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05. Bringing Cheer throughout the Year
Episode 521st December 2021 • Storylines • Valley Metro
00:00:00 00:27:40

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Valley Metro Customer Experience Coordinators (CECs) assist light rail riders to create the ultimate riding experience. Listen in as the CECs share some of their most memorable and uplifting stories from riding light rail.

Transcripts

Brittany:

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your daily commute?

Madeline:

Or how transportation impacts the community you call home?

Brittany:

Maybe you want to explore outside your community and don't know where to start.

Madeline::

Well, you're in luck because this is where you hop on.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany Hoffman.

Madeline::

And I'm Madeline Phipps.

Brittany:

We work in communications for Valley Metro and together we'll discover all the ways that public transit enhances lives across the cities we serve.

Madeline:

And we might even make some new friends along the way.

Brittany:

Welcome to Storylines.

Brittany:

Peter, it's the most wonderful time of the year. We have holiday trains that are decorated inside, we have a bus that's decorated inside. There's just holiday cheer, overflowing everywhere!

Peter:

Yeah, I can tell, it's in your voice.

Brittany:

Yes. I love this time mainly because I get to wear bows all the time. I love bows and this is my season. Bow season.

Peter:

Yeah, my house looks like Santa's workshop right now. We got the tree up and all the decorations the cat's ripping up, and we got an elf on the shelf and the lights and everything. Christmas to me is a lot of work.

Brittany:

Because you have three girls and you have to keep it enchanting and magical!

Peter:

Yes, exactly. A lot of work.

Brittany:

Peter, when you see the smiles on their faces, doesn't that make it all worth it?

Peter:

Yeah, yeah, a little bit.

Brittany:

Well, that's what we try to do here at Valley Metro is we're constantly trying to provide smiles and happy riders getting to their next destination. But, as we know, traffic picks up, there's obviously more hustle and bustle during this season. Getting our riders to their destinations safely and on time is obviously our top priority. But as we know, things get a little busy during the holiday season.

Peter:

Yup. And similarly, it's a lot of work. It's a labor of love.

Brittany:

That's what we'll call it Peter, a labor of love, because obviously during this time, we love seeing people spending time with their families and getting places, especially if you need to go to the airport, light rail to 44th street in Washington to the Sky Train, you're saving on parking and the hassle of, you know, dealing with airport traffic. Sometimes those lines are backed up to get into the airport.

Peter:

Yeah, no long-term parking, you just get on the train, get on the Sky Train, get on your plane, and you're off!

Brittany:

Speaking of planes, Peter, in our interview today, we spoke with some of our CECs, which are our Customer Experience Coordinators, and they are based out of the OMC, our operations maintenance center, which is right next to the airport. So if you hear airplanes, you have a great ear listening to this podcast.

Peter:

And as a warning, you will hear airplanes. But not too bad.

Brittany:

No. And speaking of our CECs, you may have seen them out on the light rail. They wear bright shirts so they can be easily recognized and they're always happy to help.

Peter:

Yeah. I think they even have a nickname. Some people call them the “highlighters.”

Brittany:

Or the “bumblebees” as they are affectionately known.

Peter:

So the next time you're on your train, look for a bumblebee highlighter and say hi, or they might come up to you first and say, hi, just respond. It'll work out better for everybody that way.

Brittany:

The Customer Experience Coordinator program started back in 2019. It was a way for us, Valley Metro, to connect with riders and help them where they need to go and with anything that's happening on the light rail train. So if you need ways to find out how to buy fare or which way you need to stand on the platform for the direction of travel you need to go, that's what they're there for. And we're so excited to have them because it actually has launched in a couple different cities based off our program here.

Peter:

Yeah, it's a great program. And I think one of the things that I noticed that they do excellently is help especially with some of the disabled riders and some of the extra help that they may need. And they're always willing to go above and beyond to make sure that everybody has a good rider experience.

Brittany:

So before we tell you everything about them, why don't we just meet them?

Christel:

My name is Christel. I'm a Customer Experience Coordinator and I've been with Metro a little bit over two and a half years now, since the beginning of the customer experience position.

Dawn:

My name's Dawn McGuire. I've been with Valley Metro for almost three years and I'm a Customer Experience Coordinator.

Christina:

My name is Christina Braggs. I originally came in as a Customer Experience Coordinator in 2019. I worked that position up until recently. September of this year, 2021, I moved into communications. So now I am a Communications Specialist and I love it.

Brittany:

So obviously you had a life before being a Customer Experience Coordinator. Can you give us some of your background?

