You Thought it was All About Clean Buses? Turn Customer Service Into Customer Satisfaction

ARTICLE | Aug 22, 2015

How well do you know your customers – the young mom and her pre-schoolers, the middle-aged businessperson, the student, the senior citizen – those who rely on services provided by your municipality, your agency, your school, your department?  That age-old maxim about “never assuming” absolutely applies to anyone in the public sector seeking to answer this question.

I learned this the hard way years ago when, as the CEO of the transit system in Rochester, NY, I assumed that the system’s customers were focused on bus cleanliness. We launched internal initiatives to keep the buses clean inside and out, as well as external marketing campaigns centered on the promotion of our sparkly clean service. I was certain our efforts would reflect well when we conducted our first ever customer satisfaction survey. I was wrong. 

More troubling than the stone cold data indicating that our customers were not acknowledging our clean buses, was that they were actually complaining about cleanliness. How could this be, we wondered when the survey results were reported.  We had devoted many resources – both in personnel hours and expenses cleaning the buses.

The answer to the vexing bus cleanliness issue came with drilling down on subsequent survey questions. It turned out our bus shelters and bus stops were causing us low marks in the cleanliness category – not our buses.  Perhaps in this case it could be argued that the survey question could have been worded differently.  However, had we used a properly structured Customer Satisfaction Index, we would have more keenly understood our customers’ expectations satisfaction with our service. 

In particular, the process we have refined since that first Rochester survey engages customers in the survey process long before the first questionnaire is even distributed.  And, we analyze survey results in a way that enables management to clearly see the disparity between employee efforts and customer impressions. 

Measure What Matters

There’s only one way to know what the customer expects from your service – ask them! Conduct focus groups with customers to determine what matters most in their experience as your patron and then translate that feedback into a meaningful survey and a customer satisfaction index (CSI) to measure and report back survey findings. The CSI is a powerhouse for data-driven decision making.


How The CSI Works

TransPro’s CSI measures actual performance against customer impressions to determine how efforts by an agency stack up to satisfaction levels. Gaps in the two are a red flag that action needs to be taken.

The CSI is comprised of metrics weighted to reflect what focus groups revealed as most important, and measures both actual performance and customer impressions in those categories.  An overall total provides a comprehensive assessment of your service.  It reveals precisely how efforts by your teams are stacking up to opinions of your service by customers. 

The data provided by the CSI clearly indicates where training programs or specific initiatives are working, and where more efforts are needed. The properly designed CSI is an outstanding tool that can be used to help hold teams and individuals accountable for their role in the customer experience. 

When significant gaps occur on the CSI between efforts and impressions, deeper analysis is required to help root out the problem’s cause so it can be fixed.  Such was the case for one of our large metropolitan transit clients.  They had taken great measures to increase security in a very visible way along their routes. And, their efforts were working. Data generated by their information systems showed that incidents were down considerably. Yet, survey results repeatedly came back showing that customers were not feeling secure. A deep dive showed that customers were feeling unsafe in the evening hours at dimly lit bus shelters.  The simple solution involved lighting the shelters. Customers responded favorably in the subsequent wave of surveys.

If the airline industry relied on this type of CSI, we’d see much different consumer ratings. Take JetBlue, for example. For the first quarter of 2015, JetBlue was one of the industry’s worst performers for on-time performance. Yet, the airline earned high customer satisfaction marks. A weighted CSI would provide a more realistic measure of the customer satisfaction. 

Would that drive the management of JetBlue to work harder at succeeding in on-time performance?  That’s not for me to answer.  I can say that if we had employed this process at the Rochester system, we would have heavily weighted on-time performance and likely would have omitted the bus cleanliness question or at the very least downplayed its significance. Our limited resources would have been used in areas data showed us were more rewarding to customers and taxpayers.

About the Author

Mark Aesch is CEO of TransPro, a performance management consultancy focused on helping municipalities to perform at higher levels of efficiency with customer satisfaction survey and reporting services, strategic planning, and executive leadership coaching.  Mr. Aesch is the author of the best-selling business book Driving Excellence about the $60 million turnaround of a transit system. Visit for more information.

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