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Perspectives: Super Bowl Transit Communication is Off Track

by Steve Adubato, Ph.D. for NJTV

When it comes to customer service, there is a very simple rule: it’s all about them, it’s not about us!

I wrote this a couple of months back regarding the embarrassing roll-out of the healthcare.gov website and how difficult it was for consumers to access it. But certain lessons some folks still don’t get.

Consider the nightmare that occurred for approximately 34,000 Super Bowl fans who tried to take NJ Transit away from MetLife Stadium after the Seahawks beat the Broncos in a particularly one-sided affair. NFL officials, together with the folks at NJ Transit, communicated very clearly before this much-hyped game that it would be the first “mass transit Super Bowl.”

NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein said at a press conference on December 9 how ready his folks were to handle anything that came their way: “I want you to know we’re ready at NJ Transit…We’re ready because of extensive planning and preparation and are continuing through game day.” Further, he went on to commit in no uncertain terms that Super Bowl fans would have “a world-class travel experience.”

It’s very rare that an executive, either in the public or private sector, will communicate with such confidence with the stakes so high and the variables so great.

But unfortunately, what happened after the game was anything but “a world-class travel experience.” Talk about a picture communicating a thousand words. Images were transmitted across the country of tens of thousands of Super Bowl fans jammed together on platforms for hours waiting for a NJ Transit train. What an embarrassment.

However, as was the case with the healthcare.gov debacle in which federal officials deflected the blame saying that somehow overwhelming consumer demand was much of the reason for the website’s failure, transportation officials communicated in a similar fashion. The day after the Super Bowl, Weinstein said, “I think we did an excellent job moving a lot of people to a major event…When 82,500 people leave a place at the same time there’s going be congestion. There was, and we got through that congestion in what I believe was a realistic time. It would have been nice if we could have done it faster, but we did it as quickly and as efficiently as we could do it.”

That is not the kind of communication we want from our top transportation executive after such a public embarrassment. “It would have been nice if we could have done it faster”? What would have been nice is if Mr. Weinstein and others responsible said this: “Together with the NFL, we simply never thought that so many people would leave MetLife Stadium so quickly. We miscalculated and didn’t handle this well. We apologize to everyone who waited so long to get a train. It is inexcusable and I take full responsibility.”

I never understand why it so hard to communicate in such a straightforward, direct and candid fashion. If Weinstein had spoken this way, it would not have made the wait any less for those who suffered on those platforms, but it would have communicated clearly that he and other members of the Christie administration felt terrible for what passengers went through. It would let those 34,000 people know that he and the other transportation officials get it. Get what? Get that it is about them. The customer. Those who bought into the mass transit hype before the Super Bowl and decided to take those trains and then paid the price after the game. Whether it’s state government, a cable company, an airline or your local insurance carrier, remember, it’s not about us, it is all about THEM!

Write to me at sadubato@aol.com about a great (or not so great) customer service experience.

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