“Oftentimes you talk about diversity and most people are like, ‘oh, that is something that higher-level managers have to think about, that is something that human resources has to think about, that is something that doesn’t impact me as a front-line operator or supervisor,’” says Partee. “We really try to talk about how differences impact the entire agency. We are seeing a different customer base every year with changes in demographics, whether it is more minorities, more disabled passengers or differences in how we operated 20 years ago; it is impacting the ability to stay in business now for some transit organizations.”
Partee adds, “This should not be a one-shot deal. They should try to have some programs later on that reinforce what they think diversity means to them. They should be tying it in to their core business values.”
By contacting the National Transit Institute’s workplace safety and security division, most transit organizations can participate in the workshop for free.
Providing Guidance, Not Just Discipline
Simply handing out disciplinary notes doesn’t build excellent customer service. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) has found a successful approach in building customer service through providing supervisors as mentors, not disciplinarians.
“Our Customer Service Initiative Program started in 2005 with a series of meetings,” explains The T’s President and Executive Director Dick Ruddell. “It was a year developing a plan and looking at deficiencies.” At the end of the year they came up with a list of improvements to make and a structure to achieve it. “Mentoring was a big element of that plan,” he states.
A large part of the program was determining who the customer is and how to provide excellent customer service. The T’s Workforce Development Manager Terry Moore says, “We have a two-prong approach, our internal and external customers.” Joan Hunter, communications manager, adds, “Customer service is every employee’s priority. You’re supporting it whether you are in the back office or on the street — customers first.” The coaching and mentoring program falls into the internal customer piece.
The training program started in 2006 with two days of customer service training focused on who the internal and external customers are. Following that, the supervisors had 12 hours of coaching training. “It focused on building relationships with employees,” explains Moore, “building relationships instead of handing out slips of paper.”
As a result of this training program, in 2007 The T rolled out the one-on-one mentoring program for supervisors to implement coaching behaviors. They do performance coaching, which consists of the supervisor meeting with the employee to work through behaviors and then Moore meets with the supervisor to discuss the outcomes.
The program was piloted with four participants, four dispatchers that were promoted to supervisors. From their feedback, the program was refined and offered companywide.
“We have 10 supervisors in the program now and they are from all over the company,” says Moore. With maintenance, custodial, operations, union and nonunion participants, it provides a unique mix. “It presents challenges with different situations and it offers unique perspectives,” she adds.
As a result of the one-on-one mentoring, The T is noticing multiple benefits. One result is that the supervisors have better relationships with employees. “We change the perspective of the relationship. Coaching and mentoring is not discipline,” Moore explains. “It has reduced the turnover of employees and now they go to the supervisors for help. It is more proactive.”
Ruddell says, “We also look for the extended results.” One example is in the annual customer satisfaction survey. There has been a marked improvement in the customers’ relationships with the drivers. “Ridership is the ultimate gauge,” he adds. “That has been up strongly the past few years and we just found out that we won the FTA Ridership Award the second year in a row.”
The program will continue to expand with offerings to more employees looking to prepare for supervisory positions.
Providing the Basic Skill Set
Another successful program is the Transit Ambassador program at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). It is a program that offers skill sets which helps operators make decisions that get the desired outcomes.