MBTA Customer “Service” Fail

Tuesday, 08 February 2011

No other brand could get away with treating people the way the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit “Authority”) does. Except perhaps NSTAR, Boston’s other unfair monopoly business. If you are unhappy with the service at a restaurant or store, you shop or eat somewhere else. But if you dare to complain about the MBTA, they tell you to buy a car. (Yes, really. I’ve heard them.)

A Lesson in Customer Disservice

Today I left my house at 7:55am. I walked a few minutes to the bus stop, just in time to see an overpacked bus drive by. Then another one, and another one until finally the fourth bus stopped and I managed to cram on with all the other unhappy commuters. Smooshed unsafely with nothing to hold on to, I’ve now got a nice bruise forming for my trouble.

We arrive at Broadway Station, and the T turnstyle charges me for a full fare, not a transfer like it should. Now I’m late, cold, annoyed, and out an extra $1.50. I head to the train platform and am greeted by hundreds more pissed off South Boston commuters. This time, only two overpacked red line trains go by before I manage to get on. Things are looking up!

I finally make it to Park St. at 8:47 am. Have I mentioned it’s only a mile and a half from my house? I’m beginning to think I should have walked, except it’s cold and rainy out. But I’ve still got to switch to the Green Line and go all the way to Lechmere. The first train heading all the way out there (because most stop at Government Center) is full. I make the next one, only to be told that it’s going out of service at North Station and everyone has to get off. We switch trains and I make it to work a little after 9am.

Focus on User Experience Before You Start Marketing

I know this post seems like a rant, and it is. But it’s also an important look at how companies treat customers. The MBTA keeps talking about all their cool new social media programs, mobile apps and open data, but what are they really doing for people? Not providing the basic services they are supposed to offer, and doing a terrible job of listening and managing their social channels. They need to go back to the drawing board and evaluate their product. (They also might want to look up “supply and demand,” because I saw a whole bunch of empty trains heading in the opposite direction of all these full ones.)

There is a time and a place for social media, and it’s not before you get your product or service working effectively. Yes, it can be a powerful crisis management tool, but only if you use it effectively. And only if every single day isn’t another crisis. The MBTA is squatting on countless Twitter accounts and their MBTAgm account has spotty follow-up and terrible listening skills. They are noticeably absent from the Facebook scene, and the highest ranking Page for the MBTA is a user-generated plea for them to extend their hours and provide a service their customers have been asking for for years.

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