I want conversation, not compensation

If someone had told you ten years ago that you’d be having a virtual conversation with a big company whenever you wanted to complain, you’d have laughed. Social media has transformed the way we, the cutsomer, has a rant when things go wrong. Yet immediacy doesn’t always equate to a swift resolution of the issue, as I found this past week with East Midlands Trains.

I should warn you now to be ready to shout back “first world problems” to me. After all, this isn’t a big issue per se. But as someone who deals with the communications industry every day, I think I make a fair point about customer service.

A London bound train, scheduled for 0805, pulls into Nottingham station at 0750. Great – I can get my seat and relax. Except I can’t, because this train is made up of two connecting units, and the second unit hasn’t arrived, and doesn’t arrive until 0807. A simple announcement explaining the delay, and the reason for “boarding denied” would have been all that were needed to keep the hundred or so passengers informed. Indeed, East Midlands Trains staff were on the platform, loading said train with catering supplies.

So, once on board, I decided to tweet East Midlands Trains to ask a few questions. Replies, in no particular order, included :

  • An automated announcement advising of the delay was made (it wasn’t)
  • We never allow passengers to board two unit trains until both units are coupled (they do, and have in the past)
  • We wouldn’t normally do an announcement about the coupling rule (perhaps you should?)
  • An announcement was made, but we will check the logs (so you’re not sure if you’re calling me a liar?)
  • If you want to take this further, here’s a link to a form.

I did. A week on, I’d heard nothing back, so I asked on Twitter what was being done. East Midlands Trains replied, in no particular order :

  • Could you direct message us details of the complaint? (Well, I kinda did that a week ago)
  • We can find no record of your email address. (It was on the form. Perhaps I mis-spelled as the form kept reloading due to your poor wifi)
  • Ahh, we’ve found it. We will respond shortly.

It turns out that “shortly” is defined as anything up to 20 days. On suggesting this might be little long, East Midlands Trains referred me to “the terms of the Franchise agreement as set out by the Department for Transport”.

Ahh, I’d obviously read that in detail. Of course – the complaints process is so flawed because of the pesky Government!

For what it’s worth, passenger satisfaction with East Midlands Trains remains reasonably high, according to the latest survey by Transport Focus – though that’s hardly surprising when comparing with the daily woes faced by commuters in the South East. And satisfaction levels are falling, especially when it comes to the way East Midlands Trains deals with complaints.
On analysing a few other Twitter conversations, a pattern emerges. It goes something like “excuse/apology/backtrack (when challenged)/referral (to standard form). I’m guessing anything more might verge on liability, and inevitable financial culpibility. A classic non-answer.

So lesson learned. Think twice about attempting to complain in “real time”. I’m off to order a quill and parchment, along with a pigeon. 

I wouldn’t trust sending it by train.

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