How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
Shake, rattle and squeak
I'm writing this blog through a piercing din, as the train on which I am travelling into London squeaks, rattles, howls, shrieks and otherwise puts up the most ungodly cacophony I have ever heard. Here is the whole three-minute journey between Twickenham and Richmond. And if you just want a snippet (sadly, I don't have this choice) here's just a few seconds along the way. When the train gets to a station, the noise does not even abate then. It just sits there and howls like a demented banshee. And the journey is a hour long.
I arrive with a piercing headache that lasts half the day and decreases my effectiveness in meetings and other work. Summing the effect across trains and travellers, I wonder about the effect on the British economy.
You may remember my November blog 'Talking to customers' in which I complained to the CEO of the train company. Other long-suffering customers also complained and he promised to look at some of the suggestions we made, but we have seen nothing yet. The problem of course is that he does not have a particularly strong commercial motivation to keep his customers happy (although he prefers to call them the more objectifying 'passengers'). He has a ten year franchise that gives him a monopoly on the line, where his main goal is to pack 'em in and ship 'em in and out of the capital. Customer comfort and satisfaction seems not to be important.
My complaint had been that we were having newer trains removed and older, cramped, noisy, unreliable trains in return. And indeed it has come to pass. The Junipers we now endure regularly break down. Within the past month we have had to swap trains because brakes have seized and had doors jam open at stations. We even had a train stop in a station and have to disembark because the heater in the driver's compartment had packed up. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning in the passenger coops, in the mean time, is a very random affair.
Last time we emailed the CEO, he had the grace to reply, albeit with poor understanding of the language of customer relationships. I hear now that he has abandoned even this, and that emails just get a form response from a customer response unit. Last time also we made some constructive suggestions and he promised to look into them. We have heard nothing in response and there has been no improvement in service.
I am thus a more dissatisfied customer than ever. When the CEO makes promises and those he promised to hear nothing, then he sullies the entire company brand.
To change minds requires a lever of some kind, yet there are few chinks into which I can insert a formal lever to get the train company to do something about my (and many others') complaints. Publicity is one thing that is available, and a blog that includes real auditory evidence is just such a lever.
So thank you, SouthWest Trains and Stewart Palmer, and I do hope you hear the attached cacophony and do something about it for your long-suffering customers!
Coda 1: Hands up, perhaps I underestimated him: Stewart Palmer replied to the email I sent him as below -- which is pleasantly positive!! My estimation of SouthWest Trains just went up a notch. And when the actions are implemented, they will go up several notches more.
Coda 2: A train colleague wrote to Mr Palmer but his letter bounced (assuming he did have the correct email address). Here's what he said. Now I'm wondering again. It may be that Stewart Palmer is happy to get questions about which he can do something (see previous post). When it is more general complaints he may feel powerless and hence not want to respond. However, it still important to acknowledge customer troubles and a simple apology can go a long way. If he is able to act on the complaints below (and it would seem possible) then saying what he is doing can make customers feel a lot better.