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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis May 18, 2012
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Your Customers Have Changed: What To Do About It!
BY KATHY GOLDEN, Director of Publications and Passenger Transport

In the May 7 General Session, titled “Wired: How Your Customers Have Changed and What To Do About It,” keynote speaker John R. Patterson gave an enthusiastic presentation on ways APTA members can help improve customer satisfaction.

Angela Iannuzziello, first vice chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors, and vice chair, APTA Mobility Management Committee, presided, emphasizing that business members sponsor these types of general sessions, through which attendees can hear “new, innovative, bold, and creative ideas to grow our organizations.”

The topic of customer service, she added, “crosses all sectors of our industry. How we work with our customers is critical for our industry—both the public and private sides of our businesses.”

Patterson began with a thought for the day from researchers Len Berry and Sandra Lampo: “Greatness does not come from asking the customer what they want and then giving them what they require. It is understanding the customer well enough to give them what they desire, even if it is unexpressed.”

Customer service, he explained, is about creating a positively memorable experience. To do that, he said, you first have to ask, because: “If you don’t ask, you don’t know. The only assessment is theirs. The customers’ assessment of their experience is the only assessment that really matters.”

Today’s customers, said Patterson, demand value, are quicker to leave if dissatisfied, are vocal and tell all, and expect personalized service.

While technology is important, he advised, so is the personal touch: “The customer’s experience isn’t just personal contact. You need to make the two work together. You need to merge high tech with high touch for optimum results.” He cited Zappos, Starbucks, and USAA as just a few entities that have managed to make this successful integration.

The customer experience, Patterson said, is critical in turbulent times. Why? Because 73 percent of customers said friendly employees or customer service representations made them “fall in love with a brand,” he explained. Also, 50 percent of consumers will stop doing business with a brand if their customer service inquiry is not answered within one week. So loyalty is key: 95 percent of customers who complain about service and have their problem resolved quickly are more loyal.

Today’s customers are powerful, and the Internet can be their best friend. As an example, Patterson cited a 2008 incident in which United Airlines broke a passenger’s guitar. The musician, unhappy with the airlines’ refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing, created a song and video and posted it on YouTube. It got 11.9 million hits. The result: a $180 million negative impact to United’s bottom line.

Social media are empowering customers as well: approximately 51 percent of customers use social media to communicate, Patterson said. This method of communication drives five times the impact of traditional word of mouth: more than 60 percent of customers who hear about a bad experience on networking sites stop doing business with the offending company.

So, how do you improve customer service at your organization or system? Patterson emphasized: rethink strategies to stay in touch with your customers. Engage them, and think of them as your partners.

Finally, he noted: listen. What you will hear them saying, he said, is: “Surprise me; include me; understand me; teach me; and protect me.”

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