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76 agency, there is no value in 511 as a consolidated source-- The Role of the Telephone in Transit a one-stop shop--of transit information for multiple transit Customer Information providers. The transit agencies interviewed report that trip planning The rationale that providing transit information on 511 information is the most important type of data for their cus- offers a consolidated, convenient source of transit and traffic tomers. Specifically, most customers are interested mainly in information and, therefore, can facilitate mode choice deci- pretrip planning, schedules, and on-time status information. sions, was not conclusively addressed in the focus groups. Most transit customers need schedule and route information However, there were some promising indications. First, the when they are making an unfamiliar trip. Transit agencies' participants felt strongly that, in principle, if 511 is intended overall customer information strategies are aligned closely as a multimodal resource, transit information certainly should with these needs. Pretrip planning information is a major be included, even if it is available only via a call transfer out focus for them, and vehicle arrival/departure time and service of 511. Second, although the findings are limited by the fact delay information are an increasing area of customer expecta- that most of the focus group participants did not drive, they tion and transit agency focus. did think that, in theory, it would be useful to have access to Transit agencies use a variety of mechanisms and media to both traffic and transit information in one call. provide information to their customers. However, they focus Overall, although ultimately inconclusive, the focus group on printed material, websites, and telephone information. results suggest that there can be some value in having transit Most of the transit agencies interviewed in this study feel that information on 511 but all of the rationale for doing so is not many of their customer telephone inquiries need to be ad- universally applicable. Guidance to transit agencies and 511 dressed by a live customer service call taker, either because the system administrators in deciding whether, and how, to in- callers simply prefer it, or because the complexity of the ques- clude transit on 511, given their particular circumstances, is tion demands it. Transit agency interviewees were asked what addressed in Section 4.2.1. specific role, need, or type of customer or customer informa- The focus group results also indicate that even when there tion request they target with their phone systems. Their most is some value in providing transit information via 511, any common response was that they see the phone as catering to benefits of doing so are conditioned on the 511 system being those customers who simply prefer to speak to a "real person." fundamentally sound. Specifically, if voice recognition is used Other factors noted by a number of agencies included cus- it should work well and any information on the system-- tomers' lack of access to, or difficulty with, the Internet, and traffic and transit--should be accurate and current. some senior or disabled riders' particular need and preference for speaking with a live operator. Transit agencies are increas- 4.1.4 Transit Agency Call Center Strategies ingly using IVR systems and sophisticated menus on their customer service lines to answer or direct customer ques- A secondary objective of this study was to compare transit tions. However, most agencies see live call takers as a core agency telephone customer service strategies with those em- component of their customer information approach and a ployed by other types of organizations and to identify any key way to establish and maintain customer relationships. technologies and practices that should be given increased These findings have important implications for transit agen- consideration by transit agencies. The overall conclusion is cies and the role of 511. First, because the telephone is a core, that although many transit agencies use some of the same critical aspect of transit agencies' overall strategy for commu- advanced technologies and techniques employed by non- nicating with their customers, changes to that approach--such transit organizations, most transit agencies generally do not as participating in 511 to varying degrees--are major decisions. use as many of those methods as do non-transit organizations Agencies are protective of their customers and very concerned serving a comparable number of customer calls. Therefore, that customer needs and preferences are well met. Second, transit agencies are encouraged to give increased considera- many transit agencies feel that a high percentage of their cus- tion to state-of-the-practice call center tools and techniques. tomers' telephone inquiries will require interaction with a call Even small agencies that will not require sophisticated meth- taker well versed in the details of the agency's specific transit ods may find useful ways to improve quality and efficiency. services. Since few 511 systems have live operators, most tran- The largest agencies may find that some of the most sophis- sit agencies will not consider 511 as a mechanism for provid- ticated technologies that they are not using currently may ing live operator customer service. Finally, many 511 systems provide additional benefits to their operation. do not provide robust IVR functionality of the sort necessary The remainder of this section summarizes the major find- for transit trip planning. Even if they did, many transit agen- ings and elaborates on conclusions related to transit agency cies would not entrust this responsibility to another agency. call center strategies. Together, these factors mean that, at best, most transit agen-