The Public Space
February 18, 2015
ride a mile in my shoes
By Ken Mayer
“Please continue to hold.” “Your call is very important to us.” “We will be with you shortly.”
20 minutes later: “Please continue to hold.” “We will be with you shortly.” “Your call is very important to us.”
Sound familiar? It’s the mantra of poor customer service. Sadly, this sort of behavior is widespread today and getting worse. Apparently the morons who write these scripts haven’t contemplated how much a long hold time contradicts the notion of an important call.
One of the most Quixotic aspects of my career as a professional marketer was my efforts to stop this sort of nonsense and build a customer orientation. Maybe I learned to be too empathetic at my mother’s knee, but it sure seems like most organizations can only see themselves from the inside.
I repeatedly asked my teams to try to put themselves in the position of our customer. Are we easy to do business with? Do we treat our constituents as we would like to be treated?
Even now, as a university professor, if I can clear the path to true understanding of the subject, I’ll take that every time over making sure your footnotes are properly formatted.
It’s what I call the “unnecessarily high degree of difficulty,” aka construction of barriers to getting things done. Sometimes it’s even justified by claiming that it builds character.
Ironically, a couple of local public institutions are bucking this trend. To my surprise it’s getting a lot easier to park my car and ride the bus.
Ken Smith, the City of Omaha’s parking manager, has set up ways to pay for parking heretofore unknown in these parts. Because I live and work in and around downtown, I once stashed a roll of quarters in my car to pay for parking. But no more. Smith feels my pain.
All I need is a credit card or a mobile device, and I can pay for parking. The parking department’s web site even has maps that indicate where street parking is and the duration of the meters. Maybe someday we will be able to find unoccupied parking places in real time.
Small purchase card transactions have become common in recent years for everything from vending machines to photocopies – now parking and bus fares.
Curt Simon over at Metro, a #5 rider in his youth (I being a #8 man) has presided over both a reset of routes and new fare boxes.
The new routes may not please everybody, but a lot of research went into this realignment, and it’s something that I think is overdue. I hope the new system will be more usable for more of us.
The new fare boxes will ultimately be able to accept credit cards. In fact, this month, UNO’s MavRide program will be expanded to include faculty and staff. This means free bus rides for all of us with UNO MavCards.
Plans also include a web-based bus tracking system. That means I won’t have to wait in the rain or cold any more than is absolutely necessary.
But the big news is the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Acronyms aside, this is $15 million toward building a system from Westroads to downtown connecting Methodist Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Crossroads Village, UNO, UNMC and Midtown Crossing.
This won’t be your grandpa’s bus. BRTs are new, high capacity, lower cost public transit more akin to rail systems. Come about 2018 when the new system is complete, you should see upscale passenger amenities, real time display, pre-board ticketing and faster service.
I’m never quite sure about the motivations of bureaucrats. But I’d like to think the aforementioned leadership may be making changes so that their organizations are easier to do business with.
Intended or not, it feels like customer service in a world that no longer seems to care.
The Public Space
Ken Mayer is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant and adjunct faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He has served on the boards of The Nebraska Choral Arts Society, Downtown Omaha Inc. and Landmark’s Inc. Mr. Mayer has been a consultant and volunteer for Omaha by Design since 2002.