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December 01, 2009

ExactTarget's Automated SMS to Keep Orange County's Transit Rolling

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

Going green by riding mass transit instead of driving has just become easier in the infamously heavily-developed and traffic (and pollution)-intensive Southern California region.

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has rolled out a new SMS/text messaging program, powered by ExactTarget, which gives customers the ability to request bus schedule information via their wireless devices. The users can simply key in and transit a particular bus stop number and route number to “OCTAGO” to receive arrival times of the next three buses for that stop.

Using ExactTarget’s Advanced Edition, the OCTA’s “Text 4 Next” text messaging program relies on ExactTarget’s triggered messaging to automate text responses to customer inquiries; it also builds on the agency’s success with e-mail marketing powered by ExactTarget. The “Text 4 Next” launch follows a customer survey which revealed more than 75 percent of OCTA passengers have cell phones and 64 percent of passengers use text messaging features.

The text messaging campaign is expected to reduce the nearly 2,000 bus status and route inquiries received daily, reducing total call center volume by as much as 25 percent. The cost savings from that, in turn, will help the OCTA hold the line on service levels. The agency supplies countywide bus and paratransit service, Metrolink regional rail service, the 91 Express Lanes toll facility, freeway, street and road improvement projects, motorist aid services and by regulating taxi operations.

The OCTA has been hit hard by the downturn and the state’s budget crisis; it is facing a $330 million shortfall over five years to fund the bus system. In response it has implemented hiring freezes, eliminated administrative staff salary increase and special performance awards. It has also reduced bus services, cut capital expenditures and sliced spending on services and supplies.

“The text messaging program gives our customers added flexibility to confirm bus schedules on-the-go while reducing our overhead expenses,” said Stella Lin, marketing manager of the Orange County Transportation Authority. “The immediacy of text messaging cuts costs and increases our efficiency by communicating schedule changes as they occur, faster than our team can access the 6,500 bus stops around the county with revised printed materials.”

“OCTA is among our growing list of small and sophisticated businesses that are leveraging our full one-to-one platform to connect with their customers while building efficiency and increasing ROI,” said Tim Kopp, ExactTarget’s chief marketing officer. “ExactTarget’s easy-to-use technology provides businesses of all sizes the industry’s most flexible and scalable solution to deliver results through integrated e-mail, text messaging, Websites, voice messaging and social media.”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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