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8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Despite what his business card says, Dale Moser views himself as just another customer service representative. That’s also how the president and chief operating officer of megabus.com views each of the company’s 150 employees.

“We can build the field, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to come,” he says. “We need to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the customer.”

To fulfill that promise, Moser regularly visits megabus.com departure sites to hear, face to face, the opinions and needs of his customers. The practice has helped push the 2006 start-up and subsidiary of Coach USA to 2007 revenue of approximately $15 million.

Smart Business spoke with Moser about how to stay in touch with your customers to help grow your business.

Q. How do you break into a new industry segment?

The key to that is making sure you know what your customers’ needs are. When you do that, you design it so that you’re no less than meeting those needs.

We’re out and about. We’re out in the field. We’re not just sitting in offices dreaming things up. We’re looking at what’s going on in the economy, what’s going on in our social cultures, in our environments, in our cities. You look at the potential to create a service that has the underlying plan to help with those issues.

I’d rather always under-commit and overdeliver. No one’s ever going to be upset with that. You commit to meet the expectations, and then you deliver where you think, in talking to customers, would make the difference and differentiate you from the other options they have.

There’s certain things that once they try it, those were the comfort zones that they say, ‘This is why I use you. I know once I buy a ticket, I’m guaranteed a seat. There’s no getting there, getting in line, finding out the bus is full, and I have to wait for the next bus, which could be three hours from now.’

Q. How do you stay in touch with customers?

I respond to a large majority of the e-mails that come in from customers: ideas, suggestions, recommendations. We do customer surveys on a quarterly basis by an independent firm. That information is used for us to reassess where we need to go.

The one I like the best is I like to get out. I like to go to see a departure in Chicago, in Milwaukee, in Columbia, Missouri, and talk to the customers before they’re getting on the bus, and just get a feel for why they’re traveling today, why they selected us, what were they looking for, what would they like to see.

Q. How do you sift through that feedback?

You’re going to always get somebody who will give you the sky-is-falling kind of input. Then you’ll have somebody on this other parameter that makes it sound as if this is the greatest thing since canned soup.

You have to read between the lines and really get at what is the burning issue or the item that customers are really pleased with. If you start here and see similar concerns with multiple customers, then that becomes obviously a much higher concern and issue for you that you need to address quicker than one where somebody’s complaining about not enough legroom on the bus, and the gentleman’s 6 feet 5 inches.

Q. What is the benefit of face-to-face interaction with your customer base?

You really get the opportunity to hear from the customers firsthand.

When the rest of my staff, everything from a driver to a dispatcher who’s out on the street to even the next level middle-management, when they see and know I’m out and about and I’m doing that, they look at it and step back and go, ‘It’s important enough for him to take his time to come out and visit with these customers personally, then it must be important enough for us to do it.’

Q. What should executives know before engaging their customer bases?

In my opinion, we’re all pretty much customer service representatives. Without the customer, we don’t have a job. I’ll just go to them, I’ll give them my name, and I’ll say who I’m with so they know I’m affiliated with the company, but I don’t really tell the customers who I am from a position standpoint.

I never have a problem if anybody ever says anything [about it.] I’ll hand them a business card just for the purpose of allowing them to either phone me or e-mail me direct. I don’t just go and hand out every card I have. I would-n’t recommend that.

The other thing I do to certain passengers, I will say, ‘Please e-mail me. I’d love to hear how your experience was.’

That’s the true key to making sure that you really know what you need to do. You hear it from your employees, and I take a lot of input from them on recommendations and suggestions, but you also need to make sure that you get a balance of what the customers think, too.

HOW TO REACH: megabus.com, (877) 462-6342 or www.megabus.com