Christel:

What led me to being a Customer Experience Coordinator was being security on the train. It was kind of like an informal training in that because we were kind of taught that the emphasis was supposed to be on the customers, you know, the 90% as they called it. But it seems like when you’re security, you focus more on that 10% that's creating all the drama. So I welcomed the chance to be where I could do exactly that, focus on the 90%, and just give them as much attention as they need because you want them to have a good experience.

Dawn:

I've been a certified surgical technologist for about 18 years. I specialized in general GYN, obstetrics, and general surgeries. Used to be the surgeon's right hand, if you will. And I have three very rotten kitty cats and a wonderful husband. Funny that I put the cats before the husband.

Christina:

I come originally from San Diego, and my role there, I was in hospitality. So I worked for the W San Diego. And I can say, being in customer service there, it really taught me a whole lot on just how to make sure that you just give someone that “wow” moment that I always call it. Because I think it's really important to make sure that when you meet somebody, I don't care if it's a celebrity or if it's just the everyday family member, you just need to make sure that you give them an experience to remember.

And I think with that role coming into a CEC position, I think it was perfect because you're meeting so many different people that are traveling, coming back and forth from city to city, state to state. And everybody wants to come to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. So with that being said, I just think that it was great for Valley Metro to even create a position like that, to have ambassadors on board, to give directions and to be able to provide resources for people.

Brittany:

One thing I love about the CECs is a program that you guys started, Hatchback Fashions. Can you give us some background on Hatchback Fashions?

Dawn:

That is kind of a concept that came out of our lead’s head. And what it is is you get donations from anywhere. It could be socks, sandals, a shirt, anything like that, just, and you see somebody out there that needs it… actually I had a guy that had no shoes and I called and said, hey, I need the hatchback, could he come down to 38th street? And Dave brought the vehicle down there and we got him set up with some socks and some sandals for him. And that's, that's truly what it's all about. You see somebody in need and you give back to it.

Christel:

Sometimes it is people just need a little extra, and they can go to Goodwill and that kind of thing like that. But you know, when you're right there on the train and security is putting you off because you don't have on shoes it's just easier for us to say, hey, here you go. Here's a pair of socks or here's a pair of flip flops or some shower shoes or just something. And so I, think that epitomizes CEC to me. That whole story was amazing and that just got the ball rolling on it.

Brittany:

I was going to say Hatchback Fashions is probably one of my favorite things that you guys started. And like you said, it’s the epitome of being a CEC. And when you guys can really buckle down and put your brains together, you do have the opportunity to impact so many people daily. We know, and even during the pandemic, while ridership was down, you were still seeing thousands of people come through daily on the trains. And so even while it seems like the world was falling apart, there were happy faces on you guys for them to see and to be greeted with.

Do you specifically do any fun things on the train to get people, you know, maybe not thinking about their commute?

Christina:

When I first started, I remember, they said we want to make this role a fun role. So I don't know if you guys are familiar with the Soul Train? So I got out there and got a couple of the passengers to get involved and we created the Soul Train on the light rail.

Brittany:

How fun! I’m always down for a dance party!

Christina:

Oh yes. Yes. It was really fun. I think they really enjoyed it. We're going to have to get out there next time. We'll go ahead and put you out there, Brittany. You'll lead the way. Also you, Peter.

Peter:

I'll be out there. I am a big Soul Train guy.

Christina:

Okay. All right. I want to see your moves.

Peter:

They're a little bit more inhibited these days, but yeah, I can get out there and shake a little bit, I think.

Brittany:

You were founding members of the Customer Experience Coordinator team. What was that like building the program from the ground up and seeing it evolve, and what does it mean to you to be a Customer Experience Coordinator?

Dawn:

It was awesome being, we call part of the “First Five.” It was an awesome experience. It was a challenging because we kind of… this was a new thing for Valley Metro, so we weren't really sure where we were trying to go with it. We just knew that we wanted to keep our customers happy and try to figure out how we could do that and separate ourselves from security.

‘Cause that was a big, big thing for us out there. That was a big challenge because you're wanting to tell these people all the time you got to put your mask on or don't cross the tracks, or… but you don't want it to sound like security, you just kind of want to sound it like educational. And it was, it's really important to me.

I still have a picture of all of us and kind of a collage of what we did. And it means so much to me. I have it actually hanging up in my kitchen, I'm really proud to be part of that.

Brittany:

Did you take part in the 100 Challenge?

