It’s all about the customer service (and the sugary latte)

I was on a train this morning (as you do), and despite the fact that it was running late, I was in a good mood. 

Sadly, before some wisecrack makes a comment, this was nothing to do with a girl.  Alas. But please humour me and read the rest of my ramblings anyway.

Of the things which did contribute to my good mood, the first was the fact that Danny at The Whistlestop Cafe at Barnham had still had time to shake my hand and make me a Vanilla Latte.*  It was tight, but I made my connection.

The second is that Southern were really pro-active with their customer service. As we know, I am a stickler for customer service and good customer service makes me happy in the same way that bad customer service makes me annoyed.**

It was clearly one of those days today, with everything except the wrong leaves on the line.  But the guard on each train was informative, and apologetic (which goes a long way).  Notably, when it was announced that the train was going to terminate early (at Fareham), the guard came down the train to check onward travel arrangements with each group of passengers.  Most impressive of all, however, he then went to find out if it would be possible for me to stay on the train until Eastleigh, where I had a chance of making a connection.  The good news is that it was possible, and I had a whole train to myself for a while.  The bad news is that I just missed my connection (whose idea was closing train doors 30s early, anyway?), but you can’t blame Southern for not trying.

This has got me thinking.  I usually blog about trains when I am annoyed, but credit should be given where it’s due.  If I were to draw up the JP List of Winners & Losers (in the “customer service” and “rail” category) what would it look like?

I think that the winner would be Southern. Today’s episode was a particularly good example, but their staff these days are usually polite, friendly and proactive.  Even their posters ooze friendliness, and they have some good policies (such as Priority Seating).

First Great Western would be the runner up.  This may shock some of you who are used to their cramped local trains and the fact that they never put enough carriages on some routes.  But the staff seem apologetic for the shortcomings, their posters are also friendly and – like Southern – they are good at engaging with social media.  In fact, First Great Western deserve a special mention for the way they have engaged with this blog.

At the bottom end of the scale, I’d put South West Trains, whose only seem to be proactive about engaging with passengers when they want to penalise them for having the wrong leaves on their ticket.  Even their posters are rude and aggressive, and I’m not sure that “sorry” is in the vocabulary of some of their employees.  Whereas many companies have adopted Twitter (in the case of Southern and First Great Western to good effect), South West Trains are notable by their absence. Silence speaks volumes, as they say.

I know I’m going on a bit now, but if there was such a thing as a runner-up for last place then Arriva would probably take it.  They ignored my torrent of tweets from their cramped train*** and took five days just to acknowledge the fact I’d filled in an online comment form.


*I’m still not sure if this is tea or coffee. When I think “latte” I think coffee, but when I think “chai” I think tea…

**In some cases, it even gives me twitterhea

***To be fair, this may be because they have literally thousands of annoyed tweets to acknowledge.






Chuck Revel said…
While I don't do nearly as much train travel as you, my least favourite at the moment are CrossCountry, and it's mostly to do with the fact that their cycle policy is to dedicate the bare minimum of space to bikes, and make it as difficult as humanly possible to take your bike on the train. I'm pretty certain that it it weren't for the fact that the law tells them they have to, they'd simply have a "No Bikes" policy and fill up that valuable space with more cramped seats, so as to get the maximum revenue per square metre.

It was a surreal contrast when my friend and I cycled to the nearby preserved railway, and not only were we encouraged to take our bikes on the train rather than leave them locked at an um-manned station, but there was plenty of space for several bikes, pushchairs and wheelchairs.
Of course this was a 60-year-old train, so we don't have such things as guards' vans any more. Progress is a funny thing...

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