Public transport is a great invention, especially when it runs like clockwork. But unfortunately, that isn’t always the case – so how can transport authorities deliver customer service to their users where they want it and when they want it? I recently spoke with Justin Clark of Transport for Greater Manchester to find out who they do social customer service.
Have a listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud (below) or keep reading for a summary of our chat.
“It’s very difficult for an organization like ours. Unlike retailers and private sector companies, we don’t have a specific audience. If you think about who uses transport on a day-to-day basis, it’s school children up to OAPs in their 70s and 80s, so our customer service is very flexible. We need to offer traditional channels but Twitter is, increasingly, becoming our number one channel. We’ve seen that in the last year – in the last six months, especially. If you look at the statistics for our two Twitter accounts, they’re going up and up and up month per month. And we’re seeing a direct correlation between people contacting us on Twitter and a reduction in peewees in the phone line and the e-mail.”
Give us an example of a transport crisis and how you handled it?
“Yeah, sure. So about two months ago, our Metrolink tram network shut down across the network – it was a communications issue between the trams and the control centre. So these things happen with all transport systems but it meant that from 10:00am to 4:00pm there were no trams running across the entire network. The challenge for our customer service team is dealing with the fallout from that. So it’s responding to customers and it’s making sure that accurate information goes out. So from a statistic point of view, in two hours, our mentions grew by 1000% compared to a normal day. In response, I called in the whole team – so all eight people, plus a couple from the communications team, jumped on and actually, our response times increased during the crisis. We responded to, I think, 70% of mentions within four minutes.
And a real positive, from my point of view, is we actually had people on the trams educating other passengers because we were talking to them on Twitter. Because it was a communications issue, it was difficult to contact the drivers, to contact people around the network. So Twitter became our default communications channel.”
How do you approach people who are angry and upset and want to vent their frustrations?
“It’s very simple for me – we talk to people as people. We don’t treat people as customers. And one of the first things I did was write a playbook for the team which was called “You Are Not a Robot.” So the focus for me is to put yourself in that customer’s position. If you’re in a tram platform, it might be wet, you might be late for work, you might be stressed. Imagine that feeling. Respond accordingly. A lot of the time, when we get angry customers, if you talk to them like human beings, they respond in kind. So we see a lot of people venting, shouting at us. Ten minutes later, they’ll reply with apology saying, “I know it’s not your fault. It’s just frustrating.” We get that. We understand that. We’re just there to help. And yeah, if people are angry, that’s fine, you know. First and foremost, we need to sort their issue out. And again, it’s just talking to people as you would to any other human being.”