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.
Pity I couldn’t comment due to this….
On Tue, 17 Aug 2021 at 10:47, BusAndTrainUser – journeys around Britain by bus and tra
I’ve been fed up a few times ringing a customer enquiry line because information on the website is unclear, only to find the person answering the call is merely looking at the same website and has no knowledge to add!
Also, I worked on the railway in the early days of privatisation and the Customer Service department was always on the lookout for people to work there on rest days. I gave it a try once, and was amazed to find a single phone on a square table where one person sat each side and took it in turns to answer! The paperwork got written up when your colleague was on the phone. Very depressing.
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If you think the railways are bad at customer service you should try dealing with the banks (or one bank named after two large Chinese cities, in particular!)
I was going to complain to Customer Services about not being able to post a comment, but I couldn’t get through 😊
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If these companies truly believed what they say about customer services, heads would roll, or at least be be hung in shame. Unfortunately, customer service is a charade.
Was there ever a customer service line for a TOC or a bank that wasn’t experiencing heavy demand or being too busy? If demand is always heavy, get more staff – and maybe train them in the sciences of of reading, understanding, and responding.
Simplistically put, good customer service is a function of demand and the number of (competent) staff available to respond to that demand. And perhaps good management would involve an intelligent and meaningful response to the causes of a heavy demand for customer services.
Modern management’s principal approach to maintaining or increasing profits is too often about cuts. Spending money on improving or expanding services to encourage new custom is anathema: far better to change the name, change the colour, get a new and meaningless slogan, dispose of some of those unnecessary and inconvenient humans, and reduce the quality of service.
And then ‘manage’ decline.
While I have to agree with all the comments, may I say that I have in fact usually received replies from Great Western, admittedly some weeks after my initial message and not always specifically mentioning the point I had raised.
Some of you may know the story of the gentleman who took the sleeper to Penzance on the “old” Great Western, and awoke to find himself bitten. He wrote to Paddington, and i due course received a charming letter from the company. However its effectiveness was blunted by a little note still paperclipped to the letter, saying, “Send him the bug letter”!
The failure ofTOCs “Customer Service” systems is not only really bad, but it undermines the good work that front line staff to help passengers when things go wrong. A recent trip from London to Falmouth was plagued by cancellations and breakdowns, resulting in my being 3 hours late getting to Falmouth. GWR’s on-board staff were excellent throughout, including getting a connecting train held at Plymouth for passengers carrying on into Cornwall. But faced with this sort of corporate indifference they could easily be forgiven for saying “why bother?”
In reality these customer service claims in my view are just PR hype and they are not actually interested in Customer service. With regard to getting refunds the aim is to make getting a refund as difficult as possible hoping that you give up and in most cases people do give up in total frustration. It is a pity the consumer rights legislation does not apply to railways. That states that complaint must be dealt with in a timely manner and the customer must not be unduly inconvenienced and a we are looking into your complaint does not suffice nor does we cannot be bothered to answer the phones
I did have an amusing incident some years ago, just after the Hatfield derailment when draconian speed restrictions were placed on the rail network. I travelled from London to Bangor on Virgin Trains and was so pleased with the way they handled things that I wrote them a complimentary letter.
In due course a reply arrived, saying how sorry they were … etc, and enclosing a £25 rail voucher!!
This post sums up how useless our public transport companies are when it comes this customer service and making it easy to contact them. I completely agree with what you said.
One thing that always really annoys me is that so many companies these days only provide contact forms rather than giving out email addresses. This is a problem both in the bus and train industry and for pretty much every other unrelated industry as well. I can guarantee pretty much everybody prefers email addresses rather than contact forms. I find contact forms are just so annoying and take ages to fill out and ask for so much irrelevant information and often have character limits. I do not know why so many companies do everything they can to hide email addresses.
