Dear Megabus. Here are my 4 Pillars of Customer Service.

It’s time for a little Monday morning rant. I’m en route to Nashville for the 36 | 86 conference and figured it would be a great time to discuss an important topic in startups…Customer Service.

The main reason this topic came to mind is based on my brutal experience yesterday with Megabus. Essentially I needed a last minute option to get from Boston to NYC yesterday and wanted to keep things affordable. While I usually take the Amtrak directly to Penn Station, or the Bolt bus right into the city, I thought it would be a good idea to take the MegaBus from Boston to New Haven and then take the Metro Rail North the other half of the way. What I originally thought was a solid idea to save money and optimize for comfort turned into one of the worst customer experiences I’ve ever had.

Here’s what happened:

· The bus departed 15 minutes late from South Station and broke down about 30 minutes outside the city. Even with a vile smelling bathroom and literally zero working outlets, riders were pretty patient at first.

· About 30–45 minutes into the ordeal the bus driver finally communicated with us for the first time that the engine had pooped out, but made no mention of what would happen next.

· Finally an hour and a half in he decided to communicate with us again and said that a new bus would come and get us. No mention was made of an ETA….Note: He also had no idea where we were and for some reason the dispatch couldn’t figure it out either. Thanks to our iPhones we were able to give him the information to relay on.

· At the 2-hour mark a female passenger kindly asked for an ETA of the replacement bus. He told her sit down and be patient because it was coming, but he didn’t know by when (not necessarily his fault either).

· A little while later he tells us two buses will be coming. One would fit as many passengers as it could for Hartford and the other one would carry “Hartford, New Haven and ME!” (Meaning him)

· With two and half hours gone by, a bus pulls up. The two drivers argue for ten minutes and the first one pulls away without taking anyone! Our driver is heated. As are we.

· Finally, almost three hours after we broke down a new bus pulls up. After intense discussion between the two drivers for ten minutes our driver runs on the bus and yells to everyone “go, go, grab your bags and get on the other bus before he pulls away!” At this point people are crawling underneath the bus to grab their bags and start sprinting on the side of the highway to get on the other bus…Everyone got on safely.

I tell you this story not only to deter you from taking MegaBus, but more importantly to highlight some key rules of customer service and where they went wrong. In today’s age of social media and peer reviews, brands must focus on quality customer service from day 1.

Remember that a good customer experience drives world of mouth marketing! This should be even more of a priority in an industry where you find little differentiation and plenty of options…I’m talking to you, MegaBus.

Anyways, here’s what I see at the very least as 4 Pillars of Customer Service:

  1. Be Transparent — Provide your customers with as much information as you can. Be direct and manage expectations. Whether it’s an estimated delivery time (or bus time), your refund policy or next steps in the exchange, just be an open and honest book. Think Domino’s Pizza tracker transparency.
  2. Be Accommodating — Think of some of the fastest growing brands in the world today. Zappos, Warby Parker, and even Uber, are all extremely accommodating. Over the top customer service isn’t an option anymore. It’s expected. Additionally, when it’s not provided, people like me go ahead and share the terrible experience online. In the case of Megabus I’m hopeful that they’ll understand the importance of customer experience and refund all of us.
  3. Be Responsive — Nothing annoys customers more than when they encounter a gap in response time. The fact is that companies have SO many customer service tool options that they can leverage. Most of these, such as desk.com and zendesk, make this problem easier to solve. For Megabus that means having people respond to customer tweets, send a replacement bus much faster and quickly provide us with updates on the situation or answers to our questions.
  4. Be Apologetic — Anyone who has worked in the service industry has heard the saying “the customer is always right.” While this may or may not be true in the literal sense, you should almost always approach it as if this is the case. Whether it’s telling a customer that you’ll investigate the matter or responding to complaints with a smile on your face, keep in mind that your customer experience is one of, if not, the most important piece of your business.

In today’s information economy customer experience is critical. A high level of customer service can make or break your company in the long run if you’re an established corporation, or completely wipe out your chances of growth if you’re a startup. Aside from training your employees well and giving them autonomy to solve problems, figure out ways that you can leverage technology to make the customer service experience better.

Organizationally Megabus may not be able to respond to all of the complaints, or provide customers with a live update of replacement bus arrival time currently. However, they should probably start to figure out some solutions to the terrible customer experience problem they have if they want to be around in 10–20 years.

But then again, I guess you get what you pay for…

What do you think is important in customer service? Tweet at me @BoatShuman and let me know your thoughts! I’m also available to talk startups via email at JShuman@Corigin.com.

Note: Customer service was a top priority of ours at Category Five when we worked on it full-time. Since moving onto other full-time jobs, and working on Category Five part-time, we unfortunately have only been able to allot certain hours during the week to handle customer service requests.

This is honestly one of the hardest parts of not working on Category Five full-time, as I genuinely hate to receive customer complaints. Unfortunately we’re trying our best to be as efficient with our time as possible while still giving our customers a relatively high level of service. I look to be transparent about the situation in every response to customers as well. To those who we have had a bad experience since the move, I apologize.