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22 Several interview questions related to how transit agencies Generally, transit call center operations were found to be accommodate their customers' specific information needs, smaller in size (less than or equal to 10 operators). In fact, preferences, and limitations. All of the agencies interviewed some of the agencies (Lake Havasu City Transit and El have telephone typewriter (TTY) or telephone device for the Dorado Transit) have dispatchers answer the customer phone deaf (TDD) lines available for disabled customers. Some calls. Also, the number of operators was found to change agencies, like Blacksburg Transit in Blacksburg, VA, are part due to changes in service hours, as discussed above. In fact, of a statewide 211 service that provides transit information in some agencies have to hire part-time call takers to meet their addition to other critical human services. (A nationwide tele- demands at certain times of the year. phone number serving 65% of the U.S. population as of June The scheduling of operators and allocation of other re- 2007, 211 provides information on basic human needs and sources (e.g., computers and telephone lines) are done man- physical and mental health, as well as referrals to human ser- ually, based on the experience of call center managers and vices organizations, and is coordinated by United Way of through the analysis of daily call logs. Some agencies have America and the Alliance of Information and Referral Sys- sophisticated tools (e.g., Synergy Software at WMATA and tems.) Most agencies provide printed information materials E-WFM at Valley Metro) that help to analyze reports of tele- in large print and Braille to be compliant with ADA. Over phone system usage and subsequently assist with reallocating half of the agencies interviewed provide bilingual customer call center resources. Other agencies have developed these information, and Spanish was, by far, the most common non- tools in house. For example, with the help of the University English language accommodated. of Washington, King County Metro developed a queue model using call tracking data in their management information 3.1.2 Transit Call Center Strategies system (MIS) to manage daily call center operations. Most agencies that were interviewed reported that they Central versus Decentralized Call Centers have a well-established recruitment process for hiring cus- All of the transit agencies we interviewed had a single, phys- tomer service representatives (CSRs). Generally, the study ically consolidated call center for their regular non-paratransit team found that the agencies focus on recruiting candidates services. In some cases, (e.g., Charlotte Area Transit Service that have prior experience in the customer service industry and [CATS] and Valley Metro), physically separate call center have good communications skills, especially for telephone- facilities are used for paratransit. Transit call centers typically based communication. The CSRs are expected to be patient, have an organizational structure that is comprised of call professional, and concise. Sometimes, the CSRs are expected to takers who are managed by supervisors and supervisors who have multitasking skills and to make decisions when needed. are managed by call center managers. Sometimes there is one Additionally, when interviewed, the candidates are tested level below that of the call takers: receptionists who receive for a variety of technical skills related to the transit industry. customer calls and forward them to call takers. The list of skills desired by the interviewed transit agencies is as follows: Hours of Operation and Staffing Able to work as both dispatchers and call takers, Generally, the call centers at the agencies that were inter- Cash-handling capability, viewed operate from early morning (e.g., 6 A.M. or 7 A.M.) to Able to respond to what-if questions, evening (e.g., 6 P.M. or 7 P.M.), and, on occasion, until 11 P.M. General knowledge of the mass transit environment, These call centers operate a large number of shifts (e.g., 11 Bilingual/multilingual speakers, shifts at LYNX between 8 A.M. to 8 P.M.) based on the needs to Understand modern communication practices such as meet the call volumes at specific times. At some agencies, the e-mail, call center hours were found to vary over the year due to Familiar with computers, changes in transit schedules after each "pick" or "bid," which Recordkeeping skills, often is done three to five times per year. For example, the Is- Knowledge of the service area, land Explorer schedules two shifts of call takers (with nine op- Able to help customers with navigation, erators) between the months of June to September, while only Understanding of transit safety and security, and one shift (with two operators) is needed between the months Good with map-based information. of October to June. This is because the Island Explorer only op- erates during the summer and early fall. Further, some agen- Technologies cies have extended service hours. For example, King County Metro reported that they manage a 24-h per day/7-day per The literature review yielded limited information on transit week call center operation to assist customers with informa- call center technologies in particular, but the literature on call tion. This amounts to 20 to 25 shifts on an average weekday. center operations (i.e., including non-transit call centers) was

