TRANSIT COOPERATIVE RESEARCH PROGRAM
The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies over the past decade has empowered consumers to use web-based tools to comment on and rate goods and services ranging from hotels to health clubs. Increasingly, transit riders are joining their ranks. The widespread availability of web-based tools, mobile applications, and social media has made it easier for riders to report service, maintenance, and safety-related issues like late trains, missing bus stop signs, or broken escalators.
While web-savvy individuals are using electronic tools to make their opinions known, public and private-sector organizations are also taking advantage of these options to learn more about their customers and their opinions and even to change the course of public opinion. Online feedback forms, mobile applications, social media channels, and web-based techniques, such as crowdsourcing, allow organizations to collect formal and informal feedback from their customers and community. Such forums are also being used to educate the public about their services.
As technology gets smarter, the flow of information continues to pick up speed. The advent of the Internet age is bringing more information to and from organizations at a faster and faster pace. This brings a need for increased work flow, which can quickly overwhelm staff, if not carefully managed.
While some transit agencies are comfortable dealing with large volumes of information from multiple social media platforms, online surveys, crowdsourcing, and specialized applications, others are just starting to engage with customers through Twitter. There is a concern in the transit industry about the disparity of knowledge and experience with web-based feedback tools. Therefore, this report is designed to enhance and expand the use of web-based feedback to improve service by agencies at all levels of experience.
Smaller and Novice Agencies: This document provides the basics for initiating a web-based feedback program. Definitions are provided to help users understand the differences in types of feedback that can be collected and the types of tools available depending on the feedback needs. The benefits of web-based feedback are summarized to help make the case for moving forward with these tools, as well as challenges that should be considered as the program is developed.
Agencies Experienced with Mainstream Tools: Many agencies have experience with mainstream tools, such as social media and web-based complaint/comment forms. The Tool Selection Guide, especially the Tool Information Sheets, provides guidance on expanding that set of tools to reach out and engage a broader audience, such as “games” that ask the public to solve planning and budget dilemmas, and holding public meetings online so the community can join in the conversation from anywhere.
Larger and Experienced Agencies: This document provides guidance on creating and implementing a web-based feedback plan. It provides a structure for organizing the information, the tools, and the work flow. It also looks at the “backend systems,” the applications that manage the information flow for efficient data collection and retrieval. The appendices provide options for how to categorize comments to facilitate integration between legacy comment/complaint systems and web-based systems.
Research Problem Statement
The objective of TCRP Project B-43, Use of Web-Based Customer Feedback to Improve Public Transit Services, was to develop a user-friendly toolkit that presents best practices, cutting-edge applications, and promising approaches that transit agencies can use to engage customers and obtain actionable feedback. To develop this toolkit, the study team set out to answer several key questions:
- What do transit agencies want to know from their customers and the public? Can these tools create efficiencies in processing customer comments on safety and security, maintenance, and service delivery issues? Which web-based tools are useful for obtaining ideas for new service, comments on short- or long-range plans, origin-destination data, or rider demographics? How can transit properties solicit positive comments and constructive criticism?
- What are the benefits and challenges of using web-based tools to solicit rider feedback? Can these tools enhance the speed, volume, structure, and richness of customer communications? Can agencies use web-based tools to supplement staff resources by encouraging customers to serve as their eyes on the street? Do web-based tools encourage feedback from previously silent rider groups, especially young adults? Do customers have access to the technologies needed to use web-based feedback tools? Will staff be overwhelmed with the volume of comments and will they know how to respond in the more public forums? Are there institutional barriers, such as open records laws, that make it difficult to successfully use web-based feedback? Will customer feedback be located in multiple silos across an agency, making it difficult to see patterns and trends?
- What best practices are in use among transit agencies and in other industries? What tools do transit agencies use for time-sensitive feedback (safety and security issues) and which are better for general comments (requests for more service)? How do organizations use web-based feedback tools, externally, to gather feedback from their customers, stakeholders, opinion leaders, and the general public?
- What tools are currently available for obtaining feedback and what approaches are on the horizon? Which tools are best for collecting feedback from the customer and general public? Which tools are best for internal employee use? What tools now used in other industries can be adapted to transit? What approaches are currently under development in the transit industry and elsewhere? How can agencies manage the increasing speed and volume of data flowing into the agency from web-based feedback tools?
- How can the transit industry best use web-based tools to improve service on the street? What is needed to integrate web-based feedback into operations, maintenance, planning, market research, and other agency processes? How can transit providers use web-based feedback to demonstrate customer orientation and improve credibility for the agency?
About the Transit Cooperative Research Program
The mobility, environmental, and energy objectives of a growing population and economy calls for public transportation systems in the United States to expand their services and improve their efficiency. Practical research that yields near-term results can do much to help – by solving operational problems, adopting useful technologies from related industries and, in general, finding ways for the public transportation industry to innovate. TCRP is a key instrument for carrying out such useful research and putting the results in the hands of organizations and individuals that can use them to solve problems.