Suggestions for Ronnie Hakim, Executive Director of NJ Transit, from New Jersey’s Biggest Fan

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Kristin Davie.

safe_imageI come from a family of commuters. Train, bus, PATH service- I’ve taken it all. To make matters worse, I’ve seen it all- at least on NJ Transit. I’ll spare you the horror stories because chances are that you know someone who has one if you don’t yourself. It’s about this time I should tell you something important.

I am a born and bred New Jerseyan, and I’m fiercely loyal to my state. It’s true that I love working in the hustle and bustle of New York City, but I have tremendous pride in New Jersey, some would say sickening.

So, believe me, Ms. Hakim, when I tell you that this is all coming from a good place.

Let’s tackle social media first. I understand how large this responsibility is for a brand like NJ Transit. Countless lines, across different service platforms, and thousands of passengers all relying on up-to-date information- so let’s start small.

I’ll begin with the @NJTRANSIT Twitter handle. Over 43 thousand people follow the handle, but if someone were to look at the left-hand side of the webpage, it reads “These feeds are automated MY Transit alerts updated simultaneously with njtransit.com.” Immediately this conveys to me that there is a machine behind this page, instead of a person actually interested in my experience. Now, here’s where it gets more confusing. According to the Social Community Guidelines posted on your website “Our social media channels are managed by NJ TRANSIT employees and are not automated feeds.”

Wait, what? It gets better.

According to the same document, “NJ TRANSIT’s social media channels are an opportunity for us to communicate with our customers on the channels they prefer!” But not so fast, because your website says that these channels will not address Customer Service issues.

You know quite clearly that a large number of your customers prefer social media, yet you won’t address customer service issues through those platforms?

This brings me to my next point- if there isn’t already a dedicated team of individuals assigned to monitoring Twitter, there should be. Analyze the lines with the heaviest amount of engagement, measure the tone for each, observe peak times of engagement, and then assign a number of different people to appropriately listen, engage, and repeat. Like it or not, customers will air their grievances online.

This is not a job for one person alone.

Not even Governor Christie, who interestingly (and sort of strangely) is the only creator of a list on your main Twitter page called “Storm Preparedness.”

I see what you two did here.

The great thing about lists is that they’re easily accessible, and you can view the relevant individuals for that topic all in one place. The bad thing is that this is your only list, and it’s a blatant reactive response to Superstorm Sandy. There are some proactive things you can do here:

  • A list of NJ Transit executives on Twitter
  • A list of the different NJ Transit Twitter handles (it’s hard to find otherwise, and these are hyperlinked)
  • A list of the attractions along NJ Transit service lines
  • A list of prominent NJ celebrities or influencers
  • A list of NJ media outlets and reporters who cover transit issues

Simple, easy, and takes minutes. Your YouTube page is a different story. Again, when a major event like Superstorm Sandy or the Super Bowl directly affects your agency and its customers so strongly, it’s understandable to dedicate a large portion of your social media content to providing the most helpful information. But since the Super Bowl is over and Governor Christie has the Twitter list under control, apparently, let’s turn our attention to the other videos on the page.

Most of them are over two years old. I won’t dive into the quality of the videos (we have a great creative and digital team here, by the way), I’m going to stick with content, “How to Ride a Train,” for example.It doesn’t mention anything about purchasing monthly tickets online, or referring to the website or Twitter for updates, or half of what is included on the website in the same section. Make it consistent.

Speaking of consistency, I’d like to bring up your employees. I loved every employee on the 7:37 am train out of Metropark to NYC. They were friendly, they were polite, they enjoyed their jobs, and they were informative. My Hoboken bus driver is the same way. I’m sure that there must be more employees like them across your workforce, but there are definitely a few bad apples and this doesn’t shine more than during a delay. Customers want to know what’s going on, we want to know how it’s being fixed, we want to be told often, and we want to trust the people telling us. Nothing hurts your reputation more than when multiple conductors jump on the speaker system to tell passengers different things, or worse, nothing at all. That leads to angry customers, angry tweets, and angry survey responses.

Admission- I’ve taken the passenger survey. It wasn’t completely negative (I love NJ, remember), but it wasn’t completely positive, too. You wouldn’t know it, though, from the majority of the highlights NJ Transit chooses to release to the public. As a customer, I have much more respect for a brand that admits it has problems, listens to me, and then tells me how it’s fixing it. The #WeAreListening forums are great, but I’m sure you’ve found out quite a bit from your anonymous surveys where people can be brutally honest. Listen to us, tell us what’s going on, how it’s being fixed, and tell us often in case we forget.

Maybe then the second and third search results for #njtransit on Instragram won’t be #njtransitsucks (305 posts) and #njtransitproblems (108 posts).

By the way, people take a lot of photos on Instagram tagged #njtransit (27,009 posts).

An Instagram contest might not hurt.

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