Customer Service – Use Your Brain

Since I work in a large city, I’ve decided to take public transit to work rather than battling traffic. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is under a lot of fire these days for very poor customer service. I have been taking transit for a long time and I’ve seen it all. A lot of it comes down to just using common sense even if it conflicts with a rule that at some point may have made sense. Here is a great example.

The TTC has a streetcar along a few routes that follow a “proof of purchase” rule during rush hour. That means that you can enter a streetcar through any door without actually paying anything but you need to show proof of payment if somebody asks. I take the subway downtown and then go topside and take the streetcar. On one of my recent trips I got downtown and realized I forgot to get a transfer (proof of purchase paper) when I jumped on the subway at the top of line. Before I exited the subway I took one. It looked something like this:

As I went up the steps to street level I see a streetcar, do my 100 meter dash and just make the streetcar. The driver asks for a proof of purchase (I entered through the front door). Out of breath and happy to have made the streetcar I happily flash my transfer. He tells me that “you can’t use that here. It says right on it that you can’t use that at this station”.

I respond “why not, first off, this isn’t the station, we’re on the street. besides that, I took the subway downtown and have already paid my fare. What difference does it make where I got my transfer?” He tells me that rules are rules and you need to get a transfer from where you first got on the subway. “Read the back of the transfer”.

I told him I know that but I forgot to. I then went on to say “does this really matter? You know I already paid my fare. If you don’t let me board, I’ll just get off and take the next streetcar. Is this really worth it?” He was fixated on the rules and wouldn’t let me stay on. I shook my head, stepped off and thought about test driving some cars on the weekend. I got on the next streetcar without any issues.

Here are some things to consider:

  • What rules does your customer service team follow that just don’t make any sense? Have you surveyed your customers and/or team to find out what they may be?
  • What type of training are you providing your teams on how to use common sense? How are you rewarding teams for going over and above for customers?
  • Do you have a customer service culture that reinforces going outside the box for customers if it makes sense?

I hope this story helps – when all else fails, use your brain.

3 thoughts on “Customer Service – Use Your Brain

  1. I’m kinda stuck on this matter. I do see where you’re coming from. However, I also see where the TTC employee is coming from. Having used the Queen streetcar for much of my travelling to and from school for a few years I’ve come to an understanding there are a few things you need to take into account when using the Queen streetcar.

    First, Proof of payment’s huge. If you’re getting on from any stop and use cash ALWAYS get a transfer. The one time you don’t the transit enforcement will be checking. Trust me I’ve seen it happen,

    Second. Lack of common courtesy is well… Common. But, this is sadly the case on most public transit.

    Third. Be prepared for the worst – shit happens.

    Touching on your matter before I finish up. I’ve seen a countless amount of unsavory characters use dropped transfers and other unethical means of obtaining a transfer in order to board the Queen streetcars. The driver was a dick though as you probably know there are many out there.

    Finally almost everywhere you’ll find a transfer machine in the subway station there will be a sign above it stating you cannot use the transfer at this station. Being that it’s so clearly labelled everywhere he may have assumed you were trying to pull a quick one. Given you said you were new to toronto he probably would’ve let you on.

    Just food for thought. Don’t take it personally. Wait for the driver of the streetcar that pulls away as you do you 100 meter dash. There’s a lot worse jerk TTC employees do daily. 🙂


  2. It always amazes me how much excellent customer service doesn’t require money, just attitude. I take a regular TTC express bus, which is often inexplicably late – even more frustrating because my stop is only the second one on the run, so it can’t be blamed on traffic. Anyway, one evening, the bus was over 30 minutes delayed. When the driver arrived, I was ready to give him a piece of my mind. Instead – as we boarded, the driver apologised and explained that there had been a bus malfunction. This did little to help the mood, but he went one step further – he assured us that he would do his best to get us home as soon as possible. It was that last statement that changed the collective attitude of the passengers. Did it cost the TTC money? no. Did he break any laws speeding? no. But it was the acknowledgement of consideration that made the difference.
    Great blog you are starting!


    1. @Lori – that is a great story. I have a good one as well that I’ll share as there are definitely two sides to this story. Thanks for your comments – more to come.

      @Jesse – thanks for your comments! I agree with you that people try and abuse the system and that you shouldn’t use the transfer at the station. I wasn’t trying to use it at the station and it was clear it was a legal transfer. I think the law mostly applies to the subway. When it comes to the streetcar, it’s really inconsistent. In addition, I know I’ll just take the next streetcar and have no issues. The driver could have warned me and let me board.

      I also agree that expecting amazing customer service from the transit system may be a stretch. I was taking a bus this past week and a passenger just “went off” and started reaming out a bus driver. There is no question they have to put up with a lot. But someone needs to step up and little improvements can go a long way.


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