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Mystery Shopper program can make you a CTA Tattler

Mystery_shopper_trip_card The CTA announced Tuesday that it's expanding its "Mystery Shopper" program from staff and interns to regular Joe and Jane customers like you and me. And yes, I have signed up to be a Mystery Shopper:

"The Mystery Shopping Program provides our customers with the opportunity to evaluate the quality of service provided by the CTA. With your help, the CTA will have a detailed understanding of our customer experience, allowing us to identify service issues that require immediate action and use customer feedback to make informed business decisions."

The CTA is asking us to evaluate its delivery on the "five core values of operation":

  1. Safety
  2. Cleanliness
  3. On-Time
  4. Courteous
  5. Efficient

And what will the CTA do with the information we provide?

"The CTA will use this information as a tool that fosters change. The information gathered through Mystery Shopping will be integrated into the CTA decision making process and used to track accountability and performance. This joint effort will help us understand where and what we need to improve."

The card pictured here is what the CTA gave us Mystery Shoppers. We're supposed to grade each trip on things like how secure the bus stop or rail station was, how clear and accurate the signage was, how courteous and friendly the CTA personnel were, etc.

The CTA gets credit for expanding this program. Time will tell how effective our feedback will be.

BTW: Click on the continuation for the CTA's Key Identifying Features to find a bus or train run number, and more.



So, how long did it take for them to respond to your request? Just wondering what the turnaround time is - it's been a day or so since I sent my email.

I actually got a response from the CTA just shortly after I emailed them.

So, if, just for the sake of argument ;) , a Red Line train failed to stop at Monroe for no apparent reason at, oh, I don't know, say about 10 minutes to 9 some Wednesday morning, and slid slowly through all the way from Lake to Jackson, would this count as a failure to be on time, courteous or efficient? Or is it OK on all three counts, provided nobody got the train number? At least I know how to get the number now!

The odd thing about this program to me is that it feels like the CTA is discouraging comments from the rest of its riders. Now I'm sure that's not the case, but if it isn't, what's the point of a "mystery shopper" program, when the promotional resources for it could be used to encourage one and all to provide the CTA with feedback?

A good mystery shopper program has a goal. The idea isn't to solicit random comments, but rather to target specific issues, and provide some kind of quantivied rating that can be compared over time. Theoretically, mystery shoppers should be focused on issues that appear to be problems from general customer comments.

The CTA version of a mystery shopper program appears to be more of a PR stunt than a realy mystery shopper program. The biggest clue that this is a PR stunt is how they're recruting mystery shoppers.

Essentially, they're actively soliciting customer comments, and they're trying to get some possitve press for being responsive to customer's preceptions. But this program isn't as effective as a real mystery shopper program could be. (On the other hand, it's also a hell of a lot less expensive, too.)

I got busted by both bus drivers last night. It's hard to be a Mystery Shopper when you need to write all those numbers down. Good thing I had positive things to say about both of them.

Well, it's something, I guess... Wouldn't a general hotline number be better?... or are they afraid they'd be inundated by 15 calls at the same time about a train that been standing at the Belmont stop for 10 minutes? and multiply that by every train line and every bus line...

There are ways to be more sneaky on a bus or on the platform to write down the run number on the front of the train as it pulls into a station. Read the Red Eye or other paper? Fold it over like you are doing crossword or Sudoku with your pen. Its not as noticable. Or use your PDA or cell phone to store numbers. I've done that several to remember a driver number on a bus so I could go home and write a detailed email to the CTA.

I tried to hide it Ed. I think the drivers are looking for people scribbling notes.

As far as the CTA discouraging comments from all riders, this is not hard to find on their website: ctahelp@transitchicago.com

The equipment numbers of both buses and trains are inside, too. You can wait until you sit down to write them down.

Once you've seen enough run numbers, you should start to see a pattern, so they won't just be random digits. Once the numbers start to mean something, they're easier to remember. For more information on run numbers, look here: http://www.chicago-l.org/operations/runnumbers.html

And frankly, if they have the equipment number, and the time and date, it should't make a difference whether you also have the run number, or the operator's number. They know what run a piece of equipment was on at any given time, and who was operating it at that time.

I know I can get the equipment number from the inside, and on the bus where the electronic sign was working I could get the run number. You don't really know until you get on whether or not that sign is working.

I see both of these drivers fairly often and have never seen either of them be anything but courteous. They had nothing to worry about and were making jokes about it. The one driving the bus with the nonworking signs wanted me to put that in my report.

Dude: Anyone can call the CTA on the phone and complain, but calls are (the last time I bothered) treated according to the prevailing Customer Service model in the U.S., which is to either blow off the complaint or argue with the complainant until he or she is made to understand that there really isn't a problem and everything is fine, and under no circumstances will Customer Service ever alert management that there is any part of the customer experience that could need correction because that is impossible, the company is already perfect!

If the CTA is designating a manageable sample of customers whose reports can bypass the normal channel and be taken seriously and acted on, that represents a major step forward. I can't think of a downside to a sample selected in this manner for this purpose. And if the main challenge for action and processing was getting identifying numbers, then they appear to have the solution in place.

