CATA working to improve customer service through social media

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Students boarding the CATA bus at a stop in the Brody neighborhood.

Students boarding the CATA bus at a stop located in Brody neighborhood.

By Gabriela Saldivia
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

LANSING—The concept of the suggestion box is no more with the explosion of business’ and companies using social media pages. Capital Area Transportation Authority, also known as CATA, is one of these business that uses social media in it’s overall marketing strategy, transforming the way customers interact with their business.

The ability to effectively communicate with customers is something CATA, greater Lansing’s primary public transportation provider, takes very seriously, according to Laurie Robison, the director of marketing and public information officer at CATA.

Laurie Robison is the director of marketing at CATA

Laurie Robison is the director of marketing at CATA

In the past two years, she said that CATA has tried to connect with its riders through social media by establishing profiles on Facebook and Twitter where customers can like, follow and communicate with the company.

Robison said the Twitter and Facebook accounts allow the public transportation company to “tell their story on their terms,”

“We are seeing a lot of feedback,” Robison said. “It’s also becoming a place where we can monitor conversations about CATA, that we might not have had access to before.”

With close to 800 followers on twitter currently, CATA utilizes a media monitoring program that can track, monitor and flag content and feedback from these posts.

“We really get a snapshot of the perceptions of our customers out there,” Robison said. “So it helps us manage our marketing message as well.”

Michigan State University Lyman Briggs freshman Ryan Grosinger rides CATA frequently. He said he was not pleased with the response he received after he complained using Twitter.

“I missed a meeting because the bus didn’t show up on time,” Grosinger said. “(Their) response was just what I expected, a half-hearted apology and them denying they were wrong.”

Robison said in the past few weeks because of snow detours traffic on the Twitter page has increased, including some negative feedback, like that of Grosinger. She said she views this as a good thing, facilitating a conversation between customers and the company.

But because this way of communicating is a relatively new, CATA is finding ways to effectively review and respond to comments.

“We’re seeing that social media can now serve as a customer service tool,” Robison said. “Because this is relatively new, marketing is having to review those circumstance and make sure we communicate back to those individuals that post to let them know that we hear what they’re saying and that we will pass it on to the appropriate department head that can help address those situations.”

Mike Steele is an assistant professor in the department of Teacher Education at MSU who said CATA is his preferred means of transportation, especially in the winter when it is too cold to ride his bike onto campus. He had a positive interaction with CATA after he tweeted a concern last month.

“This seemed to be an excellent case of customer/business interaction on Twitter,” Steele said. “I was able to alert them immediately to a problem that required a rapid response. They, in turn, were able to make a correction and provide me with quick feedback.”

Steele said he has communicated with a handful of businesses similarly to how he contacted CATA on Twitter.

“CATA’s responsiveness in this case served as a strong model for how businesses might interact with customers in a way that is responsive and improves their own levels of service in the process,” Steele said.

With three people on the marketing team at CATA, Robison said currently the volume of feedback is manageable but that she has some concerns for the future.

“A new concern for us as usage increases is how we utilize our resources to make sure we are there, monitoring and being engaged,” Robison said. “We don’t want to start out with a bang and then have people say, ‘oh now they’re not responding’.”

She said although a greater social media presence is a goal in the future, rapid growth at this time would not be good for CATA or its customers.

“We have to keep that dialogue going, we don’t want our customers to feel ignored because we don’t have the ability to catch up with them.” Robison said. “We’re trying to look at how we continue the growth without overwhelming us.”

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