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23 useful in identifying a set of technologies characteristic of call Figure 6 summarizes the reasons that transit agency inter- centers in general. (16-18) That list of technologies, ranging viewees gave for investing in call center technologies. The from the fairly basic, common technologies, to the very ad- most commonly cited rationale for technology investments, vanced and less common technologies, was then used as a check- as noted by just over half of the agencies interviewed, was to list (prompts) in the 25 transit agency telephone interviews that improve customer satisfaction. Many agencies identified a were conducted. These technologies were organized into two desire to improve the productivity of their call centers-- categories, basic and advanced, and are presented in Table 7. to handle more calls with a given number of operators--as Most of the technologies described above are not utilized a prime motivation for technology investments. A few agen- by the transit agencies that were interviewed. As shown in cies that have not implemented many technologies cited Figure 5, the interviews indicated that voicemail, automatic financial constraints as the reason for their lack of invest- call distribution (ACD), voice recording, and interactive ment. One agency said that they felt it was less expensive to voice response are the most prevalent technologies used by meet call demand by adding operators than by implement- transit agencies. Voicemail is implemented in more than 85% ing technology. of the interviewed agencies, and ACD is implemented at 65%. A recently published article in Metro Magazine reports sev- Since none of the interviewed agencies use speech analytics, eral efforts made by agencies across the country to revamp this technology does not appear in Figure 5. call center operation with the use of technology, including the Table 7. Call center technologies. Call Center Description Technology Basic Technologies Automatic Call A technology that automatically distributes incoming calls to customer Distribution agents in a call center. ACD sends calls to the next available phone operator (ACD) based on a routing strategy that is configured in the ACD software. A commonly used technology that can be employed by customers to leave a message when their call can not be answered by a telephone operator. Voicemail Advanced technologies such as CTI allow telephone operators to view these messages in their mailboxes. Voice A technology used by call center operators to record telephone conversations Recording between customers and call takers for quality control and future analyses. Advanced Technologies A telephone technology that detects and responds to customer requests Interactive through either voice or use of a touch keypad on a phone. IVR systems are Voice usually installed in call center environments to filter customers based on the Response type of information being requested. Also, IVR systems assist in operating (IVR) an automated call center during non-business hours. An advanced IVR technology in which a live operator monitors customer Guided Speech prompts and helps the IVR system understand the customer responses to IVR those prompts since customer responses can be misinterpreted by a computer system. Computer A technology that integrates a telephone system with computers. This allows Telephony telephone operators to use their computers to manage phone functions such Integration as monitoring incoming and outgoing calls; answering, hanging up or (CTI) conferencing phone calls; and monitoring call queue lists. A technology used by call centers to manage customer information and their Customer relationships with customers. CRM helps transit agencies automate various Relationship call center functions such as building a contact database of customers, Management storing and analyzing customer data to determine customer needs and (CRM) preferences, and performing marketing and sales activities. CIM is a technology used by call centers as an integrated portal for Customer communicating with customers. CIM technologies are installed with a CRM Interaction system and allow a variety of modes of communication such as e-mail, Management telephone, fax, chat, and voice chat (using the customer information stored in (CIM) the CRM database) from a single user interface. Also known as speech synthesis, TTS is a technology used to produce human Text to Speech language speech from text inputs. Transit call centers use TTS to provide (TTS) information through their IVR systems during non-business hours. An automated process to extract specific information from telephone Speech conversations. This technology can help agencies determine customer needs Analytics and preferences in an automated fashion.

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24 25 (out of 25 interviewed) Number of Agencies 20 15 10 5 0 TI l IM R M ) S . ng ai ri b R TT IV R C em C (IV di t C is h r ic co lD ec se Vo re e al on Sp C e p ic o. es d Vo de t R Au ui e ic G Vo e Basic Technologies iv ct ra te In Call Center Technologies Advanced Technologies Figure 5. Technology use in transit call centers. following steps taken by transit agencies to handle the prob- Metro Transportation Authority [CMTA], Austin, TX, and lems faced by their customers while calling in: Pinnelas Suncoast Transit Authority [PSTA], St. Petersburg, Many transit systems are beginning to address these types of FL), CSR training/retraining (Southeastern Pennsylvania customer service issues by revamping their call centers to provide Transportation Authority [SEPTA], Philadelphia, PA), and simplified trip planning options, more user friendly automated complaints management (Pace Suburban Bus, Chicago, IL). systems or, in some cases, a live person with the ability to assess According to this same article, CMTA found that the deploy- complaints and address them immediately. (19, p. 100) ment of a 24-h IVR system helped reduce the number of calls Agencies that were interviewed adopted call center technologies handled by live operators by 20% to 25% within the first sev- mainly for customer service improvement (e.g., at Capital eral months of its implementation. Similarly, PSTA has imple- 14 12 (out of 25 interviewed) 10 Number of Agencies 8 6 4 2 0 n ls r ts to io al es ra ct fc qu pe fa ro tis re ro be sa er pe m m er nu lls to om ca us e st th rc e cu or ce lte m e du Fi ov d Re el pr Fi Im Figure 6. Reasons for implementing transit call center technologies.