Customer Service reps at the Valley Metro call center assisting customers.

Years before I joined Valley Metro, I called the company's customer service line to give them a piece of my mind.  I had been waiting a long time for a bus. I was exactly where I should be on at the stop to get picked up and then the bus blew right by me! I made the call to customer service at Valley Metro and I was connected to an agent who listened to my tirade. He skillfully ducked every verbal punch, disarmed my anger and calmly talked me down to the point where I was apologizing for lashing out at him. 

Now, hopefully years wiser, I've had the opportunity to visit Valley Metro's customer service department to see what makes them tick.  The department is squirreled away in a non-descript building near Sky Harbor Airport. It's one of those places you could walk right by and not know that there are dozens of people hard at work helping riders in need of travel information.

With a phone headset in hand, I was guided to Kathy, a customer support agent who I'd be following for the day.  It took just a few minutes for my headset to be plugged in so that I could listen in on her phone calls, and within a few seconds, Kathy received her first call.

"Thank you for calling Valley Metro, my name is Kathy, how may I help you?"

Of course, I was almost expecting to hear someone like myself years ago on the line, someone who was ready and waiting to lodge a stern complaint. But to my surprise, it was a very pleasant sounding person who simply wanted to know how to get from her location to where she's going for a job interview. Kathy sounded only too happy to help and swiftly tapped in the caller's origin and destination into her computer. A route popped up immediately, Kathy explained the connections in a casual, conversational manner and the commuter hung up happy and informed.

I wrote off this trip planning call as a fluke. Surely there was going to be an angry phone call like the one I made years ago. Another call came in:

"Thank you for calling Valley Metro, my name is Kathy, how may I help you?"

It was another pleasant person with another trip planning call. Kathy handled it expertly, explaining how multiple routes could get the caller to where he wanted to be, along with the times involved.  I was somewhat surprised at the lack of ire from the calls.  Kathy explained that most of the calls the customer service line receives are for trip planning, though the angry calls aren't uncommon.  She also said the computer sometimes doesn’t give the best route, so it’s important for customer support agents to understand all the routes to give the best possible advice.

Kathy said she and the other customer support agents stay fairly busy, though there are times when it might be a few minutes between the end of one call and the start of another.  She stated that it's not the number of calls at the end of the day that matters, it's the quality of service provided.  Agents can take as much time as needed to help an individual customer.

Her knowledge of the Phoenix metro area was impressive. During one call, a rider said he was waiting for the Route 106 bus at west Peoria Avenue and 28th Street.  Without looking at a map, she asked questions about where the caller was with surprising detail about the area.

I asked Kathy if her time as a customer service agent had changed any of her attitudes. She remarked that she has a lot more respect for people who rely on Valley Metro to get around. Kathy said it's not easy being without a car and having to get groceries home by bus.

Another call came in.  "Thank you for calling Valley Metro, my name is Kathy, how may I help you?"

It was what I was waiting for, a passenger whose bus was late and who was calling Valley Metro customer service to give them a piece of their mind. And then it happened. I saw the verbal judo in real time.  Kathy calmly apologized, listened to the customer, apologized again, took her information for a report and let her know when the next bus would arrive.  She treated the caller as the most important person in the world. I heard the caller calm down, apologize for lashing out, and thank Kathy for her help. It was exactly the same type of magic treatment I got years ago.

The final call I heard was from someone who had been recently diagnosed with a medical condition that prevented her from driving and she wanted to know how to get to a golf course.  Kathy provided several options and noted that the caller may qualify for paratransit.  She didn't just give the caller what she asked for; she provided additional information that she may actually need to make her life easier.

Overall, I came away from this experience with Kathy and the other customer service agents with a lot of respect. Their job isn't easy but it improves the lives of hundreds of people every day.  If you ever have the need to hear it for yourself, call (602) 253-5000.

Alex Tsotsos
Rail Operations Communications Specialist
Writer, editor, musician, gamer, and former news professional. Frequently seen at Phoenix Rising matches and jogging around Gainey Ranch. May throw things in the presence of typos.