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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Customer Service – Your Strongest Link to the Bottom Line

Author – Joan Crawford (2002)

Servicing customers is certainly not a new concept to our industry.  Moving millions of passengers daily, the heart of our business is the ability of our people to provide safe, secure, and on-time transportation.  But, there is often a gap between having this knowledge, and integrating it into business strategies and activities.  The best business plans understand the 'heart' of an organization, and promote activities and expend resources to keep it 'beating'.

We continually hear about people being "our greatest assets", but what do we really do, on a daily basis, to plan, recruit, and hire the best possible assets?  Once we have them in place, are we thoroughly training them on delivering not just the technical aspects of the profession, but the so-called 'soft skills', as well?
A well focused, integrated, and consistently implemented Human Resources plan is in fact, your best business plan.  Let's look at a few of the key elements of a typical bus industry business plan: Financial Results, Marketing, and Equipment. 

Financial Results are achieved through ridership, which depends on the timely, efficient delivery of service - service that is in fact delivered through your employees. 

When we promote or market our businesses, what do we typically focus on?  We usually focus on the provision of safe, cost-efficient, timely, and in some situations, environmentally sound transportation.  Again, all provided through the efforts of mechanics, bus operators, and other employees. 
Finally, the rolling stock and other equipment necessary to deliver the same safe, on-time service is, of course, maintained, inspected and run by our employees.

In today's tough economy, we spend a lot of time trying to realize cost-savings and efficiencies, while increasing ridership, and driving a reasonable margin of profit.  Many of these efforts are geared towards the tangible things; how often do we concentrate on bettering the intangible - the very real concepts such as improving customer service?  We need to capitalize on those very special business assets, our employees. 

The size or scope of your business, whether it's a two-driver coach line, or an urban transit operation, does not really matter.  By focusing energy, time and effort into better hiring, training, and development, I believe any company, regardless of the environment, market sector, or geographic area can significantly impact the delivery of service, which will positively impact business.

In order to create the type of environment that will support such a venture, you will need an integrated Human Resources plan which addresses:
-  Planning
-  Recruitment
- Orientation
- Training and development
- Continuous learning 
- Recognition
- Compensation
- Work relationships

One of the ways that the MCPCC has supported the efforts of Canadian bus companies in this endeavor is the establishment of the National Occupational Standards for Professional Bus Operators.  This standard, created with input from labor, management, drivers, trainers, and educators, outlines the numerous tasks and details of the day-to-day operation of motor coach, urban transit, accessible and school bus vehicles. 

By using an occupational standard, our industry sends a clear message to the public and potential employees, that this is a profession that is detailed, safety-conscious, and committed to excellence. 

National Occupational Standards support the planning and recruitment process for attracting, selecting, and hiring the best possible candidates.  Naturally, they must demonstrate the competencies necessary to do the job; however, how much time do we actually spend in the hiring process finding out if they can actually deliver the customer service?  By focusing attention on that crucial area, we can concentrate on hiring candidates who already possess good 'people' skills, and who are detail and service oriented, and therefore, will respond to and thrive in a customer-driven business.

Today, there are an increasing number of tools available to Human Resources and hiring managers, to help them in their quest to find good employees.  For example, MCPCC has developed a comprehensive Best Practices Recruitment Guide (Behind the Wheel) specifically for bus companies. 

By utilizing such tools, you improve your chances of weeding out the marginal candidates, while capitalizing on those who already demonstrate their suitability for this demanding industry.

What happens once you have your new hires in place?  Ask yourself, "does our training program focus on the competencies required to deliver the promise we make to our customers?"  Does your training program present customer service as a positive and tangible element of your daily activities, or does it assume that your employees understand the concepts behind good service? 

Take a look at how customer service is presented to your new hires.  Is it positioned as a regular business priority, or merely as a 'nice-to-have'?  Are your hires trained on positively handling the increasing demands of public service?  Do you cover proactively dealing with customer concerns?

Once your new hires are trained to your standards, and you put them on the road, what can you do to ensure that the good work everyone sets out to do, continues? 

You must create and maintain a 'learning environment', which fosters ongoing development, and supports your employees' reaction to change.  It's been said that "change is the only constant", which translates into a steady need to be able to handle stress, new requirements or standards, and, at times, uncertainty. 
Does your business communicate with your employees on a regular basis, facilitating honest, two-way dialogue about business and operations issues?  It's crucial in today's information age to both talk with, and listen to, your employees.  Once again, you need to keep in mind that they are the only direct link to your end user, and you need to solicit their opinions, and gather information from the field, in order to keep your business offering relevant and fresh.

A good learning environment consistently seeks ways to improve skills, and develop employees' potential.  Do you offer your employees opportunities to upgrade, to add to their skills set, in effect, to shine?
Recognition and rewards, outside of regular compensation, are a key way for any enterprise to motivate employees.  Through both internal and public value systems, you can bolster self-confidence, pride in the profession, and your business's profile.  Currently, the MCPCC is directing the development of a national recognition program, through the voluntary certification of Bus Operators.  As a program of national scope, offering third party endorsement of an individual's skills, it will go a long way in reinforcing for both our industry and our riding public that this profession is one that is demanding, rewarding, and respected. 
There are numerous ways in which our Human Resources activities can promote and support our business endeavors.  However, it takes commitment and focus to align our Human Resources plans with our everyday business activities. 

Today, we can't take our customers' needs and increasing demands for granted. 
We have to populate our business with the right people, train them with the appropriate skills, and provide them with the kind of positive and productive environment, which supports them on the road, every day.

 Joan Crawford, Executive Director, Motor Carrier Passenger Council of Canada (MCPCC), is a Human Resources professional who has spent over twenty years directing the effective planning, recruiting and training of employees, both nationally and internationally.  Now, she is working with bus professionals from across Canada, creating programs and tools to support ongoing training, development, and promotion of the bus industry. For more information contact the MCPCC at 905-884-7782 or visit their website at www.buscouncil.ca