Some lessons to be learned on employee, customer communications during service outages
Following is an open letter to CTA President Frank Kruesi and Board Chair Carole Brown.
Dear Frank and Carole:
A week ago, a CTA work train derailed at around 3 am Monday. The derailment put two tracks out of service for the busy morning rush hour, effectively cutting CTA's capacity by 50%.
The Purple Line Express to the Loop was shut down all morning; the Brown Line was stopped and/or slowed most of the rush hour. The Red Line was packed with Evanston Express riders. Early in the day shuttles took riders from Addison to Fullerton.
This situation called for excellent communication between the CTA and passengers. To be sure, there was some, but not enough.
Actually, great communication with passengers -- at least those signed up to receive CTA Tattler's wireless alerts -- started at 4:39 am when the CTA sent its first of five alerts. That first alert warned: "No Brown Line trains between Southport and Fullerton. Bus shuttle between stations. Shuttle train Fullerton to Loop."
Great start. Unfortunately, comments to my post about the derailment indicate that train station customer assistants had less information about the problems that day than those signed up to get the wireless alerts.
That's just wrong, because there are about 400 enrollees, and probably tens of thousands of riders that morning whose commute was negatively impacted by the derailment.
Don't get me wrong. It's great that the CTA has participated so actively and willingly in our alert system. The challenge is how to get that same information to customer service assistants.
For instance, at about 8:15 am, our motorman announced that we'd be bypassing Addison southbound, because no trains were stopping there. But as we passed by Addison, there were at least 50 passengers on the southbound platform looking wistfully as our train passed them by 15 feet away on the outer track.
Our motorman knew southbound trains weren't stopping at Addison. Why didn't the Addison customer service assistant? That's outrageous.
Here's what one commenter said on ctatattler.com: "Why can't the CTA get on the ball as far as communication goes? WHY WHY WHY??? Piggybacking on the wireless alerts is nice, but why can't the in-station people open their mouths and speak to customers!?!? Carole, are you there?"
Another noted: "All-in-all, I think a lot of the employees on the ground were getting bad info from HQ. I know what you mean about station employees not talking, but today, where I was, they were communicating. They just didn't have the right information. They needed better info (not to mention response) from the top down."
Please read more comments here.
I know the CTA is trying to get better information to customers now in test mode via our wireless alerts, in anticipation of offering its own email alerts. But this past Monday's experience shows you need to improve communications with your own employees as well, so they can better serve customers.
I implore you to do so, and ask you to reply via email to me so I can post your response.