T preparing to privatize call center

Agency has received unsolicited offers from firms

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE MBTA PLANS to go out to the market for private bidders to run its call center operations, which will likely be privatized, according to a member of the T’s control board.

Earlier this fall the T received an unsolicited proposal from Ameridial, an Ohio company, that claimed it could run the call center for half of its current cost. MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve, who is also its acting general manager, said the T has received a “couple” of different unsolicited offers.

After a presentation by MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt on Monday, staff received direction from the board to test the market for private call center operators and overhaul communications so the agency can better respond to customers who provide feedback and complaints.

Tibbits-Nutt told reporters privatization of the call center is a likely outcome of issuing the request for proposals. Her written presentation said MBTA staff recommends using a request for proposals to test the market “for third party service while realigning internal resources around customer resolution.”

Prior efforts to outsource MBTA services currently performed in-house have generated strong negative responses from labor leaders and some elected officials.

An earlier presentation by Shortsleeve showed the call center and its 28 employees cost the MBTA $2.6 million to operate in fiscal 2016.

Tibbits-Nutt on Monday said there is no “standardized” process for following up with customers who have communicated with the T in the various ways that customers can give feedback.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the T should treat phone calls to its call center the same way it treats messages via email, Twitter, or Instagram, the social networking sites. On Twitter, the official @MBTA account responds to complaints posted by riders about steps taken toward resolving issues raised.

Tibbits-Nutt told reporters the two passenger information officers who operate the T’s Twitter account are “very, very good” at getting back to customers who have complained. She said the call center “sometimes” responds to customers. Tibbits-Nutt said the Twitter team’s location within the operations center makes it easier to resolve tweeted complaints about the heat in a train car and quickly reply to customers.

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On Monday, the official account sought more information from a Twitter report that the T had taken a wet-floor sign from a Burger King, responded to a post about a “cheerful” Green Line driver that the operator would be “commended,” and got back to someone who posted a photo of a propped-open security door with “We’ll notify supervisors now.”

Pollack said that it “makes a huge difference” if officials can respond to complaints. Tibbits-Nutt said workers at Boston’s 311 hotline “get a ton of complaints about the MBTA.”

  • Jeff Dearman

    Maybe they should privitize the entire MBTA ?