ETA Transit: Solving transit’s customer service problem

Leading Through Innovation

DJ Hammingh, senior sales representative for North America at ETA Transit, told BUSRide about why ETA’s customer service focuses on the small things, how the company is pushing transit beyond the paradigm of legacy ITS, and how ETA plans to tackle unique challenges that arise in the “new normal.”

DJ Hammingh

Please describe your transportation background before arriving at ETA Transit. What brought you to a transit software provider?

My first job in transit was at a company working in mirrors and interior lighting for transit vehicles. I moved from there to working in air-spring suspensions systems for a brief time, before ultimately finding a home at New Flyer—a bus manufacturer headquartered in Winnipeg. I loved working at New Flyer, and I still have a great relationship with that company.

I wasn’t looking for a change, but a friend suggested that I look into ETA Transit and some of the exciting things they were doing. After speaking with ETA’s president John Maglio, I found a strong desire to help grow this company within the industry.

I’ve been around long enough to know that many companies come and go in the transit industry. So it is especially important to choose a company with the right philosophy and mindset. After my conversations with John and learning of the company’s long history in transportation, its SPOT ITS product, and aspirations for growth, I knew that I wanted to be part of ETA’s future.

What I didn’t expect was the ‘family’ atmosphere that makes up the foundation at ETA. It was an element that I had never experienced in my previous stops, and something I did not know I was missing. I do not know if I could re-enter a large corporation after being part of this group. John and CEO Nicole Castonguay genuinely care about their employees and where their lives are going, and they want to be part of our success. That was huge for me, and it tells me I am in the right place.

How does ETA view customer service as a philosophy?

The practice of providing quality customer service has always been a weak point for transit technology providers, particularly those in CAD/AVL deployments. But where I come from on the bus OEM side, poor customer service was never an option. That ETA strives to provide a high level of customer service and unparalleled ownership experience is a big part of what appeals to me at ETA Transit.

It’s easy to make grand promises that sound good on paper or in a sales pitch, but it comes down to the small things in my experience. These are complex systems that perform incredibly complicated tasks in real-time. Things can go wrong, but an issue is more likely to be related to a training gap than some systemic failure. But if you’re a customer in the heat of the moment, you don’t want to be told that it’s a training issue; you simply want it to work. Suppose a customer must wait several days to receive a response; that turns a simple discovery process into one layered with emotion that must be addressed before any diagnosis is performed. No one wants that, so it is a refreshing situation to see ETA so invested in delivering a quality, customer-centric focus.

What makes SPOT different from similar solutions in the
transit industry?

It comes back to owning the data and not being “roped in” to a specific platform. Many customers who currently work with significant legacy technology providers are only doing so because they bought into a platform years ago, and it is now cost-prohibitive to switch. The customer must make things work because of the contract, which can prohibit North American transit growth.

ETA provides onboard devices, but there is no secret recipe to our systems – ETA employs universal hardware. With SPOT, it is all about the software and how software is updated and improved over time. Once a customer enters a contract with ETA, they only pay for the devices in use. Software updates are free. In that sense, the Software as a Service (Saas) provided by ETA is much more like a standard cell phone contract than a transit software contract.

There may be a company with 30 buses that only wants four features, while a more extensive property might wish to deploy every feature SPOT can provide. Any agency can get what it needs from SPOT with a monthly fee and pay only for the features they require. They can add, drop, and change elements as is necessary to meet their operational requirements. The incurrence of additional and hidden fees in transit software deployments are widespread. I feel that ETA is on the leading edge of changing that discussion so that the agency’s needs are better represented than  the current paradigm allows.

How is transit going to continue evolving into the next decade – and how is ETA equipped to handle the industry’s changing needs?

Every advancement in technology ushers in a ‘new normal’ that creates a new, unique set of challenges for the industry. Take electric vehicles, for instance. The immediate benefit of electric vehicles is reduced pollution. However, a side-effect of this advancement is a quieter vehicle, which may not always be desirable. For example, on college campuses, a distracted student—such as one wearing headphones or engaged in conversation—might not be aware that a silent bus just entered the roadway, potentially putting that person’s life at risk.  So, thinking ahead, those vehicles are going to need annunciations or warnings to keep pedestrians safe. That is just one small example where I feel ETA is always thinking of the next steps and is thus suited to continue evolving with its needs and challenges.

That mindset will serve us well when larger, industry-wide challenges arise, as well.

Just as transit is continuously evolving, so too is ETA Transit. Whether it means new product releases or updating current projects, there is a nearly constant revolution of thought happening in how we service agencies and customers. More than anything, we try to push forward with the idea that transit technology does not need to be as complicated as today.

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