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36 As with most transit properties, Mountain Line has received commuter rail, and ferry services through a series of subsid- negative comments on Facebook and Twitter. Although the iary companies. The authority reported 189.1 million revenue agency deletes or edits material it considers offensive, man- passengers on scheduled and paratransit services in 2009. agers treat criticism as an opportunity to offer an explanation and to correct misinformation. Social media allow Moun- tain Line to answer rider questions in a public forum, on the Social Media Overview assumption that if one individual has a question, it is likely that others want to know the same thing. TransLink staff reports using the following social media applications: agency blog (The Buzzer), Facebook, Twitter, Mountain Line uses several approaches to track the effec- YouTube, LinkedIn, and Foursquare. TransLink moved into tiveness of its social media activities, including built-in statistics social media as part of an overall strategy to become a more and third-party analytic applications. The agency believes that customer-focused organization, and Twitter is a key element the combination of social media and service updates on the of that approach. In addition to using Twitter to offer transit website has reduced the burden on its receptionists, who also service information and updates, TransLink now provides serve as customer service agents. No formal metrics are avail- customer service through Twitter as well, as described in able to document the impact, but the agency estimates that the following section. it sends out about one to five tweets per day to approximately 500 followers. Although social media activities may not reduce TransLink was the first Canadian transit agency to develop the number of completed calls, particularly during snowstorms a partnership with Foursquare and launched its own badge in or similar times of high demand for information, these updates February 2010. TransLink initially began to use Facebook as may help Mountain Line share information with more people a way to generate interest in the agency's new fare card by than would ordinarily be possible with phone calls alone. holding a contest for a new name. With that campaign com- plete, employees are looking into new ways to take advan- Lessons Learned tage of Facebook's potential reach, which they believe is substantially larger than Twitter's audience. Mountain Line Transit offered the following advice and lessons learned. Using Twitter for Customer Service · Focus on your target market--For Mountain Line, social media have been a critical component of timely TransLink began using Twitter in preparation for the 2010 and effective communications with the WVU commu- Olympic Winter Games. Initially, media relations staff used nity, and many of the agency's electronic communica- the service to communicate with the press; however, customer tions focus on the student population. questions soon started appearing, especially about service · Treat negative feedback as an opportunity--Online delays and interruptions. During the Olympics, TransLink criticism provides managers with an opportunity to staffed its Twitter account from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. with answer questions, offer explanations, and correct about a dozen people from the communications department. misinformation. After the Olympics ended in February 2010, Twitter use · Don't annoy your audience--Try to find the fine line declined and the account reverted to the media relations depart- between providing customers with helpful information ment with reduced staff coverage. and bombarding them with too many posts. · Have fun--Mountain Line never forgets that it oper- Looking for other opportunities to use Twitter, employees ates in a university town. College students appear to saw an opportunity to tap into their experience connecting appreciate receiving the occasional status update, for with riders during the Olympics. Staff proposed developing a example, when a beer truck blocks the bus. Twitter communications channel to complement the agency's customer service call center. They built a business case to get Social Media Links internal approval to add a dedicated position, including statis- tics about the growth in the volume of Twitter followers and Website: www.busride.org the number of commendations the agency received lauding Facebook: www.facebook.com/MountainLine its social media efforts. In November 2010, TransLink inte- Twitter: www.twitter.com/mountainline. grated Twitter into its customer service group for one-month pilot test, which was subsequently extended indefinitely. TransLink Now each customer service shift has one individual responsible for following and responding to customer com- The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, ments and questions through Twitter. Figure 14 shows the known as TransLink, is the regional transportation operator trend in TransLink's tweets from January 2010 through May for the Vancouver metropolitan area, delivering bus, subway, 2011. As the chart shows, tweets spiked in February 2010
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37 FIGURE 14 Average monthly tweets posted by TransLink, January 2010May 2011. during the Olympics and again in November 2010 when the new customers who were not previously contacting customer customer service pilot was implemented. The number of service, including students and young working professionals, tweets has grown nearly every month since then and by May those under 35 years old (see Figure 15). 2011, six months into the program, the total was more than double the November volume and roughly twice the number of tweets in February 2010. Agency Considerations TransLink has not seen any change in the volume of tele- TransLink believes that social networking is not just a way for phone calls coming into the customer service center since agencies to repackage their traditional customer communica- the agency increased its use of Twitter. Instead, the agency tions. Instead, agencies have to be prepared to respond to cus- believes that using Twitter has allowed TransLink to reach tomers in the social space and to engage them in conversation. FIGURE 15 TransLink responds to customer comment via Twitter.
