When writing Metro’s customer service, remember: be polite, be specific, and keep it to the point.

8 minute read

October 3, 2011, 6:31 PM

So many people complain on the Twitter about having a bad time contacting Metro’s customer service. Take this exchange from earlier today between @jb_martin and myself, for example:

#WMATA‘s cust srvc dept needs a complete sandblasting from top to bottom…a child could handle complaints better than they could.
October 3 10:23 AM by @jb_martin

@jb_martin @FixWMATA WMATA customer service gives good service as long as you are polite, specific, and to the point. Doing that? #wmata
October 3 10:45 AM by @SchuminWeb

@SchuminWeb do you happen to have the coordinates for the gateway to the parallel universe you’re obviously referring to? @FixWMATA
October 3 12:08 PM by @jb_martin

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who has nice things to say about Metro’s customer service department. But if I have a concern that I need addressed, I am polite, specific, and to the point. I do not provide my personal opinion about what I may or may not consider the value and importance of what I am bringing to their attention. Obviously, if I am still thinking about it when I get to a real computer and go to Metro’s comment form to send Metro a note, it is assumed that it is important to me. However, while I make no explicit value judgments, I will try to give an educated guess as to what I believe the problem might be if I can.

I also make a few assumptions about Metro when I am writing their customer service department. My assumptions are as follows:

  • Metro knows that if someone is bringing a matter up, that it is important to them.
  • Metro knows the way that its own system is put together, as well as how to fix most problems.
  • Metro knows what normal operation is supposed to look like.
  • Metro doesn’t like it when things on Metro break down just as much as we don’t like it when things on Metro break down. Maybe even more – they are the ones who have to actually fix it.
  • It is unreasonable to expect Metro to have everything working at 100% for 100% of the time. After all, things do break from time to time.
  • There is no magic mechanism that tells Metro when something is not functioning correctly. Someone must tell them so that they will know to fix it. Thus we, the riders, are another set of eyes and ears noticing when there are problems that need to be addressed.
  • Metro’s customer service representatives do not fix the problems directly, nor do they determine what policies and procedures are for Metro. Their job is to be the liaison between the riders and Metro and nothing more.
  • Metro’s customer service representatives have to put up with a lot of stuff, as is the case with any customer service position. They should be treated with respect at all times.

The responses that I have gotten have always been polite and professional. Never has someone said anything untoward to me or dropped the ball.

In order to drive this point home about being polite, specific, and to the point, let me provide you with some examples from past interactions with Metro’s customer service. I want you to notice (A) what I say, (B) what I don’t say, and (C) how I say it. Then see what my message garnered from Metro’s customer service department (sans the boilerplate text that goes at the end of every message).

This first example is case #332192. That was in regards to an unusual noise and related vibration that I experienced on Breda 4045 on May 23, 2007. You may recall that I wrote about this on Schumin Web at the time that it happened. When I reported it to Metro, I said this:

I was on 4045 on the Red Line headed towards Glenmont, and from the time I boarded at Dupont Circle to when I got off at Glenmont, the car was making a loud noise similar to that of a lawn mower, and vibrating badly in the area around the wheel truck on the non-cab end of the car. The noise and vibration stopped on about three occasions while stopped at stations, and each time resumed shortly after departing the station.

This was my first time writing Metro’s customer service, but note what I wrote. I stuck to the facts: the car (Breda 4045), the problem (unusual noise and vibration), the location of the problem (near the blind end of the car around the wheel truck), and any pertinent information that might help Metro (stopping and starting of noise). I didn’t mention what I thought about the situation, what I thought Metro should do about the problem, or even that the vibration started to make me feel somewhat ill. Then I kept a neutral point of view when discussing the matter.

This was Metro’s response to my concern from Bob Hester, Metro’s Red Line Customer Service Manager:

Thanks for writing to Metro’s Red Line Team concerning car number 4045. I appreciate your taking the time to provide your observations and I apologize for any inconvenience or discomfort you experienced while using our services. I have reported this problem to our Car Maintenance staff and they are pulling the vehicle for inspection.

Works for me. Metro has confirmed that they are aware of the problem, and will give the car a look to see what the problem is. The assumption is that Metro knows what it is doing, and can take care of it. The next time I rode Breda 4045 on August 10, 2007, I noted no abnormalities.

Similar, and even more to-the-point, was case #395890, about a dislocated pole on Rohr 1051, which I noticed and reported on March 18, 2008:

On car #1051, which is currently on the Red Line, the seatback-to-ceiling pole nearest to the center door on the non-cab side of the rail car has come out of the mounting bracket that connects the pole to the seat.

Quick, simple, and to the point. Car number, location, and what the problem is. I received a response from that from Jeannie Greene-Barr:

Thank you for your recent email. I have forwarded a copy of your email to our Car Maintenance Office for resolution. Thank you for your support.

Excellent. The message is relayed, and Metro will fix it. Next time I rode Rohr 1051 was May 13, 2009. No abnormalities reported, though I’m sure that the pole was fixed well before I got a chance to ride that car again. I also reported a similar issue with Rohr 1049 on May 22, 2008 (case #408859), and received a similarly polite response from Helen Gregory. And the problem was fixed.

Then how did they do on a station matter? Let’s see. I wrote this in what became case #525715 on December 14, 2009:

On the south (19th Street) entrance to Dupont Circle station, the SmarTrip reader on the handicapped-accessible gate does not read cards on the “exit” side of the gate (i.e. the side you tap when exiting the system). It has been doing this consistently for about a week now.

