Metro Training Manager in the Employee Development Department Jay Uihlein, ME, explains how the program started. “All of the training I do comes with business outcomes, a results-oriented approach.”
He says, “All training is mandatory. We all get in the huddle or none of us get in the huddle.” He emphasizes, “You can’t train half the organization and not train the other half otherwise we will play like the Cincinnati Bengals.”
The program offers six skill sets, starting with fundamentals. First is how to establish oneself as a professional. Uihlein says, “People make decisions in the first couple of seconds when they see you.” He continues, “If you are wearing a crisp, clean uniform and you look the part, people respond well.”
Part of this is also greeting the customer. “They make up their minds in five to seven seconds whether they like the way you look, the way you are dressed, the cleanliness of your bus and how they are being treated,” Uihlein explains. “Every time you open the door to let a customer get on the bus, it is kind of like throwing out a welcome mat.”
The second skill set is communicating, acknowledging customers and responding to them appropriately. Greeting customers and effectively answering questions fall into the second skill set.
Handling complaints is the third skill set. “A complaint is really an opportunity to fix something,” states Uihlein. He also explains the importance of how customers are addressed. “We talk a lot about transactional analysis. If we treat people like adults, they tend to respond like adults.”
He uses the example of a rider not asking for a transfer when he or she boards the bus. “If we talk down to them, parent to child, ‘you know the rules here, you ask for a transfer when you get on, not when you get off the bus,’ you initiate a parent-child fight.”
Uihlein mentions operators find the information helpful. Often they didn’t realize they were inviting an argument and by simply changing what they say, it can have a tremendous impact.
The fourth skill set is responding to special needs, being alert for cues to identify passengers with special needs.
Handling difficult situations is skill set five. Operators learn how to handle them verbally, nonverbally and how to keep themselves safe.
The final skill set is dealing with stress, something operators are all too familiar with. Uihlein reminds employees of the employee assistance program and informs them that what they learn in class, they can apply at home. “The stress management skills work at work and they work at home,” he says. “The way you talk to your spouse, the way you talk to your children, it is all going to form something.”
The program is in its third year and is going strong. The operators like the program because it is interactive. Uihlein says,” They feel that they can apply the skill sets directly to the situations.”
Keeping it Going
You’ve got a program in place, but how do you keep up the momentum? It is especially difficult when you hope you never have to use the training. Waukesha Metro Director of Administration Andrew Johnson explains that it is important to keep staff motivated when training for an event, whether security-related or weather-related, which may never happen.
“We know as managers that when something like this happens, there is no time to go back and look at the books or hope that the one person on staff that knows everything is there that day,” Johnson says.
One of the main pieces is simply communication. Communicating what management is thinking about these things in terms of ensuring everybody knows what is expected of them is important. “Making it real for the employees by asking them what they would do if they were the only ones there,” is one way Johnson says Metro delivers this message.
Making the training interesting and interactive promotes active participation. “We’ll have the SWAT team from Waukesha come out here and actually demonstrate a take-down on a bus using our employees as passengers,” Johnson explains. “Things like that make it real for them, lets them know exactly how the police will handle a situation.”
Equally important in keeping staff motivated about training is being consistent with what is being taught in the class and what is being done in the day-to-day practice, Johnson stresses. “If they tell you to keep your garage doors closed at all times and secure your buses when they’re unattended, we don’t let that slide when we come back. We explain to our operators why they need to do the things we tell them they need to do.”