For your future information all TOCs do have real email addresses but they just keep them very hidden:
AVANTI WEST COAST:
EAST MIDLANDS RAILWAY:
GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY:
LONDON NORTH EASTERN RAILWAY:
LONDON NORTH WESTERN RAILWAY:
SOUTH WESTERN RAILWAY:
TRANS PENNINE EXPRESS:
TRANSLINK NORTHERN IRELAND RAILWAYS:
TRANSPORT FOR WALES:
WEST MIDLANDS RAILWAY:
It is ridiculous. I sometimes wonder if they hide email addresses and use contact forms instead on purpose just to discourage people from contacting them. But if they cared about customer service they would provide them. They do everything they can to hide them. For an example i remember for example asking Southeastern what their email address was a while ago and they told me both over Twitter and over the phone that they have no email address and you have to use the contact form instead. But after doing a lot of digging i had found their working customer service email address. So all these companies do everything they can to make it difficult to contact them.
Bus companies are the same. A lot of them are just as bad. For example Arriva claim that they have no email address and make you use the contact form. But they actually do have an email address. It is as follows:
ARRIVA BUS UK:
And do not get me started on First Bus whose useless customer service centre in Leeds are not even capable of answering the most simple basic questions. At least Arriva Bus in Luton are a bit more clued up.
Another problem is that so many customer service staff seem to just reply to emails with scripts and ignore the actual issue you have contacted them about. Many just seem very poorly trained. I think some are outsourced agencies which makes it even worse. GWR are run by Capita (or Crapita as i call them) i believe.
The train and bus industries in the UK have a long way to go if they want to make it easier for their customers to contact them and improve customer service. But sadly all they care about these days is cost cutting so i doubt that will ever happen. Sorry for the rant.
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Well said Brian; your rant is spot on.
Our daughters had a similar experience with one of the regional airlines yesterday. Having checked in online and flown down without incident last week, they went to check in the day before for their flight back. Although they could still join some sort of travel club on the completed outward journey, there was nothing to check in for the return journey. The phone line produced the usual ‘we are experiencing a high volumes of calls’ message and a suggestion, that if your journey was within 72 hours to email an ‘urgent travel’ address which was duly done. An automated reply suggested that many people were misusing that address for ordinary enquiries and that if it wasn’t for a booking or change of flight, they wouldn’t reply – and they didn’t. After a slightly nervous day, our daughters went to the airport well in advance and were checked in without incident. A relative who has used the airline before said that they had a similar experience on the return journey and thought that the airline wanted check ins to be made at the airport. If so, they only had to say so and avoid passengers worrying unnecessarily.
I find it hard to think of many customer facing companies it’s not possible to make contact with reasonably quickly either by phone or email. I certainly can’t think of any I’ve dealt with recently that have been more than a 20 minute queue at worst on the phone or a few hours to come back in writing.
I appreciate sometimes complaints may take a bit of investigation but that still shouldn’t mean the initial contact is so difficult. I wonder how many TOC managing directors would find it acceptable if their internet failed at home or if they had a problem with a new sofa to get a reply that the organisation concerned would come back to them in 28 days if they’re lucky?
As an aside when working for one of the TOC’s I saw a few replies customer relations had sent out and some of them were frankly embarrassing. For example a query about why a train had 5 minutes wait time scheduled was explained by saying it was to let other trains overtake. This wasn’t even possible at the location concerned! At the time we at least handled complaints internally which meant staff usually had some experience on the railway. I notice that a lot of companies now contract out which means even less chance of someone knowing what they’re talking about as they’re remote from the business. That’s surely the ultimate sign of contempt for your paying customers?
With Stagecoach going down the lines of a Customer Service Centre in Scotland, that is so remote from most of there operations. Suspect it will join the poor performance of First & Arriva Customer Service Centres. Whatever happen to the local approach!
Another experience is trying to contact DVLA. Telephone them and the message states they unable to take telephone calls suggest one uses there web chat then cuts you off. Web chat is another experience you have to ask your question and they will reply. Trouble is it is a robot that answers if it understands your question. I gave up with that and waited for a human being but there was nobody available on the system for the day! So I tried email contact which is a form to be completed with your enquiry. Duly completed and sent with an automatic acknowledgement received. Next day received a response though didn’t answer any of my questions which was a script response and suggesting I use web chat.
