“We always are trying to be frugal,” Knueppel says. “We kind of have to.”
Rebuilding a workforce
When Casey first took over as general manager, one area that really stuck out and needed to be changed immediately — customer service. He says SEPTA’s reputation wasn’t good and customer satisfaction scores on surveys “weren’t pretty,” so he raised customer service to an assistant general manager position and hired Kim Scott Heinle to oversee the division.
“You don’t build a house until you have a foundation,” Heinle says. “And that foundation is your internal service, so what we’ve done is ensure that SEPTA people are working to help SEPTA people get their jobs done, so there’s a lot of training, a lot of communication and there’s a lot of putting your money where your mouth is in terms of how you deal with people and building positive relationships so the people on the front line get it because they’re living it now.”
They then put together a business plan to address customer service, focusing on the “four C’s” — courtesy, cleanliness, communication and convenience. Riders immediately paid attention to the effort and Casey says customer satisfaction survey scores jumped from 7.2 to 7.9 by 2010.
Heinle says since taking over the position in 2008, his department has worked with SEPTA employees and operators to handle confrontations and creating social skills. The changes have even trickled down to the hiring process to make sure the best candidates are being hired for the job.
“A little over a decade ago, we used to focus on hiring bus drivers, people with driving experience. It wasn’t working. We kept getting drivers that hated people,” Heinle says. “Now we flipped it. Now we do a battery of tests to find out whether people we’re talking to have the social skills and ability to interact and relate with people and we’ll teach them how to drive.”
Casey says when he first started on the job he was brought to a restroom facility at a station and shown the condition it was in. Within a month he had people engineering improvements and had the bathroom rebuilt. Now a facilities improvement team has been formed to address issues and let SEPTA employees know the commitment to employees and the agency is real.
“I got a card signed by every operator out there. They just appreciated it so much,” he says. “Now we’re going to each and every employee facility to respond and fix up their facilities because we can’t ask you to treat our customers well unless we treat you well. It’s a snowball.”
Employee recognition programs are also adding a positive effect. Casey has even been innovative and when advertisers can’t sell ads, SEPTA now barters with local businesses to supply gift cards or tickets to sporting events in lieu of cash payments and the items are then given to employees being recognized for their work.
Employees are also highly encouraged to be proactive in addressing issues that may arise with riders in order to address them before they get out of control. Employees are told they’re the “customer intelligence agency,” so they can detect issues and alert supervisors if something is brewing.
“Quite frankly, it used to be that people came in, they got their job, they went to the depot, worked 30 years, came back, got their retirement plate and that was their connection to SEPTA,” Casey says. “Now it’s more than that.”
From archaic to avant-garde
Years of strapped budgets have led to antiquated equipment throughout SEPTA, but it has also provided benefits now that leaders are looking to take it into the next generation. In 2011, SEPTA awarded a contract to ACS to design a new open fare payment system. John McGee, chief officer of new payment technologies, says SEPTA hadn’t spent any money on fare payment collection for years and while the current system works well, it’s too rigid and not customer friendly.
While some agencies began to upgrade their payment systems years ago, McGee says it’s better they waited because those upgrades would’ve been outdated already.