Top Five Customer Service Tips for Transit Drivers

By June 3, 2019

For public-facing industries like transportation services, good customer service makes a tremendous difference in loyalty and therefore ridership numbers. Whether the transit company is a small NEMT operation or a larger public organization, there are essential quality customer service traits that all transit agencies should consider to be pillars of their businesses during training, hiring, and day-to-day operations.

These tips should be applied not just for drivers, but managers and even dispatchers. Essentially, a well-run organization is one that can provide great customer service--and by the same token, bad customer service often is the result of poorly-managed companies.

1. Provide Adequate Training

Drivers, dispatchers, and everyone else involved directly in the company should be fully versed in all policies and procedures that apply to their transit area. This includes everything from basic fleet operations all the way to making sure that the features of specialized vehicles like those used for NEMT are fully understood by the drivers operating them. In many cases, hiring drivers with relevant certifications can not only improve the ridership experience but may even be required to get certain types of transit funding.

A well-trained driver will be able to follow the rest of the crucial skills listed below, especially during busy or stressful periods of operation. On the other hand, someone with gaps in their knowledge may struggle to help the organization provide the absolute best service possible, particularly while under pressure. Any public-facing job will come with challenges that require fast thinking and adaptation, and good training is an essential foundation for drivers’ ability to successfully take challenging circumstances in stride.

2. Know What to Anticipate

“Anticipatory service” has become something of a buzzword in the service industry. Although the term may sound fancy, it essentially boils down to the acknowledgment that some customers may feel shy about asking questions or for assistance. Anticipatory service just means understanding and planning for this dynamic by taking a proactive approach to interactions with riders. This could be anything from asking someone if they need assistance, to helping a rider plan the best route to their eventual destination.

Another way to understand the idea of anticipatory service and its role in great customer service is to simply imagine the small ways that drivers can go above and beyond their basic job requirements to ensure the comfort of their riders at all times. Essentially, anticipatory service is the equivalent of a waiter refilling your water glass without being asked to.

One good point about anticipating rider needs applies particularly well to one type of transit field. In NEMT, riders may require assistance with mobility or medical equipment, and drivers should take the lead on ensuring that customers accessibility needs are being met quickly, easily, and with tact and compassion. For example, drivers of NEMT vehicles should understand how long it takes to lift and secure a wheelchair-using passenger so that rushing or delayed schedules can be avoided. This point again illustrates how a good working knowledge of relevant policy and procedures can help drivers deliver the best service possible.        

3. Take Pride in Your Work

Transit services are a vital part of all American communities: they help get people to and from jobs, schools, the homes of loved ones, and even important medical care. Transit companies should embrace this fact with pride. Indeed, when drivers display confidence, integrity, and anticipatory service, transit clients will notice!

When drivers take pride in their job, they are able to come to their job and provide warm and helpful service on a consistent basis. Here are a few tips on how drivers can use pride in their organization to make their passengers feel comfortable and respected, which are both key parts of good customer experiences.    

  • Get to know regulars by name. This doesn’t sound complicated, but forging a human connection is a tremendously important part of quality customer service. Especially for NEMT or other microtransit organizations with smaller ridership, getting to know regulars’ names and preferences can humanize the experience and increase customer satisfaction.  
  • Practice discretion. For example in NEMT work, drivers may be exposed to some pretty personal information about their passengers. This information should be treated like any other private health information: with absolute discretion! Drivers should never share this information with others, talk to one client about another client, make social media postings that might expose sensitive information, etc.    

4. Have A Plan For Problems

Like any other organization, transit agencies are going to run into problems along the way. These could range from logistical headaches to issues with interpersonal communication styles. From a customer service standpoint, there is, fortunately, an excellent common denominator for solving all types of problems: good feedback.

For good feedback to exist in an organization, both clients and employees should be empowered to feel comfortable communicating openly about problems. In the case of client issues, transit companies should consider having some form of written grievance policy or another way to formally hold drivers accountable for their actions and behaviors.

By the same token, drivers should feel comfortable talking with their supervisors about any issues they may be experiencing. There are several ways companies can do this: planning occasional 1:1 discussion between individual drivers and their supervisors can help establish the trust and rapport needed for transit organizations to run as smoothly as possible (and thus deliver a great customer experience).

Another great part about feedback is that it can provide decision-makers within the company great material to improve the quality of any continuing education or training that the company provides its employees.

5. Use the Right Software

Without the right tools in place, drivers could be stuck with nightmarish logistical problems that result in delays or other poor services. If these sorts of issues become a regular occurrence, no amount of good customer service will fix what are essentially foundational issues. Besides directly slowing or disrupting operations, the stress that comes with constant logistical problems could be keeping drivers from doing their best to do the other steps outlined above.

If you’re starting a transit company such as an NEMT provider or looking to upgrade your fleet, do some research first on what to expect from good software and take the time to compare features in detail. Good dispatch software leads to good operations, which can be a game-changer for any form of transit when it comes to providing a superior customer service experience.  

Good customer service is more than just a buzzword: besides being the reason riders keep coming back, it’s an important barometer for how the company is doing as a whole. In an industry that already often has tight margins, good customer service can play a crucial part in maintaining ridership and running the organization as effectively as possible, which are critical points. Taking the time to do these 5 things and understand other key aspects of the transit field are key parts to building and maintaining a successful transit operation.