Christel:

So the 100 Challenge was the CEC challenge where we had to, within a certain timeframe, connect with a hundred people, get their backstory, how long had they been riding the train, why did they ride the train, their names, and just kind of connect a little bit. Because it was something to do during the pandemic because we really weren't able to hand out swag and do, you know, do that kind of thing. So something that was a way for us to reconnect with the community. It was a challenge for me, but it was also a great experience because it did open the door for me to say, yeah, it's just easy to talk to people. All you gotta do is go up and start talking.

So that was fun. And this, you know, again, meeting people, learning their stories and hearing their stories, and there's so many amazing stories out there.

Christina:

I think it was great. I think because it brought a lot of us out of our shells and just being able to approach somebody and to feel comfortable to do it, you know? So to me… I don't know, I don't think I remember all of them now, but…

Brittany:

I was going to say, did any stick out to you, people from out of state or just finding out different things about people who take light rail all the time?

Christina:

You know, I actually took pictures with a lot of different individuals too. So it was fun to know that some people were crafty, some people were into art, some people were pet lovers, and people were coming out, like I said, just to view our mountains out here, get some hiking in… and the games as well, you know, to see them rant about their favorite team. And it gave you like more of a personal experience with that individual, and then we were able to converse about my likes and my dislikes. So, I think that it made, it gave them more of a warm feeling to know that somebody actually cared out here. You know, we make a fun,

Peter:

That hundred person challenge is pretty awesome. I think I might take that on board. I might do a lighter version. I think I'll do a 20 person challenge. I think that's what I can, that's the extent of how many people I can get to know right away and work my way up.

Brittany:

Or maybe it's a daily person challenge. You just meet one person every day you're riding transit. I think that'd be a great way to build that community spirit again, especially after the pandemic… We're still in it, let's be clear, it's not over. But we lost a lot of community during the pandemic being separated in our houses for so long. And then even having that mask barrier, you're not seeing those smiles and people interacting as much. And so I think, you know, just reaching out to one person, it's very clear that if you can put a smile on one person's face a day, it's worth it.

Peter:

It's definitely worth it, but I have to say with the mask on, I've smiled at lots of people who probably just think I'm squinting at them. And so that's always awkward for me. I kind of want to pull my mask off and say, no, this is a smile. I'm not just squinting at you.

Brittany:

Peter, you have to learn to “smize.” It's smiling with your eyes. It's just a little bit in the corner and it brings a glow.

Peter:

Yeah, I think I, I give them like a thousand-yard stare and they're just like, “why is this person staring at me?” So if you see me on the train and you see me staring at you, squinting, I'm smiling.

Brittany:

Yes, good to know. Also but Hatchback Fashions, Peter, it's so… it was such an inventive program, because they're right, there's little things that we can do to help people get to their next destination. And sometimes it is just needing socks or needing a shirt that doesn't have holes in it. And so for our CECs to come up with this brilliant idea of a small way to impact someone's life, it's making a big difference.

Peter:

Yeah, and I think it was an excellent idea. You know, these people are on the train every day. They're seeing the riders. And especially when you have regular riders, you know, you see that the more times you see them, you start to notice there's something off there. Maybe it's shoes, maybe it’s a shirt, maybe it's, I mean, it's clothing and it's a small thing, but it can be a big deal to someone.

And I think when we can develop those partnerships and develop programs like that, it makes the overall rider experience great for everybody.

Brittany:

Definitely, like you said, making one person's day could make the entire train ride better for everyone. Our CECs are out there every single day experiencing great stories and they have a lot to share. So let's hear some.

Christel:

Oh, let's talk about Irma.

Brittany:

Okay.

Christel:

So Irma is, just she's… Okay, she's my superhero because Irma is a Buffalo just like I am. We grew up here locally and we both went to Tempe High. Irma's like 90, at least. I met her when we were doing the, the CEC 100 challenge. That was a challenge for me, cause I had to go up to just people and say, “hey,” and get a little information about ‘em.

So Irma, we met her at Central and Camelback, and she was so sweet there. This gentleman just kind of came into her personal space a little bit and it wasn't like he was being, you know, a jerk, but he kind of was being a little like, “okay, do you know her?”

