In March of 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to designate a nationwide three-digit telephone number for traveler information. In July 2001, the FCC designated 511 as the national traveler information number. As of July 2003, nineteen 511 services across the country are operational and many have learned valuable lessons on deploying and operating systems.
In early 2001, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) with the support of the USDOT established a 511 Deployment Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is that 511 will be a “customer driven multi-modal traveler information service, available across the United States, accessed via telephones and other personal communications devices, realized through locally deployed interoperable systems, enabling a safer, more reliable and efficient transportation system.” In September 2003, the Coalition published the Implementation and Operational Guidelines for 511 Services, Version 2.0 to assist implementers in developing quality systems and increasing the level of operational knowledge among the 511 community. The lesson below is gathered from this guide, which has captured the experiences from many of the existing 511 services nationwide.
Successful 511 systems will be customer and market driven to help ensure they are utilized by travelers. A 511 service needs to be thought of as an evolving product designed to attract and retain users.
The 511 system embodies many of the characteristics of a customer relationship management (CRM) system which entails all aspects of interaction that a company (or agency) has with its customer, whether it be sales or service related. The system provides users with features and services that are focused on safety and convenience and meet their needs. As an example, in Virginia, during the operation of the current phone service, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) conducted usability testing of the service, both with actual users and with phone system experts. Based on the findings, the user interface was modified.
Automobile manufacturers offer optional telematics packages in the hope of learning more about their customer throughout the life of the vehicle. It gives the automaker a window into what is important to their customer, as well as a direct link to the buyer to enhance his or her experience with the vehicle and company. The buyer expects quality service and assistance (of various types) from the telematics system. Similarly accuracy, timeliness and reliability of information is an important issue for the 511 community and users as well. In an increasingly advanced information society, callers are generally accustomed to high quality information. Therefore, on-going feedback from customers is essential for providing a high level of customer satisfaction and meeting the goals of a successful deployment.
There are a number of suggestions provided in the Coalition's Implementation and Operational Guidelines for 511 Services, Version 2.0 focusing on being customer and market-driven.
- Listen to customers and predict or react to their needs.
- Recognize that users in different regions will have different needs.
- Provide a comment line on the 511 menu tree. A standard customer feedback mechanism allows the deployer to track user's needs regularly instead of waiting for an evaluation of the system which may only be performed once every two or three years and may include various survey methods.
The goal of a 511 system is to provide a safer, more reliable and efficient system. If users know of congestion, construction, incidents, and even weather conditions in advance of approaching the condition, then decisions can be made to possibly alter or modify their trip. These decisions may make travel for the user more efficient and therefore should effectively make the overall network more efficient.
This lesson suggests that the most successful 511 services are, and will be, the ones that listen to their customers and predict, or react to, their needs. If the system doesn’t meet the needs of its customers, providing high customer satisfaction, then users will become discontent and discontinue use of the system. Satisfied customers become repeat customers.