Wednesday 18th August 2021
It’s always impressive to read corporate vision documents. You know the kind of thing. Glossy photos of staff helping smiling customers and paragraphs full of glowing statements about the company’s unbridled commitment to customers and how we’re at the heart of everything the company does.
Sadly they seldom match up to reality.
Take South Western Railways for example. They’re “committed to our customers” and “at SWR we recognise the importance of understanding and responding to the needs of our customers putting them at the heart of the journey”. Among the commitments is “Actively monitoring customer services, listening to and acting on feedback from all stakeholders”.
They’re not doing much “listening to” customers at the present time. To my knowledge SWR’s Customer Service contact number 0345 600 0650 is now into its second week (at least) of being completely unavailable with an unhelpful recorded message “due to unprecedented resource challenges we are unable to answer your call today” before hanging up. Before doing so it does give an alternative number for those wanting assisted travel, because these days you have to, but for anything else … tough.
I wanted to query why the cancelled journey I’d aimed to travel down to Christchurch on a couple of weeks ago didn’t appear in the Delay Repay software meaning my claim was rejected and I was told the next journey ran but only five minutes late – well, of course, I knew that, I wasn’t claiming for the next journey, I was claiming for the one that was cancelled and had been expunged from all SWR’s records.
You can’t reclaim this on the Delay Repay form as they don’t allow for anything out of the ordinary – like a cancelled journey not being listed.
I resorted to sending an email which at least did get an answer within 48 hours – including a reply sent at 05:17. I was told to resubmit the claim as an appeal. Which I did. Only to get another rejection because “we have checked our records and note that you have already made an identical claim for this journey therefore we are unable to process this duplicate application”.
I feel trapped in a dystopian never-ending-loop of appeals and rejections. I’ve sent another email off, in the absence of being able to talk to anyone at SWR but I’m not holding out much hope.
Never mind a “Message from Andy” I can feel a “Message for Andy” coming on.
So much for SWR “actively monitoring customer services, listening to and acting on feedback from all stakeholders”
It’s not just SWR.
Fellow First Group Train Operating Company GWR is just as woeful when it comes to Customer Service.
Like many companies GWR encourages you to complete an online form if you want to make contact with them.
You have to mould your comments into a pre-determined category chosen from a menu of possible reasons to be getting in touch.
Step 1 is to choose a category…
Step 2 is to choose a sub-category…
Step 3 is to complete the form and make your submission in 5,000 characters…
I wanted to let GWR know about my recent journey to Guildford when information on the National Rail feed was showing the train from Gatwick to Reading I’d planned to catch was cancelled, yet it actually ran according to the Real Time Trains website.
I sent them feedback about this, since I felt it was something well worth investigating lest other passengers get inconvenienced, as I was, if it happens again. Ten days have passed and I received no acknowledgement to my online form or reply. And unless you’re astute enough to take a screen copy of your up to 5,000 character submission before hitting the ‘submit’ icon, you’ll have no record of what you sent, nor the date and time.
As I’d not heard anything I decided to give the GWR customer service line a call yesterday morning. They don’t make it easy to pass on feedback like this. You have to listen to a pre-recorded annoucment that lasts around a minute and hasn’t been updated since 19th July, so is unimpressively out of date, then it’s the fifth option to speak to someone about a general matter; and then it’s the fifth option on the next menu too – so much for customer service being important.
Then there’s the inevitable “we’re experiencing a high volume of calls” with an anticipated wait of “at least 30 minutes” and recorded announcements thanking me for “continuing to hold” and why don’t I visit their website for up to date information.
I gave up. If GWR don’t want my feedback. So be it.
I also contacted ScotRail recently (“we really want to hear your comments”) with a simple query about ticket availability.
As their phone line was also “experiencing a high volume of calls” I decided to use the “please email us” hyperlink which led me to an online form. Luckily ScotRail has no truck with categories and sub-categories – just 500 words to express yourself and raise your query.
Deaspite having completed all fields in the form I received an email reply with an assigned reference number with a warning “due to current volumes we may not be able to respond to you in the usual 10 working days” …..
Six days later I received a follow up email asking for my full name, email address and postal address and a “full description of enquiry”. Which I sent, despite having included all that information on the form six days previously – perhaps this explains why their volumes are so huge – everyone is having to submit information twice.
Nine days later I received a reply to my simple ticket availability enquiry. It referred me to a website link which I knew about and doesn’t provide the information I was looking for.
I gave up.
My final recent ‘customer service’ experience is with Southern.
I sent them an email on 26th July about a matter impacting my local station at Hassocks. I thought they’d value this feedback to improve the service provided at the station. I received an immediate email acknowledgement – with no reference number – explaining “there is no need to chase us for a reply as we will get back to you as soon as we can and our aim is to provide a full response within 5 working days. Please do not reply to this email.”
As it’s over three weeks since that receipt I gave them a call yesterday morning to see if they were considering the points I’d raised. After the two minute pre-recorded announcement with six options (customer service is always the last option) there was the inevitable “we’re experiencing a high volume of calls” warning, but at least there’s an option of pressing 1 and “to save you time and money” someone will call back “within one working day”. After hanging on for fifteen minutes I decided to go for that and pressed “1”….. only to be met with a message “this service is not available” and it hung up on me.
No you’re not.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.