Florida DOT Ditches Comment Cards for Digital Feedback System

Rather than relying on the age-old comment card, the Department of Transportation is partnering with a digital feedback platform to improve services at rest areas throughout the state.

by / March 29, 2018
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A number of states are using technology enabled by mobile phones to have visitors comment on their rest-stop experiences, making commenting on the cleanliness and amenities of a highway rest stop as easy as leaving a Yelp review.

In Florida, the Department of Transportation has partnered with customer feedback platform Opiniator, which sends messages to transportation officials immediately following a review. Signage at the rest stops in Florida directs visitors to send in their feedback via a QR code or text. Visitors are offered a survey to rank their experience at the facility.

“With the Opiniator system, the contractor and the FDOT contract manager will get an email immediately from the system when any question is answered below a score of 3, or when the customer is requesting to be contacted,” said Kirk Hutchison, performance management manager in the office of maintenance at the Florida Department of Transportation. “The rating scale is 1 to 5, where 5 is the best.”

The system — essentially a form of digital comment cards — is being used in about a dozen states, said Matt Selbie, founder and president of Portland, Ore.-based Opiniator. 

“Because the feedback is in real time via the visitor's own cellphone, any concerns, maintenance or safety issues can immediately trigger an alert to DOT staff so they can fix the issue and connect with the citizen well before the issue affects others,” he explained.

“Since almost everyone has a cellphone, the customer can submit a comment while they are still at the facility, either through the website — by scanning the QR code or navigating to the Web page — or calling into the telephone number to answer the survey questions,” Hutchison said.

Before using the digital comment system in Florida, rest-stop operators stocked the facilities with paper comment cards, which were then dropped into a collection box that was checked twice a week, Hutchison explained.

“The bad thing about that system was that it may take weeks before the customer would be contacted by the contractor,” said Hutchison. “Even though by procedure the contractor had to contact the customer within five business days, the clock didn’t start until after the card was posted on our comment card system.” 

The overall aim of the digital system is to provide rapid feedback to operators so that any issues can be addressed as soon as possible, said Selbie.

“What we are doing is making it easy and convenient for the visitor to give feedback on a device they are familiar with, an input method they prefer and a language they are comfortable with,” said Selbie. 

Looking across the states served by Opiniator, about half of the feedback gathered about rest areas is positive, said Selbie, while another 35 percent is negative and 15 percent is a mixture, or simply suggestions.

“The feedback is structured in the form of a short survey — less than two minutes long,” said Selbie. “The questions can be changed in real time. Most ask about restroom cleanliness and general maintenance, but there is a lot of variety.”

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.