Transportation agencies are like any other business, in the sense that they stay in operation because of their customers. Therefore, providing the the most efficient and the most effective customer service as possible tends to be a crucial part of their world. That is where the similarities end, though. Unlike most businesses, transportation agencies, or more specifically, municipal agencies, have headwinds and conflict that most companies wouldn’t dream. Government intervention, at every level, is a prime example of what these types of agencies might face on a daily basis. Akron Metro, a municipal agency operating in Ohio, not only understands the significance of customer service, they put it at the top of their priority list in spite of the other challenges they face.
The paratransit division of Akron’s municipal transportation agency recognized that they were lacking in several key areas of customer service; among them some of the most basic. When Mike Davis, Assistant Director of Customer Services and Paratransit, and Bambi Miller, Director of Customer Services and Paratransit, first saw Ecolane in action, they saw their true potential while simultaneously seeing the reality of what their agency lacked in the first place.
Choosing a Vendor
Bambi was exposed to Ecolane years before Akron even began looking for a software solution. The first tradeshow that Bambi ever attended with Akron Metro in 2008 had included a product demonstration by Ecolane. At the time, she was not in the position to do anything about it, but a couple of years later, she was tasked with the responsibility of exploring transit software options. Ecolane was on the list for consideration. Mike remembers that time well.
“It was hard not to look at Ecolane in a positive light based on everything else in the industry,” said Mike. “It was a very cutting-edge way of approaching fare transit; using modern logic instead of antiquated thought processes. It was hard not to love the product’s capabilities.”
With customer service being such a huge part of Akron Metro’s strategy, selecting a product that was similarly customer-centric was vital. “Ecolane is a partner in this process, not just a vendor,” according to Bambi.
Mike continued, “About the relationship…I don’t want to glaze over their own customer service part of it. Ecolane really is about the people they have working for their company. From top to bottom, the entire organization cares and it really shows. I’ve not met one person that I haven’t been able to relate to professionally and that I haven’t developed a closer relationship with as a result of our partnership.”
“They’re just good folks,” Bambi added.
Akron Metro went through a comprehensive bid procedure before selecting Ecolane software. It took more than a year of visits, demos and meetings before a decision was made. Bambi’s team knew the good, the bad and the ugly of the transit software world and they did their homework to make sure they were aligning themselves with a company that was forward-thinking and which had a product that walked the walk versus just talking the talk.
Akron Metro’s search for their perfect software vendor officially ended in October, 2011, when they signed a contract with Ecolane. On April 16, 2012, they went live with Ecolane software. The launch is clearly remembered by Mike as a very important day “for personal and professional reasons.” Bambi shared similar sentiments.
Where’s My Bus?!
“The customers are the most important part of our job,” said Mike. “None of us would have jobs here at Metro if we didn’t take care of our passengers. Our department handles customer service issues throughout the organization, we operate the information channel for our line service and we receive all the paratransit scheduling calls.”
Handling so many customer service queries requires highly trained call center operators who need the right software to manage calls promptly and accurately. Despite all the benefits of Ecolane’s software platform, the most common question that an agent answers, according to Mike, is “Where’s my bus?”.
“The efficiency of Ecolane is unmatched,” says Mike. “On the phones, on dispatch and on the road, our call takers can set trips easily and quickly to the point that we often spend more time taking care of other, secondary customer needs. We’re not spending an exorbitant amount of time on the phone with our customers because our team has the ability to work with Ecolane DRT and its user-friendly processes to get done what they need to get done.”
In his role with Akron Metro, Mike acted as the point person for the implementation process, which began almost as soon as the contract was signed. They started by reviewing all of the data they had to work with. “It was very eye opening to realize how much bad data we had and how our previous system issues were potentially going to affect our go-live,” Mike said.
Almost daily throughout this process, Ecolane answered Akron Metro’s questions, helped them analyze their data and even prompted additional questions that Mike wouldn’t have known to ask. Ecolane had professional services staff living on site in Akron during the implementation process to ensure the transition from their old software to Ecolane went smoothly. Additional training was provided to Akron Metro because the move from an antiquated process to a state-of-the-art one was so impactful to its business.
“Ecolane tried to tell us that we were crazy with the amount of hours that went into the training,” Bambi said. “And they were right. We didn’t need all that training. It is a very user-friendly system, whether you’re behind a steering wheel or behind a phone. The fact that they were in our offices from sunrise to, well, sunrise, made everyone feel really comfortable. Most importantly, we knew that none of our customers would be left out in the cold.”
Despite the headwinds that many municipal transit agencies experience, the right software can help get organizations running smoothly and also keep them there. From the director to a dispatcher, customer service drives Akron Metro and Ecolane helps drive that customer service. From scheduling and route planning to reservations and reporting, Ecolane software powers Akron Metro to greatness and their customers to their destinations, all while being on time.