The railways in the UK are not new to criticism. Late, over-crowded, dirty, leaves on the track – you know the stories, and have probably experienced it yourself.
The start of something beautiful?
Yet in the past five years, I’ve given train travel a second chance.
Fed-up with the traffic jams and wasted downtime driving, I use the train much more often. And, on the whole have found it both productive and really enjoyable on the route I take.
Gliding along at high speed through our beautiful countryside, it has helped me manage my workload and arrive to see clients more refreshed, too.
So as the number of times I part company with my hard-earned cash increases, my customer-supplier relationship grows with the train company.
You know that niggling feeling of wanting them to acknowledge your custom, even just a little bit? Perhaps that’s too much to ask?
Yet many other businesses are bending over backwards to thank their customers with loyalty schemes and ‘added extras’.
Basic economics, however, would probably say that supply and demand rule.
I’m not flush with alternatives to using them – there’s no competition. Even with consumer groups and some Government performance targets in place to support us train users. The only other workable option is the car – which costs more and takes longer, especially with the price of London parking.
On a recent family trip to London – we travelled on a weekend. I booked the group party including one Senior Rail Card holder. Someone who travels by train weekly, dutifully carrying her rail card to prove when asked, her eligibility for a discount.
How many times has she ever been asked to prove it? Zero. Was this the first time she’d forgotten the rail card because I’d booked the tickets? Yes.
There we are, at 10pm on a Saturday night, on a nearly-empty train.
Her husband, who doesn’t have a railcard (though eligible) – had paid the full adult price. We are asked to pay the full ticket price for her – which cost more, one-way, than the price we’d paid for both ways.
Our query to the train manager who was unfriendly, stern and accusatory: “If we’d been deliberately trying to avoid the full fare, wouldn’t we have booked her husband at the lower price too?” “We have forgotten it on this occasion, we are sorry”
Surely common sense would have said, just slap our wrists this time, reinforce the policy, and tell us to always remember for the future.
Obviously not, it’s a ‘one-strike and you’re out’ policy. If only we could apply the same rule as customers to the ticket price, when the train is delayed, dirty, or seat reservations are lost!
I wrote to the company explaining the situation. Requesting a refund or (in my eyes anyway) graciously suggesting they give us a voucher to the same value to use on a future train, thus retaining them some business and offering the chance to remedy the bad feeling.
How do they reply?
“Whilst I appreciate this must have been annoying for you all, my colleague was quite correct to ask you to pay this amount so I’m unable to offer you a refund. I am sorry you feel unhappy at the lack of leniency shown by the Train Manager, however we must apply this rule consistently to prevent passengers from travelling without valid tickets. Thank you again for contacting us, and I hope that I have been able to clarify the policy regarding the use of Railcards.”
Running on rails and training
The train manager followed protocol impeccably. She had her policy and she was going to stick to it. Top marks to her for management of the policy. She ran on rails, that’s for sure. So did the ‘Customer Services Adviser’ who wrote to me.
The thing is, not once in these interactions did they thank us for having travelled with them. We’d just had a fantastic trip and were happy, having fun, and heading home.
They showed no interest in our visit to London or why we were together as a family. Their sole concern was protecting themselves from fare-dodging. A complete and utter lack of customer focus.
It seems that their management development needs an injection of:
o Making individual judgement calls and using discretion
o Customer focus – including some real-life coaching
o Listening, questioning and commerciality
o Understanding of P&L, and the impact of their actions
o Tony Hsieh (Pronounced Shay) – of Zappos.com fame – who is all about delivering happiness
As for the leadership team – if they have a brand mission or strategy that involves customers, they need to consider how well it’s being delivered.
Back to economics – everyone in retail knows that you make more money making customers feel great so that they keep returning, than you lose by annoying them in refusing to refund or exchange something – only to have a them shop elsewhere.
If the train company took the view that they wanted to “surprise and delight every customer” – like the newly formed Challenger Bank–Metro Bank, then they really wouldn’t need to do very much to make a lot more people travel with them.
It would also save on their advertising budget, by using an overhead that’s already in place – their people.
They have some very quick wins available to them!