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38 A key benefit of engaging customers is the unparalleled oppor- hearted way allows TransLink to build relationships with its tunity to gain insight into customer attitudes and priorities. In customers and enhance its own reputation. the survey, TransLink said, "Social media is a little like having a direct line into what customers are thinking." Agencies that know how to tap into that information can learn a great deal Lessons Learned about "customer pain points" and how to improve service. TransLink staff offered the following advice and lessons TransLink allocates considerable resources to its social learned. media activities. Individuals in customer service dedicate about 200 hours per month to social media, as do marketing · Social media platforms are not a new pipe for old and communications personnel. Also participating in social messaging--Customers expect two-way conversations, media activities are senior managers (30 hours per month), and they expect to talk to you on the same level. information technology staff (10 hours), and consultants · Build your brand by building relationships with (5 hours). However, even with this level of commitment, customers--As you treat people well and respond TransLink's survey responses emphasized the importance thoughtfully, your customers will come to trust and of working closely with staff throughout the entire organiza- rely on you. tion to follow through on the conversations initiated in the · You can educate, inform, and delight--Producing social space: entertaining content helps build real relationships with customers, makes them happy, and ultimately builds Don't think that social media is just another tool limited to the your brand. communications department. It's a whole new channel through · Social media provide insight into customers-- which your customers can reach you, and if done right, their Customers will immediately tell you what you are doing questions and prompts will affect how other business units work. Constant questions about slow service should prod transit depots wrong and, occasionally, what you are doing right. to analyze and respond; questions about policy should receive · Social networking is harder than it looks--Building answers and consideration from policy makers. relationships through social media is basically mak- ing friends with people one by one. It requires a lot of Although TransLink tracks basic metrics, the agency sees patience, endurance, and good humor and a lot of knowl- the need for analysis that goes beyond tracking the number edge about the organization. of followers and volume of tweets. The next step would be · Social media will (and should) affect your entire to identify key goals and set up measurements to track prog- organization--If you use social media correctly, the ress toward those goals. TransLink would also like to bet- questions and comments will prompt responses from ter integrate social media into its call center and customer departments throughout the organization. Legitimate service processes to ensure central collection of issues and questions and complaints can lead to real change or consistent responses. TransLink was initially concerned about thoughtful responses from the relevant departments-- attracting criticism and negative feedback through its social not just sympathy and excuses from communications or media activities, but instead found an audience eager to par- customer service staff. ticipate in conversations. The agency's concerns have shifted · Set the tone--After a customer reads your comment, from worry about online criticism to questions about how to he/she should have the impression that you listened, engage a very large audience. So far, TransLink has focused that you care and respect customers, and that you are on listening to its followers with a goal of delivering the someone the rider would not mind talking to again. information they are asking for. Over time, the agency hopes to tap into its base of social Social Media Links media followers to help change customer behavior and encourage people to travel smarter. However, in the short Website: www.translink.ca term, social media also provide the agency with an oppor- Blog: buzzer.translink.ca tunity to have fun. Free from the constraints of traditional Facebook: www.facebook.com/translink media, The Buzzer "tackles all kinds of stories about tran- Twitter: www.twitter.com/translink sit history, the SkyTrain chime, oddities of the system, and YouTube: www.youtube.com/translink more." Taking the opportunity to celebrate transit in a light- Foursquare: foursquare.com/translink