WMATA, the Marketing Imagination, and the weekend service-constant repair dilemma
A few months back the Post had some articles and an editorial about the weekend service problems. Earlier in the week it was reported that WMATA ridership has dropped by 9.3%, see "Metro ridership, revenue down" from the Post. There was an entry in GGW about it ("Riders abandoning Metro on weekends"), and many of the comments are thoughtful. Vicky Hallett, the DC Rider columnist for the Express, had a column about the topic too, "Faulty Logic," which mostly was a humor column.
Yesterday's Dr. Gridlock column in the Post mentioned the weekend service problems in passing, "Metrorail riders need the same purpose-driven forums," but instead focused on how Metrorail is much less customer oriented by comparison to Metrobus, and it ought to change.
From a book review by Bob Morris:
By way of background, in 1960 (in its July-August issue), Harvard Business Review published “Marketing Myopia” in which Theodore Levitt ties marketing “more closely to the inner orbit of business policy.” Specifically, “Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing custom-creating value satisfactions.” Companies should be marketing-led rather than production-led. That will happen only if and when there is a total commitment by senior management (and especially by the CEO) to satisfying current customers so that they remain loyal, and, to attracting new customers. Only marketing creates or increases demand. Without demand, there are no customers.
In the same article, Levitt makes an important distinction: “Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about. And it does not, as marketing invariably does, view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs.”
Not that WMATA "sells" rather than "markets" but marketing is about customer relationships in intricate ways whereas mostly "the railroad" (which is how the bus division refers to Metrorail) acts very much "production-led".
I wrote about this in 2005 and 2006. "Making Transit Sexy" makes the point that public organizations have multiple publics, and need to manage external communications much more broadly.
One of the concepts from the book Strategic Marketing for Not-For-Profit Organizations by the U of Michigan Social Work professor Armand Lauffer.that has stuck with me over the years is that organizations have three publics:
1. The input public that provides the organization with resources;
2. The throughput public that does the work of the organization; and
3. The output public to whom the organization's activities are directed.
Transit marketing, promotion, and publicity has at least two different segments of "output publics" -- (1) the people who are interested and involved in the planning issues around transportation and (2) the people that "consume" transit services.
And in "More on Metro and rethinking transit marketing," I wrote about the public communications failures of former GM Richard White--these failures culminated in his losing the job--making the point that even government agencies, but especially transit agencies, have to manage their relationships with the public beyond marketing, also in terms of public and strategic communications, which expanded just a bit these points from the 2005 entry
Anyway, WMATA's weekend service problems are considerable on the lines that are partially shut down for maintenance. It is shaping people's attitudes toward Metrorail in a very negative direction.
So I propose an "interim" measure:
For trips starting or ending on the Metrorail lines on the weekend that have partial service shutdowns, each trip should be discounted by at least $1 (not unlike how there is a surcharge now of $1 per trip for use of a paper farecard).
It would be a sweetener and recognition that the service is extremely degraded compared to regular service.
(Note that on the lines that don't have serious shutdowns, Metrorail service on weekends is still pretty good. And the bus shuttles on the shutdown portions of the system can even work out well, depending on the nature of your trip. Still, waits can be pretty horrific.)
It's not quite "Marketing Imagination," but it would be a policy recognizing the costs of service degradation that are imposed on the rider, and it would have a more marketing and communications effect than the typical way WMATA approaches such matters normally.
It would cost the system money, no question. But weekend service isn't meeting customer expectations and WMATA should take responsibility for it.