The Bay Area Rapid Transit, better known as BART, is the Bay Area’s electric-powered, rapid transit, public transportation system. BART works to provide safe, clean, reliable, and customer-friendly regional public transit service that “plays such an important role in not just keeping people mobile and the Bay Area accessible, but also the financial well-being of the Bay Area community,” said Alicia Trost, Communications Director at BART. “When things don’t work at BART, things don’t work in the Bay Area.”

Trost’s comments are no exaggeration. In an area known for its record-setting traffic, BART transports over 420,000 riders a day, removing over 28,000 cars from congested highways during rush hour, saving an estimated 200,000 gallons of gas, and reducing commute times significantly. A BART disruption, especially during commute hours, causes a ripple effect that impacts the entire region. “People need us,” said Trost.

“The Bay Area is expanding, and we’re expanding with it. We passed a major bond measure that is letting us rebuild the system. We’ve opened new stations. We’re introducing a new fleet of cars. We’re taking old sections of track out and replacing it with state-of-the-art equipment that will last double, if not triple, the life time,” said Trost, “but there was a disconnect. No one wanted to talk about that. They wanted to talk about what we’re doing to address the quality of life issues and the resulting safety concerns that have been pushed into our system as of late.”

In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency after finding that roughly 2.1 million Americans suffered from opioid use disorder, contributing to more than 17,000 deaths and costing the country an estimated $504 billion. During the same year the rate of homelessness rose slightly nationwide, with spikes in a handful of states including California. BART’s enclosed stations and easily accessible trains make the system an attractive location for people looking for shelter.

But again, BART is a transit agency primarily funded by fare revenue from the riders.  Its budget is not part of a city or county that also has services for those in need. BART is not structured to address the health and human services costs and complexities that are currently impacting the customer experience in a very real way. This is BART’s reality.

 

Trost and team started asking themselves questions like “how do we address these concerns and still deliver our key messages? How can we enable everyone to engage in a way that’s scalable and coordinated while also honest and personalized? How do we bring the human element into our infrastructure, since it’s becoming an increasingly human-centric conversation…all in 280 characters?”  

The answer: the cloud.

Trost and team built a user-generated engagement platform using Salesforce Service Cloud and Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s Social Studio. It enables traditional outreach and engagement capabilities, such as social monitoring or post scheduling. However, it was then deployed using a set of criteria that fosters a true customer-centric communications strategy.

  • Easy: Social Studio’s social alerts function notifies Trost and team anytime key influencers @mention or talk about BART. If the commenter has an exceptionally high number of followers, is an elected official, or works as a reporter, the platform flags the message accordingly. It does the same for popular topics. “We use this to scale our efforts – to cut through the clutter, and identify the questions that are likely going to matter to the most people,” said Trost.

  • Trusted: the platform’s analytical capabilities enable the team to package up comments in a quantifiable manner, and validate big picture ideas with granular, contextual proof points. “We also use it to determine if people still care about certain topics – I have the data to show ‘this many people are talking about parking, this many people are talking about cleanliness,’” said Trost. “Before, issues were only tracked if they were raised via email or by calling in. We now have access to so much more information.” BART can trust their decisions, and can justify decisions with the public, by turning more insights into more data.

  • Fast: when a topic is especially popular, Trost and team can pre-package images, videos, and copy that fully explains the question and store it in the cloud. This allows any employee to pull the materials they need and respond in a timely manner, and at the same time “use the public’s questions and comments to market our key messages. It’s more effective in my opinion, because these are really important questions and we have really good answers.”

  • Faster: “I can take a Tweet and turn it into a case on Service Cloud, which then triggers an action in our separate maintenance request system. I can hit one button,” explained Trost. “Whereas on our old platform, I would have to take a screenshot of the Tweet, type it up in an email, send it to a manager, hope that they weren’t on vacation…”

  • Innovative: time saved is refocused on the customer experience. Trost and team take the time to research individuals, and incorporate their findings into each and every response. “We had someone comment about how we were prioritizing system upgrades. It was clear from his recent activity that he was just coming back to work from paternity leave:

“When you’re able to show someone that you’re truly listening, not just responding to a couple key words, but that you truly understand what they’re asking about, it’s extremely rewarding for that individual to know that we heard it and that we provided a real response,” said Trost. “And you need the right knowledge base to do it.”

BART’s ability to respond in a timely, personalized, transparent manner is rewarding for the mission as well. Engagement has increased; in 2015, BART had a total of 13,000 mentions across major social media platforms. By 2017, BART had 60,000 mentions. “And that’s just people tagging us. We know there are people talking about us without tagging us,” said Trost.

It also helped to build brand affinity. BART has personal conversations in real time with people they might not otherwise have access to—people like elected officials, reporters that surface in social alerts, and the general public. “We’ve actually had people tell us the reason why they voted yes on our last big bond measure was because of our transparency. They understood why this funding was important, and the impact it could have on the overall system,” said Trost.

BART is partnering with riders to quickly address unsanitary conditions by sending reports comments from social media to clean up teams, speeding up the response time. “We’ve basically set up a 311--a “see-click-fix system”-- without the extra cost of a new app or adding staff,” said Trost. These same connected communication efforts have helped BART justify the need for increased security measures. The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded BART a $6.8 million grant in August 2018 to fund police patrols and upgraded security cameras. “The public is offering more praise for our workers, and local media is picking up stories on our efforts. We’re essentially shaping the narrative by engaging in real time.”   

“We’re humanizing government, we’re making it responsive, and—most importantly—we’re being transparent. And we’re doing it on the public’s time when they want it and where they are.”

1 https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html

2 https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/

 
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