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Going the Extra Mile: Terri Elder

Through her 26-year tenure at COTA, Director of Customer Service Terri Elder has become a veritable wealth of COTA knowledge. Each day, she and her team of “transit servants” are on the front line of customer inquiries; they have to know all COTA operations, procedures and departments — especially as COTA responds to the pandemic.

“What our department does is move the city. We are moving Columbus,” Elder says.

Customer Care handles nearly 1,300 calls a day from customers, answering questions and listening to feedback about anything from transit stop locations to how to use our new COTA//Plus service. They also interact with customers across COTA’s social media platforms. Elder calls her team “The hub of COTA.”

“We’re here to help. You have any questions, any concerns, call us,” she says. “That’s what we’re here for – to help you navigate the city.”

Education is a significant component of Customer Care responsibilities, both for COTA patrons and team members. Elder says the department regularly does training focused on providing the best customer service experience for customers. When Elder first started in the department, she spent considerable time learning how COTA serves Central Ohio and understanding the public transit industry. This process continues in her present work as Director, and she and her team mutually rely on each other as they learn new information, programs and mobility solutions.

“I actually learned some of [this information] from the current staff that works with me. To be truthful, I lead them, and they lead me,” she says.

The Customer Care team also serves as the central advocate for COTA customers. Elder says her team keeps track of the feedback they receive and works with other departments to simplify and improve the customer experience.

Elder is especially proud of how well her team is adapting to the Coronavirus pandemic. She says Customer Care embraces the innovation of COTA and enjoys educating customers about mobility solutions like COTA//Plus.

“I’m proud of my team because they’re learning new modes of transportation, and they’re just taking it under their wings and running with it,” Elder says. “They’re allowing the public to know, ‘Hey, you can do this.’ The customer service team, and COTA overall, is going to get through the pandemic.”

Elder’s COTA career started with a temporary position in the Facilities department. From there, she had different full-time roles in Human Resources, Marketing and Customer Care — including multiple leadership positions — before becoming Director. After 26 years, she still loves going the extra mile each day for customers. She says her team is like family, and she’s consistently amazed at how much COTA knowledge they have.

“I look forward to work every day that I come in. For an employee to be here 26 years and still not get tired of coming in, that says something for COTA,” Elder says. “If there’s one best moment in my career, I think it’s just to say, ‘I work for COTA.’”