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may 13

Is it time for major bus companies to send drivers to charm school?

(Courtesy Tom in NYC/Flickr)

From time to time, companies decide to send their workers to "charm school" to learn how to interact positively with customers. In the world of travel, there's a strong history of this type of staff education. In February of 2010, for example, Delta reacted to horrible customer service ratings by sending all of its consumer-facing employees to charm school. Just a month earlier, the city of New Delhi started signing cabbies up for charm school in advance of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. And as far back as 1991, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey created a program called "Airport Nice" to train airport employees on how to greet arriving travelers in a more pleasant manner.

Customer service education is not a bad idea. Often times, a company's ability to retain its clientele has as much to do with the level of service it provides as it does with the products it offers.

I'm a veteran bus rider. I have friends across the Eastern Seaboard and I frequently find myself four-wheeling it between cities. Sometimes, the bus drivers are kind and considerate, but other times they're downright surly. I'll never forget the bus ride I took where the driver ranted for at least 15 minutes about how cell phone calls were not allowed. He threatened to leave offenders on the side of the road. When I tried to call my family to let them know when I would be arriving, he screamed at me so forcefully that I wouldn't be surprised if he scared passing automobilists.

Then there was the driver who, in an effort to be helpful, I'm sure, gave a 30-minute welcome spiel on an ear-shatteringly loud sound system that covered everything from the location of the bus bathrooms (in the back of the bus) to the current weather (sunny) to polite requests to keep phone conversations to a minimum. He reminded us (repeatedly) to let him know if we needed anything (change in temperature, rest stop, questions about our destination). He encouraged us to get to know our seatmates. He told us what he had had for dinner. He assured us he was well rested. And he did this every time he picked up new passengers—as this was a local bus, this happened five times. It was thoughtful, but it was too much. Even my iPod couldn't drown him out. I arrived in New York with a headache and an eye twitch.

On my most recent bus trip, the driver, while kind and jovial, showed a complete lack of filter by declaring loudly into her walkie talkie "oh yeah, I'm back on the road now. My lawsuit is pending, they said they saw me at the bar but they didn't. I was just dizzy."

Now, I'm not saying that her lawsuit was justified or not or even questioning whether or not she was drinking—I have no way to know. But I do know that that was an unsettling conversation to overhear just as we were taking off down the highway. I texted the conversation to a friend who promptly responded "wow, she must be wasted—buckle up!" Not funny. (For the record, we made it to New York without incident.)

I reached out to Greyhound to see what kind of customer service training their staff must go through and they responded with this note:

Customer service training is an integral part of the Greyhound driver education program. New Greyhound drivers receive extensive customer service training as part of their orientation and driver school. The training focuses on foundational service skills that build customer loyalty and help drivers work through challenges if they occur. In addition, drivers are trained on wheelchair and special needs safety, as well as how to assist passengers with different abilities. Once students complete training school, they return to their home terminals for additional training under the direction of their certified instructor.

I'm not sure what exactly that customer service training entails and, to be fair, the majority of bus drivers I've experienced on Greyhound are perfectly pleasant. But the exceptions have been so outrageous that they're blog-post worthy.

It's possible that as a frequent bus traveler I am not only more exposed to situations, I'm also more sensitive. But I'm wondering—has anyone had a similar experience?

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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