Photo credit: Jeff Fusco for the Philadelphia Business Journal

Plenty of questions for SEPTA after customer experience falls short

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 30, 2023.

We all have customer service expectations of the companies we deal with. On May 17, SEPTA, the public transportation authority in the greater Philadelphia region, fell way short of my expectations. I had a disappointing customer experience.

I was in Center City Philadelphia and decided to stop by SEPTA headquarters at 12th and Market streets to renew my SEPTA Senior Fare Key Card. It was supposed to expire in April 2020, but had been extended due to the pandemic. I had some time before my train to Rydal, so I thought I would get my card renewed. 

When I arrived at the Key Card renewal center, I saw a sign that said the center was closed for lunch and would reopen at 1 p.m. I decided to wait. By the time a SEPTA service agent returned from lunch, there were approximately 20 people waiting to renew their cards. The agent announced that those with appointments would be served first. There was no sign posted about appointments. He also said the next available appointments were in about two weeks. Without knowing how much time I needed to wait for a new card that day without an appointment, I left.

I had not made an appointment on the SEPTA website. I had returned to the place where my Key Card was first issued without an appointment, a normal thing to do. The SEPTA website clearly states, “The cards have an expiration date and must be renewed following the same process as the initial application.”

I have a number of questions for SEPTA:

  • Why is the Key Card center closed for lunch? The most convenient time for people to use the Key Card Center is at lunch time. If SEPTA was dedicated to providing a great customer experience, why not staff the center so that lunch time is staggered for its employees to better serve its customers?
  • Why is there no sign posted informing people about appointments? That way, those arriving during their lunch break would not need to wait around to be told by a SEPTA service agent after returning from lunch that people without appointments would be served last?
  • In this day and age, why could I not have renewed my Key Card online? Why would I need to make an appointment at least two weeks out and then travel to Center City to get my Key Card renewed? 
Photo credit: Jeff Fusco for the Philadelphia Business Journal

The SEPTA website states the other way to renew a Key Card is at your Pennsylvania Legislative Office, a process that the SEPTA website states would take two to three weeks. Come on, SEPTA! Let’s move into the 21st century!

  • Does SEPTA embrace the philosophy of continuous improvement, empowering its employees to improve the areas in which they work? Are the manager and the employees of the SEPTA Key Card renewal center trained to think through the experiences of their customers? If they were, it would be obvious that the center should remain open at lunch and a sign posted that states if one does not have an appointment, they would be served after those with appointments.
  • SEPTA is currently testing a smartphone-based Key Card system. Why aren’t riders told to continue to use their current Key Cards until smartphone technology is fully implemented?

SEPTA’s mission statement makes no mention of providing a great customer experience to its riders. This is beyond best practice, it’s common practice for many companies. Why not SEPTA? Why not empower all employees to recognize and implement improvement opportunities within their areas of responsibility if it’s within their authority level and doesn’t impact the safe operation of the system? 

Providing a great customer experience needs to be part of the tone at the top expressed by the CEO and by the culture that senior leaders nurture within the SEPTA organization. SEPTA riders deserve no less.

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at

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