And Irma was, she made this little comment. She says, “well, it seems like, you know,” and it was such the sweetest thing. I just loved how she was about that. Cause she's like, “well, I guess, you know, maybe…” It was just the way she said it and I thought it was so cute, but you know, the fact that she's out here. We're offering autonomy to people like her, you know, 90 years old, she gave up her own license. She knew, I think she said at 85 years old, that she couldn't drive anymore. She’s like, I can't, I'm not going to be behind the wheel and be responsible for hurting someone. That's a hard thing, especially when you're an independent-type person, which I can imagine myself being 90 years old and saying, “hey, I'm going to keep these keys until you gotta pry ‘em out of my hand,” but the train gave her autonomy and she loved that. And that's kind of what I like that we can help people like that too, that maybe they can't drive. There might be a physical reason. It might be age, it might be something else. You know, they, they might, you know, have a physical challenge.

And it gives them the autonomy that they need. It gives them, like you said, a sense of community. They have that independence and it's good that we offer that to them. People should be allowed to have that, you shouldn't have to be “okay, well, now I had to depend on other people.”

We know we're all human, that maybe sometimes that's not always the best thing. So this gives you a chance to have that. And I'm glad that the train offers that.

Brittany:

Oh, I feel like I want to meet Irma now.

Christel:

You, if you met Irma, she was so sweet and you would just fall in love with her because she's cute as a button and her energy is amazing and it's like, I'm like, “Irma, can I be like you now? Let alone if I get to live to be 90, you know?”

Brittany:

Buffalo pride over there!

Christel:

Yeah, definitely. Exactly.

Dawn:

I have one that sticks out with me. I just saw the young man, about a week ago. I was on the train. I was down in Mesa and for some reason this young man drew me over to him. He was crying. He had his hands in his, on his face and his face was bright red. And I walked over and I said, sir, is there anything I can do to help?

And he's like, “no, no.” And I'm like, “what's wrong?” And he goes, “you know, I have a job interview.” And I said, well, isn’t that something to be happy about? You got a job interview!

And he goes, look at me. I can't go to a job interview. So I looked at him and he's got a Metallica shirt that's got a hole in it and it's kind of dirty and a pair of shorts that are just torn and dirty. And I'm like, yeah, you're right. You can't go to a job interview like that.

So I got on my company phone and called Goodwill that's off of Southern and, I said hey, I got this kid and he's got a job interview, but he doesn't have any clothes to go to the job interview, and he's homeless. She goes, yeah, send him down here. She goes, can he be down here by 11? I'm like, yeah.

So I get off the phone and tell him, I'm like, you need to go down to the Goodwill. They're going to give you a pair of slacks and a shirt.

And, the first thing I thought of was the Hatchback program, but we needed more than that. We needed a shirt and tie and shoes and stuff.

So he went down there and he got it. And then about two and a half weeks, three weeks later, I saw him. He got the job! He was in different clothes. He said he was on his way to getting off the streets. And, about two months later, I saw him at Alma School and Main. He was pumping gas, and I said, so whose is this? And he's like, it's mine. I got myself an apartment, a supervisor, I have a full-time job with overtime, and he goes, and it's all because you took the time to talk to me. And I thought, “wow!”

And I just saw him last week and he's engaged, he's got an apartment and is just doing really, really well for himself. Who knew, you know, just a call to Goodwill would change somebody's life?

Christina:

I remember there was a little girl on there. Her name was Willow. I thought that was just the prettiest name, Willow. And she had the biggest green eyes. They were just so beautiful. They just like, I don't know, it captured me.

So I noticed though that she didn't have any shoes on. And it was one of those hot summer days. Her dad ended up striking conversation with me and asking me about the position. I believe he was looking for work. I explained to him the position and whatnot. And so she was getting a little antsy, you know how kids are in their stroller.

I thought she doesn't have any shoes on. I know he's looking for work. I don't know what situation he's in. So this could be another moment to help somebody out.

So at that point I was like, you know, I have a pair of pretty gold sandals. My brother just had a little girl and I never got a chance to go and bring these sandals. I said can I meet you somewhere and bring the sandals? And so he says, sure. He told me he would be downtown, you know, what time he would be there. He actually did come.

And I ended up sharing the story with one of our security officers. And this is why I think that it's good for all of us to, you know, communicate with one another and let each other know like what's going on during the day, because she ended up having three granddaughters and she was trying to get rid of clothes. So she said, oh my God, that's so perfect. I want to get rid of everything that's in my garage right now. And so I said, okay, if I see him again, I'm going to ask him would he like these clothes?

So I told him about the situation and he was so grateful. He was like, I'm very humbled to know that you went out of your way to talk to someone else. He was like, I don't really care that you did or anything like that. He was like, because I really do need the clothes. I'm not going to turn it down. He said, I'm a single father. And it's hard right now for me to try to make ends meet with her. And so I kinda, you know, picked up on it anyways?