Someone offline had a very good suggestion. I can just call my work voicemail from my cell with the information, than retrieve that later.


Gotcha, but Im talking about a specific "hotline" (call it a CTA 911) and not just a customer service complaint line for real-time problems with trains, late buses etc. that can be handled real time.

This "mystery shopper" thing sounds great, but what assurance are there that this information won't be handled like your "Customer Services" example? I pray we don't have some Sun Times expose one day with compelling photos of a pile of these "mystery shopper" cards in a box under someone desk.

Yes, I am a perpetural cynic, but I like what they're at least trying to do with this. At least it's something different.

No special Mystery Shopper logo on the website anymore... Ya think the CTA got enough responses from people on how to improve their services? lol

Dude: just making sure I inderstand what you're saying...real-time reporting for problems as they unfold? I think this is the Holy Grail that every passenger wishes for-- such as this morning when the train never stopped at Monroe, I was like "oh, man, where's the cord to pull again like on the bus to remind him DING DING DING he ignored the stop request", but it may take more technology than any of us has now. (I did tell the "kiosk" person in the Jackson station upon exiting, and she got right on the phone to someone, so at least the protest was registered.) And we SO need a way to bust train panhandlers if we're not near the call button in the car.

Erin: I am gonna call them anyway and volunteer.

Well, they took my name and address over the phone. I'll watch the mail and see what happens.

I see the logo. Also, in bright blue and slightly larger type than the rest of the page it says "Sign up to be a mystery shopper"

The run number scrolls on the bus announcement sign inside the bus, but not often enough.
On L trains, it's announced over the speakers, but again, not enough times.

A Gold Star for a motorman….A Gold Star For Passengers

She might have to wait 15 minutes for the next one, the motorman saw her, told her he would go slow the rest of the way. That’s cool.

Even the cta employees know the conditions. Why should they not wait? I mean once they get to the end of the line they can fly to Ohio as long as their back for their departure time.

They don’t get paid when they reach the end of the line. I know it sounds impractical but I talked to a motorman who said that “I could be out here twelve hours and be paid for seven.

I asked what do you do with the other three hours he said waits to go back to work. Twelve hour day for eight hours pay, wow, there is no way would I like to spend my time that way. Three hours of my day doing nothing!

Do you get paid like that? Because I currently don’t, and I don’t think I would?

Well needless to say my plane didn’t leave for three hours and we talked for his forty minutes of his break about transportation in the city of Chicago, suburbs, management, schedules, and their union.

I learned more about the cta in twenty minutes and this guy has been there 29 years ,my wife and I been riding cta transit for 12 years and I seen and felt the changes he was talking about.

He told me about a web sight at http://www.chicago-l.org/
It’s not a blog its history, trains, route, maps , and the rolling stock which brought back memories for me. They start from 1988 to today.

I never realized what these employees are doing for the public, portraying doctor, lawyer, policeman, conductor, shrink, until I talked to my new friend, then I got the familiarity of being a cta employee. “Keep It”.

As we spoke I asked him what ever happen to the A B stops on the red line, he said management changed that perky item and we also ran out of equipment to do A B stops. I thought it was cool like an express runs north to Howard from Chicago Ave.

I enjoyed my conversation with my new cta friend.

I don't take the blue line or the pink line much, but I have to say it seems sort of dishonest to reduce the 54/Cermak branch of the blue line to two runs per hour -- and only during rush hour -- and then use the line's disuse as the basis for eliminating it altogether.

It's a 30 minute headway, for pete sake! Of course it's not used that much. Who wants to wait 30 minutes for a train?

What they should do is construct a station and at Paulina and the Eisenhower Expressway, with a walkway connecting to the Illinois Medical District station. And they should construct a station at the United Center while they're at it. What's the point of having the pink line if they're going to simply fly over a major point of interest and not going to take advantage of obvious opportunities for connectivity with other lines?

how do they know how many people are riding the blue line along there anyway? You pay your fare, you go to the platform & wait for whichever train you need. Are there counters in the doors or are there people physically counting how many people are on the inbound after Polk? (or the outbound between Polk & Racine)
I take Pink when I head over there for an appointment, but that's mostly because the Blue isn't running at those times.

And something else in the Crain's article--it said something about making other experimental buses permanent. The 78 was included. The 78's an old bus line & still running, since I saw it only 2 days ago; so I'm wondering what they were talking about. It should be on the CTA's site, right?

Well, I got my Mystery Shopper stuff in the mail. There is a questionnaire to fill out for one trip. I couldn't find any reference to what happens after that--maybe they'll see if they like the way we answered!

One thing I found: it's a lot easier to see the run number on back end of the train after you get off and the train is still stopped in the station, than to read it on the front while the train is moving toward you. For one thing, you can get closer to it!

That's weird about the 78---that's the Montrose bus. If that's an experiment it's been going on a long time.

I finally found the reference--there was some change made to the 78's route (down by the Red Line stop) & they made that permanent. But the article's text was confusing, wasn't it?

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