This is a special guest post by Dennis Guy, Manager of Customer Service and Innovation for the Transit Division (HSR) at the City of Hamilton. He spoke on this topic at the ThinkTransit Conference and was voted Best Live Session by our attendees. Hear him, plus 30+ other transit professionals speak on how to overcome your biggest challenges, at the 2019 ThinkTransit Conference.
It’s a branded world.
There’s a stigma attached to the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR)’s brand, and it’s not a good one. The stigma is that the HSR is for those who are "transit dependent." Even though market research conducted in 2015 indicates that only 14% of residents are transit dependent, the perception remains.
Cliche alert: Perception is Reality
"When will they get into the 21st century?"
"I tried to teach my son how to use the system. It's daunting. I can't get him to ride it again."
"The route I'm on is dirty and dangerous."
"You would think that each step would have a schedule posted and maybe a single map so that it would be easy to figure out when buses arrive and where they go."
"I just can't."
"For poor people"
Or my favorite:
"I don't know. It's just there. I never use it."
Improvement is Needed
The list of expectations (in no particular order) is longer than one of our paper transfers.
- Direct routes
- Well-timed connections
- Increased frequency
- Accessible schedules – online, mobile app, at stops
- “Dead simple” navigation
- Free WiFi
- Communications, transparency, and accountability
- Smaller vehicles with flexible routes
Addressing the Perception Will be Met with Skepticism
The idea of branding, marketing, and communicating to address the negative perception is consistently met with an ask for real proof to make it anything more than a just new paint job.
Improvements must be seen and evident and talked about repeatedly with a steady stream of improvements announced and delivered over many years. Without tangible evidence, marketing and branding will be a waste of money and resources.
The Times they are a-Changin'
We’re just getting started; with a recent organizational restructure that invests in the customer experience, including human and financial resources, we are shifting our focus to be customer- and potential-customer centric.
We’ve taken a few small steps, leading to big leaps in improved customer experience:
- Communicating service disruptions through Twitter, with data from Trapeze OPS and auto-generated with Trapeze Traveler Information
- Honoring the heritage of the HSR brand by developing visual identity (brand) standards and policing the application of them
- Developing a mobile application for tech-savvy customers
- Piloting free WiFi on buses
- Ordering buses with USB charging ports
- Fostering relationships with key community "gatekeepers" to re-establish the HSR as a member of the community, not "just a bus company"
- Developing partnerships with anchor institutions and major employers
- Taking a collaborative approach with Trapeze product development teams
Oh Captain, My Captain.
A key to our success is supportive leadership; something often understated, but cannot be underestimated. From the Director of the HSR to the General Manager of Public Works, to Hamilton City Council, we have support to carry out our 10-Year Local Strategy, which includes ongoing investment in an improved customer experience. Without sponsorship from our senior leaders, we risk being unable to provide real proof that the tides have shifted and the times are changing.
Having received approval to partner with world-class researchers from Hamilton’s own McMaster University, we’re going to (re)envision the HSR. Focused on quantifying customer perceptions, attitudes, and preferences, we will build on the past, to shape the future.
Dennis Guy spoke at the 2018 ThinkTransit Conference on improving innovation and building a customer-centric organization. Watch this recap of his presentation and then don't miss out on the 2019 ThinkTransit Conference.
Dennis Guy is the Manager of Customer Service and Innovation for the Transit Division (HSR) at the City of Hamilton. His mandate is to shift the organization to a much more customer-centric model. Ultimately, he builds relationships with key players in the transit community, develops and implements comprehensive customer service strategies, and communicates with customers to find out what they want and need. His portfolio includes teams that advocate for customer needs and wants (customer experience), deal directly with customers (customer care), leverage technology for business and customer needs (IT), and turn binary numbers into business intelligence (data). He is currently co-leading a project with McMaster University to ‘Re-envision the HSR’, which will quantify the perceived and desired quality of HSR service, before re-configuring the network using machine learning models for network robustness and vulnerability.