And so he was so grateful. He was so grateful. So for me, like I said, those stories, I'll never forget them. I'll never forget them. I'll hold on to them because I know we make a difference out there.

Brittany:

These stories are so heartwarming and it is so good to know that our CECs, Customer Experience Coordinators, are out there on the light rail doing good every single day.

Peter:

Yeah, it really does kinda tug at the heartstrings. I'm not a, I'm not a big crier, but, some of these stories do kind of choke me up a little bit. But I just think it's great because I see people on the train sometimes, and I see the way that everybody kind of reacts to the people around them at times.

And we are just in a period where there's not a lot of comradery, there's not a lot of brotherly love, or neighborly friendliness, whatever you want to call it. We're all kind of living in our own worlds. And we're kind of more concerned about what we have going on, whether your face is in your phone or, or whatever it is.

We rarely look up and look who's next to us. And I think the fact that the CEC people are out on the train and they're the ones with their eyes on all the people looking at, looking for smiling faces, looking for someone to look them in the eyes and greet them, I think is a great example for the rest of us.

Brittany:

You're right, Peter. That connection has definitely disappeared during the pandemic. And I think the CECs who've been out there the entire time during the pandemic have really seen that and they are trying to connect and engage and create that brotherly love feeling for everyone on the train, no matter your walk of life or where you're coming from or where you're going to.

Peter:

That's the whole point, right? We're all trying to get somewhere. And then if we can do it as easily, as possible, as safe as possible and with a good attitude and some cheer, then it's all for the better.

And I do hope on the behalf of everybody at Valley Metro that everybody does have a great holiday season this year. And we're hoping for an even better one next year.

Brittany:

Oh, definitely, Peter. And don't forget, the listening doesn't end here, Peter. We always have a playlist accompanying our podcast Storylines that you can go check out on Spotify. So you can subscribe to the Storylines podcasts and listen to the accompanying playlist. And this time we have some holiday gems for you.

Peter:

Yeah, turn them on, get on the train, get your groove on. I know some of those CECs are looking for dancers. If you want to jam out on the train to the playlist, maybe get some dance moves out there, put the vibe out. I think it could be a good time.

Brittany:

Peter. Do you have a favorite Christmas carol or a Christmas song?

Peter:

Brittany, you know, we've discussed this. I do not like Christmas music.

Brittany:

Just pick one for the people!

Peter:

Let's talk offline. Okay, everyone who's listened to the podcast, just go, just go silent for a couple of minutes.

I do not like Christmas music. It drives me crazy, okay? But for the purposes of the podcast, I'm going to go on and say that I like Paul McCartney's song that he does for Christmas time, it’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time.” Okay? So I'll say that for the podcast.

Okay, everyone who's not listening, now you can tune back in.

I love Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time.” That's my song. I listen to it 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all of the month of December. And that's all I listen to.

Brittany:

Well, I have two. Obviously, Mariah Carey's “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Hands down, fab song. You can turn it on November 1st, if that's your thing.

Peter:

Yeah, that song doesn't drive me crazy at all.

Brittany:

And I also love Carol of the Bells. That, the musical instruments in Carol of the Bells just gets me every time.

Peter:

Yeah, I could see that. You get up in the morning. You want to go for a run and you put that in your ear pods and you just start running. And then by the time the song's over, you're five miles from your house.

Brittany:

Yeah. And then I play it again and run right back!

Peter, thank you again for filling in on Storylines, the Valley Metro Podcast, for the past few episodes. Starting in the new year, Maddie will be back. And so I'm sure you're not going too far and we'll hear your voice again on the podcast.

Peter:

Yeah. It's been great to fill in for Maddie while she's been out. And I'm glad that she's back. I do have planning stuff to do, you know. I am a planner here at the agency. Mostly I've been doing drone and podcast stuff, so, I'll be happy to come back and say hi to everybody. And maybe we can do like a trio thing every now and then, that could be cool. But this light rail and bus network isn't going to plan itself. So, yes, I'd love to sit here and chat with you all day long, Brittany, but I got other stuff to do, but it has been fun.

Brittany:

Well, like I said, we'll be back with brand new episodes in January, Maddie will be back, and if you have ideas for the podcast, we'd love to hear them. We love hearing rider stories and anything that you want to tell us about the agency. You can email us at podcast@valleymetro.org

Peter:

For Valley Metro, I’m Peter Valenzuela.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany Hoffman.

Peter:

Thanks for riding with us.

Brittany:

We'll meet you at the next stop.

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