Metro’s Helen Gregory wrote this back:

Thank you for writing. I apologize for your inconvenience. The handicapped faregate is working now.

And wouldn’t you know – it was fixed that day.

I also had concerns about people standing too close to the south entrance of Dupont Circle station to hand out literature. According to section 100.10(b) of Regulation concerning the use by others of WMATA Property (you know – the photo policy document), people may not engage in any “free speech activities” closer than 15 feet “from any escalator, stairwell, faregate, mezzanine gate, kiosk, or fare card machine.” So when I had a problem related to that regulation, I wrote them about it:

On May 24 and 25, 2010, at roughly 9 AM both days, a gentleman distributing literature representing the Founding Church of Scientology was obstructing pedestrian traffic coming off the escalators at the south entrance for Dupont Circle station, while in the process of handing out literature for the Founding Church of Scientology. This person was definitely closer to the escalator than the fifteen-foot distance required under “Regulation concerning the use by others of WMATA Property”, section 100.10(b).

I actually got two follow-ups on that one, which was designated as case #556158. The first was from Jeannie Greene-Barr:

Thank you for your recent email. We apologize that these incidents are occurring and will make sure this information is made available to our Metropolitan Transit Police Department for review and corrective actions.

Then I was surprised to get this second response, from Transit Police:

Dear Ben Schumin:

Thank you for your concerns and the information you provided about the activity occurring at the Dupont Circle Metro Station. Officers have been instructed to pay special attention for this activity occurring at the Dupont Circle Station and to take the appropriate enforcement action if violations of laws or public ordinances are observed.

If I can be of further assistance, feel free to contact me or another Sergeant by dialing [number].


Sergeant Tiffany Washington
Metro Transit Police, District I

I was glad to see the follow-up response, and the Scientologists disappeared for a while over by the Metro station.

Metro’s customer service has also been really great about answering the more geekish questions that I have had. This is one that I was particularly impressed about, because you can tell that they really did their homework and researched this one for me. You may recall that I did a Journal entry on July 2, 2008 about how Breda 3218 and Breda 3193 made an unusual pair (because they’re not supposed to be mated that way). I finally wrote Metro about this on November 6, 2008, and it became case 442072:

I have noticed that 3193 and 3218 are now operating as a married pair – a very non-standard configuration, considering that Metro car pairs are normally sequentially numbered (e.g. 3288 and 3289). I did some research, and determined that these were not the mates of the 1996 Shady Grove accident that wrecked two 3000-Series cars. What led to this unusual pairing, and what happened to 3192 and 3219?

They really did do their homework on this one. Helen Gregory came back with this response:

Thank you for taking the time to write to us. The mates to these cars are still at the Contractor for heavy repairs. During a contracted rehab for all 2000 and 3000-series cars, problems were found with 3192 and 3219 which caused considerable delays. A decision was made to send their mating cars back, and we have married them and put them in to service until the mates are delivered. That should happen soon. Once accepted, they will be put back with the proper mating car.

Perfect. That also ended railfan speculation on what may have led to this unusual pairing of Metro cars, though some railfans wondered why they were bothering to put the original pairs back together instead of simply marrying 3192 and 3219 when they came back. In any case, Metro has done as it promised, and all of the cars are now back on the property and mated as expected.

And lastly, through the Twitter, I’ve had a good experience as well. While waiting for our luggage at the baggage claim when we returned to DC from Chicago, Mom and I got in a conversation with a couple that was going to be staying at the Marriott Wardman Park. I gave them directions on how to get there, and recommended that they take the elevator, since it comes out nearer to where they were going than the escalators. But before I told them to do that, I wanted to make sure that it was working. Here’s the inquiry that I made to Metro for that, via the Twitter, and their response:

@wmata Is the elevator at Woodley Park-Zoo in good order? I just gave some folks directions that include riding it. Please advise. #wmata
August 8 1:14 PM by @SchuminWeb

@SchuminWeb according to our el/es status page, Woodley Park elevator is in service. You may check status here: ^BA
August 8 1:16 PM by @wmata

@wmata Awesome, thanks! #wmata
August 8 1:34 PM by @SchuminWeb

And the couple that Metro and I helped out was delighted to have gotten the information that they needed. And don’t forget – thank people for their kind responses, as I did. It does go a long way.

I’ve also used Metro’s phone customer service, but only once, in 2006. At that time, my SmarTrip card had cracked, and I needed assistance in getting whatever value I had on there transferred to the new card. I was polite and specific, and I received stellar service in return. The woman whom I spoke with on the phone was nothing but polite and helpful in linking the cards, and then telling me what buttons to press on the Passes/Farecards machine to make the money show up.

So the point to all of this is that if you are civil, ask good questions, and make good requests, Metro will give good customer service. It is a two-way street. This really isn’t rocket science, folks. After all, it’s like they say – garbage in, garbage out. But if you do it the right way, you will do well in getting good customer service from Metro (or anywhere, for that matter – the moral of the story applies to many situations, transit and otherwise).

Web site: Metro's comment form - use it responsibly, and use it well.

Song: Sped-up chimes on Alstom 6047. I wrote Metro about this, too. Great response from them, and the chimes were fixed.

Quote: So there you go! And really, this kind of advice applies anywhere. Don't think that any of this advice is necessarily specific to Metro.

Categories: Social media, WMATA