Building a Customer-Focused Organization

September 2, 2011

Integrating SEPTA's Customer Service & Sustainability Agendas

SEPTA is in the business of sustainability and has built a comprehensive program that integrates strategies to account for its economic, social, and environmental impacts. Through its sustainability program, SEPTA has worked to use this three-pronged "people-planet-prosperity" model to incorporate sustainability into decision-making processes at the organization and, with its partners, to build more sustainable communities across the region.

In the same way, SEPTA is in the business of customer service and has developed a similarly comprehensive plan for that program - in this case, focusing on initiatives that will improve courtesy, communication, convenience, and cleanliness. Adopted in 2009, the SEPTA Customer Service Program has been cited in national publications and helped lead the way to across-the-board gains in its most recent Customer Satisfaction Survey.

The fundamental nature and comprehensive reach of sustainability and customer service to SEPTA's core mission underscore the value of each program to SEPTA's vision to be the region's premier choice for transportation. SEPTA's Strategic Business Plan lays out a clear path, earning the choice by:

  • Connecting the region for integrated mobility
  • Sustaining our environment and preserving our system for future generations
  • Committing to continuous improvement and innovation
  • Providing excellent service by a team of dedicated employees

These central principles speak to the importance and all-encompassing nature of customer service and sustainability to achieving the organization's ambitious vision.

But customer service and sustainability are more than complementary programs. They are interrelated strategic objectives. Take, for example, some of the core initiatives behind the "convenience" pillar. In this case, the Customer Service & Advocacy Division has taken a soup-to-nuts approach to improve accessibility to SEPTA's system and services. Among other things, the Customer Service Program calls for:

  • Real Time Bus & Rail Information: Technology support designed to share real-time data from SEPTA's Control Center with website users and web developers
  • "Transit First" Projects: A partnership with the City of Philadelphia to make surface transit service more efficient and reliable
  • New Payment Technologies: Full modernization of SEPTA's fare payment and collection system
  • Marketing Campaigns: Emphasizing "convenience" as a key factor in people's decision to use transit

Each "convenience" strategy has the same ultimate outcome: attracting new customers, and then retaining them. These core initiatives directly support Sustainability Program goals to increase transit mode share (Goal 9) and improve operating expense performance (Goal 11).

Or take the "courtesy" pillar. In this area, the Customer Service Program calls for:

  • A Passenger Etiquette Campaign: Directed at improving "quality of life" concerns related to the use of public transit through programmed outreach and communications
  • Customer Service Ambassadors: Capturing a company-wide customer service mentality in all employed related systems
  • Customer Service District Committees: Piloting a program to introduce new relationships and strategies across the organization through location-specific training programs

In this case, "courtesy" strategies are designed to build and sustain a customer service culture by educating passengers and employees on key concepts, then systematizing approaches to training and outreach. These core initiatives support Sustainability Program goals for workforce development (Goal 7) and, more specifically, SEPTA's intention to instill a culture of volunteerism across the organization and region.

Taken as a whole, the Customer Service Program exists to reinforce the notion that SEPTA is not just a transit authority. It is a public service organization. By developing proactive plans to improve its performance to that end, SEPTA is working to ensure that the half-million people using its system each and every day receive the sort of high-quality public service they deserve. The central principles and strategic initiatives of this program strengthen SEPTA's sustainability agenda and serve as an important mechanism for building a more sustainable region.