Sunday, December 4, 2011

How Do We Measure Friendly Transit Bus Customer Service?

Most transit agencies expect friendly customer service from their bus operators.  But what defines "friendly?"  How do we measure "friendly" customer service?

I've wondered about these issues in my current position at work.  I receive, as many transit agencies do, complaints of bus drivers behaving in a rude, non customer friendly manner.  Transit customer service bulletins dictate that employees provide customer friendly service. What are the minimum and expected behaviors that should be displayed.  Is discipline appropriate if an employee is not "friendly enough?"

While it is difficult to define and measure customer friendly service, unacceptable behavior is obvious.

Unacceptable Behaviors
  • Cursing and/or using profane vulgar language/gestures at customers, even if provoked.
  • Raising voice / screaming at customer
  • Ignoring reasonable requests from customers for directions/information
  • Failure to provide explanations for delays/disruptions if known
  • Failure to assist when required
  • Speaking to the customer in a dismissive fashion
  • Prejudging a customer based on past experiences
  • Treating customers differently based on sex/race/physical disabilities
  • Putting schedule before service

Customer Interaction

If a customer boards and says good morning to a bus driver and the driver ignores them, while clearly rude and unfriendly, is it an offense that justifies discipline? 
How a bus driver interacts with customers reflects on the operating agency as a whole.  A bus driver has the ability to make or break a persons day with a simple greeting at boarding or departure.  While the primary function of a bus driver is to operate the vehicle safely, it is not their ONLY function. 

Multiple complaints about a bus drivers behavior is usually an indication of an angry/aggressive employee.  When a complaint comes in, it is often the customers word against the drivers.  Managers need to be alert to angry customers who may have missed a connecting bus and are now displacing their anger on the bus driver with an exaggerated complaint.  In general, the bus drivers face is the face of the company and the only face the customer will see.

Bus drivers operate with very little supervision unique in comparison to an office or factory worker who generally have direct supervision a majority of the time.  When transit supervisors conduct "check rides", they are generally observing safety skills.  Customer service should also be evaluated at every chance.  Though difficult to measure consistently, obvious customer "un-friendly" service should not be tolerated and always addressed appropriately.  Perhaps first through retraining, then through discipline.

What is your experience with friendly customer service in bus operations?


  1. I posted an article on my own blog (driver's perspective) some time ago dealing with the fundamendal issue of professionalism:


  2. Very nice article Jeff.

    In my experience, to when I was a driver, it is a very small percentage of drivers who lack the customer service skills to do their job properly. Strangely enough, these were the same drivers who disregarded schedules, and were generally nasty, even to their coworkers/fellow drivers. Not to mention, always in the bosses office.

    The bus driver job requires both excellent driving and people skills. If drivers can't deal with people, then they should deliver packages or drive sanitation trucks!

  3. Good article Michael.
    A further question is how did these sort of people get through the screening process.
    Of course there is the occasional 'bad day' and dealing with people for hours on end becomes arduous, especially if you are dealing with disrespectful or extremely ignorant riders.

    I hear all kinds of stories about Trimet drivers from passengers, some of them are really troubling.

  4. When I was a Bus Operator on the streets of NYC, i learned very quickly that people are like snowflakes... no two personalities are the same. And after a customer confrontation on the bus, the snowflakes can quickly turn into a blizzard!

    You raise a good point about how certain drivers lacking acceptable customer service skills get through the screening process. It seems to me, that when assessing applicants, transit operators look generally at safety, criminal record, and license history. I've also heard about the BOSS (Bus Operator Selection Survey - ), but im not sure if this is measuring survivability/performance in the customer service arena as opposed to absenteeism and incident/accident liability.

    But as far as the "Bad Day" argument, let me ask you this. If you went to McDonalds and only got a half cooked hamburger because the cook was having a bad day, is that acceptable?

    While it is not easy, expecially the stressful tasks of driving a 40-60 foot vehicle with regular non cdl drivers all around us professionals, drivers need to remember to not bring their personal problems to work and vica-versa.

    I can remember diffusing many situations with a simple apology, even if i was not in the wrong. I would tell my student drivers, just apoligize!, its doesn't cost anything but a little pride. But it goes a long way at diffusing an angry custumer who is looking for an arguement or fight.

    BTW, Merry Christmas Al!

  5. Interestingly, I've also written a blog post on the topic, after years of living in London and experiencing many more unfriendly bus drivers, than friendly. And I've used the bus many times.

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