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Q&A with Doug Kelsey, TransLink COO, after his trip on the system on March 2, 2011

Q&A with Doug Kelsey, TransLink COO, after his trip on the system on March 2, 2011

As promised — here’s the wrapup interview with Doug Kelsey, TransLink COO, after his ride out on the system on Wednesday, March 2, 2011!

To explain: the video above is a message Doug recorded for customers after his trip, and it serves as a great intro to his full interview, which you can read below. Questions and comments welcome, as always!

So where did you go during your ride?

We went to Waterfront, spent some time down there, then we went on SeaBus to the North Shore and back. We went up on SkyTrain to Commercial. Then we took the B-Line west to Fraser, came back on the 9, got back on SkyTrain and came back.

Who did you talk to, and what did you hear from them?

I spoke to some awesome customers. They all care, and they were all really glad we were out there. I heard numerous things. Let me pull some of my notes out.

SeaBus: the men’s washroom needs help. Too much odour. It needs to be refreshed—it’s got that old, bad smell. I used to experience that when I was in the oil business at service stations. One of the big issues on SeaBus was also the Sunday service starting earlier, of all things. You could duplicate Saturday service on Sunday if you’re stuck, but ideally, people want same as Monday to Friday. There were issues with lighting in the walkways leading to the waiting area on the Waterfront side of the SeaBus terminal. People wanted more presence outside the security gates on the North Shore for SeaBus, particularly for females travelling alone. But a lot of people love the service.

We heard lots of kudos to our bus drivers and SkyTrain attendants. When we were out there, quite frankly, my observation was that there was good visibility for staff.

There were varying views on selling extra services—thing like offering coffee and chips and pop on SeaBus. Some liked it, some didn’t. People liked vinyl seats over cloth, on the SeaBus and bus. Yahoo! That was totally unsolicited. That was on the SeaBus and bus.

What did you hear from the 99 B-Line?

The 99 B-Line, the 20, the 49 and the 502 need help. More service. Not a surprise.

Oh, they all really liked the idea of automated announcements. For example, when you’re riding the SeaBus to the North Shore, an announcement letting you know all the service on the North Shore is normal would be good. Or the XYZ bus is running late, with heavy crowds. We need a connection system so that on each trip, each change, people have advance notice of what’s it going to be like when they get there. So we need to do that thinking for them. And I am openly going to say that I was trying to lead them in those questions and ask, “was this important to you?” A few said nah, don’t need it, and most said that was interesting.

And there’s ways we could deliver this kind of info through mobile solutions, say.

You bet. I’m a big believer in us doing the thinking to enhance their experience. Looking at things through a customer’s lens.

Did anything surprise you?

The men’s washroom was disappointing, I gotta tell you. That’s not us. We should be less on the cleaning, more on taking a step back and asking, “Is this right?”

This was also my first chance to engage with people over Twitter, and I have to tell you, it was great. Lots of really thoughtful questions from people and it was gratifying to be able to reach people that we weren’t able to talk to in person.

Oh, and a couple of people thought we were doing fare checks and they whipped out their tickets when we came near.

Were there any memorable customers?

There was a baby taking his first transit ride ever. Erin [McConnell, TransLink’s manager of corporate communications] also got a video of the busker at SeaBus, who sounds like Zamfir but he’s using a flute that he made out of PVC pipe. He’s been there for years – he’s very good.

There were differing views of music. Some liked it, some didn’t. People talked about having TV monitors broadcasting news on the system—they asked for radio frequencies like at the gym, so you can tune into the audio for the shows you wanted to hear.

What will you do with what you’ve learned now?

I think some of it is going to have to fit into our customer service strategy. Some of it will fit into our operations right away, like the washrooms. Some will fit into our capital programming, like lighting upgrades, things of that nature. And some of it will have to fit into the long term funding. Some of these things are going to cost money and we don’t have money for it right now. I think that’s part of an honest conversation. The region’s got to make that determination that it’s prepared to invest, like in more service in the Tri Cities.

Some of these like the TV screens with news programs though, we might do through revenue generation. We can ask, can we do this with sponsorship through advertisers? The lower the cost, the easier it is to implement.

What’s most important to me is that I’ve now got a better idea about what people are asking for on the system. Every suggestion that we received, whether through the blog, or Facebook or @translink on Twitter, we’ve passed on to the right people and they’re considering it for their short, medium and long term planning. Not every idea will come to life, but every idea is being considered.

Do you think this day will help change the way you approach your work a bit? Or the issues you prioritize?

The day for me is not unique. I come from a service background. The day was hugely validating though. It just reinforces the importance of connecting with the front line. Not being in your office. It’s also a chance to thank the staff for doing great things. They are really the unsung heroes. They have to make those split second decisions around the customer experience. And they’re doing it while they’re multitasking. So I think everyone should get chances to support front line staff and interact with the customer. It’s just good business.

That brings me to something we were talking about before—you try to hand out your business card to people, don’t you?

Oh yes. Always have. My cell phone number’s on there. People will phone me in some instances. I say phone me if you need me, and you’ve found other venues won’t work. Don’t phone me because you’ve found a Kleenex on the platform. But I will answer every single phone call, usually within 24 hours.

And another hallmark of yours is picking up garbage while you’re out on the system, isn’t it?

Yes, I’ve always done that too. Lots of people tell us they leave the newspapers behind for other people to read when they’re done – that’s fine, because if you leave it on the seat, it will stay in good shape and be of use to the next interested customer. It’s when the bus or train or SeaBus gets crowded and the papers are slid aside and fall to the floor that the newspaper becomes garbage. I work at TransLink just like anyone else, so I pitch in and help by picking up the papers and garbage to keep our system clean for the customers. It’s all part of being a customer service organization.

Are you going to check back in to let us know about progress on any of the items that you’ve brought up?

Not me personally—I’m turning this over to our operations folks. They’re the best to take action from here.

And that’s all I had to ask. Is there anything you would like to add?

I wanted to say this is great. We can’t do enough of it. I think it needs to be a natural discipline and culture of this organization, whether you think you have a direct customer responsibility or not.

Thanks Doug!