So I thought about sending a complaint through the web base Resolver platform but DVLA don’t take complaints through this site. I have given up completely.
One possible (?) reason for insisting on filling in a contact form rather than emailing is that their CRM database form gets completed nicely, meaning they can report on their speed of response.
I had to change the date of 3x LNER advance tickets last month, thankfully LNER say on their website that advance ticket changes are currently free. Sadly this is not strictly true and I was charged a £30 admin fee. I contacted them via their website and got no response after 10 working days, so I decided to send them a direct message to their facebook page and they reply and refund me in only 50 minutes! They say the website system can’t be changed and the finance department have to do the refunds manually. I do wonder how many people actually get the admin fee refunded and its bizarre how one way of contacting them is so bad and another be so good.
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I have been bounced by GWR’s Delay Repay process, which totally missed the point of my recent complaint – a cancelled train, rail tickets NOT available on the local bus service (Scholars only in the afternoon peak – next bus a further 90 minutes wait), so I took a taxi at a cost of £20 and claimed reimbursement. Because ‘the system’ required the rail ticket to be attached, they duly reimbursed the rail ticket cost (significantly less than the £20 taxi fare). Appealing the Delay Repay failed, as I was unable to find one of five pre-prepared categories that described my problem. I was also unable to enclose a ticket (they already had my taxi receipt, plus the train ticket), so I could not continue down the Appeal form to the point of ‘Submitting’ it.
The ‘Contact Us’ alternative was fraught too. A terrible customer experience from GWR.
Brian, in the comments above, has done us all a service in revealing the hidden email addresses. His list will be copied out and printed for future reference. Now, that’s what I call GOOD customer service !
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It’s difficult to believe the “we are currently receiving a high volume of calls/enquiries” mantra given the reduced number of people actually travelling on trains at present. It’s more likely to be a case of reducing the resources allocated to do the work.
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Amidst this chapter of woes, can I commend CardiffBus? They have a link to a contact form, an email address and a phone number all displayed at the bottom of their home page. I haven’t used the phone number; however the contact form does elicit a response (although it is set up for reporting problems on a specific journey rather than more general enquiries); emails elicit a decent response within a day or two except at weekends.
Ipswich Buses also give an email address and a very clear Customer Helpline on their homepage, though I used neither when I lived there. They also seem to be quite good at responding to Tweets.
Is it a coincidence that both are Council-owned local companies?
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Anyone interested in this topic should take a look at Prof.John Seddon’s work (https://beyondcommandandcontrol.com/).
Most of the examples illustrated above are classic examples of ‘failure led demand’. If you work for a service provider you need to understand how to do better and I’d recommend investing some time to understand his ideas.
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Missing from the very first image (SWR) is the speech bubble “You can just about see the end of the queue for customer services.” (woman on the right).
The cases that particularly galling are when I am trying to help them (this applies to bus rather than rail) and point out errors or possible confusions. No response is a little irritating, no response and no action worse, but telling me I am wrong when I pointed out that part of a timetable is missing and included a link to Traveline’s, which had got it right was particularly annoying.
Can I join Andrew Kleissner (above) in congratulating those that get it right – I had a thorough response from Southdown PSV well before 7am! Unfortunately, such is the performance of so many (particularly large) institutions in customer relations that the whole field tends to get tarnished,
Thanks to Brian Davis for that list. I too dislike the forms. Not rail related, I had an personal e-mail from a supermarket, requesting my assistance with something, I responded and got the standard response about the in box not being used. I then spent ages on the website trying to find an e-mail address, frequently ending up at useless FAQs. Eventually deciding that a form was the only option, putting duff data in where nothing applied, no option of an attachment to show what I had been sent, editing the text as was too long. I asked for an e-mail address for the department that had sent me the e-mail. The response was to direct me to the same form I had completed with no attachment option. Chances of me helping – nil!
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