique selling proposition is reducing costs via online ticketing and collecting passengers at on-street bus stops rather than at terminals.

According to a DePaul University study, bus travel between cities has risen 13 percent since 2006, the first increase in more than 40 years, primarily due to $4+/gallon gas and airline surcharges. Given Megabus’ current, “ripped from the headlines” selling advantage, I’m amazed that one of the oldest business models of the 20th century–public transportation–hasn’t incorporated all the free marketing technology available in the 21st to dominate its industry.

Did I mention I was a first-time passenger? I should be receiving a follow-up email any day now, surveying me about my trip and asking me for my net promoter score. Maybe even asking for referrals (another list building opportunity!!!)

I’m waiting, Megabus. But then, it’s always easier to solve someone else’s problems.

Lori Feldman
Aviva LLC
Lori Feldman, a veteran list broker and marketer, works with sales professionals and business owners to squeeze more profits from their No. 1 asset: their customer list. Her e-letter, The Database Marketing Hotwire, has won the APEX Award for newsletter writing excellence twice.


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