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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 13-Feb-07


Tuesday 13-February-07

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.

Dear Mr Straker,

We are working on the suspension noise. It is a problem with the yaw dampers and we are developing a lubrication solution.

On the tables I will find out.

I agree it should not be that difficult and it is the small things that make a difference.

Stewart Palmer

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.

Dear Mr Palmer
Having recently renewed my annual season ticket on 31 January, for the sum of ?4,152, I decided to maintain a log. Here are the first three weeks. You took my money - I have to ask whether you believe you have fulfilled your part of the bargain?
I look forward to hearing from you
Yours sincerely
Allan MacDonald
1 February    6.13 From Sunningdale to Waterloo
    • Arrived at Sunningdale 2 minutes late
    • Only four carriages
    • First Class carriage understandably invaded at Staines
    • Chronically congested by Richmond
    • Discount factor - say 50% for that journey
                18.20 Waterloo to Sunningdale
    • First Class carriage like a zoo
    • Train ran seven minutes late
    • Guard sat in office in middle section for whole journey
2 February    16.35 Waterloo to Sunningdale
    • First Class appeared to have been de-classified
    • Guard announced that would be walking through the train - no mention of First Class
    • No sight of guard
5 February    6.13 Sunningdale to Waterloo
    • Two revenue protection officers did their job and apprehended two fare dodgers
6 February    6.13 Sunningdale to Waterloo
    • Two revenue protection officers did their job and challenge one fare dodger
    • Guard makes several announcements about use of First Class compartments
                    18.20 Waterloo to Sunningdale
    • Packed solid and I cannot get a seat in First Class
    • No question that most of seats taken by passengers who have not paid
    • Majority leave by Twickenham
13 February     6.13 Sunningdale to Waterloo
    • Noise level under front Fist Class compartment bordering on the unbearable
                   18.05 Waterloo to Sunningdale
    • Four carriages only
      • Absolute zoo
      • Standing room only
14 February    6.13 Sunningdale to Waterloo
    • New carriages - thank you
                    16.50 Waterloo to Sunningdale
    • Back to the old carriages
    • First class invaded even at this time
    • Can hear two guards in the section adjacent to middle First Class
      • No attempt to do anything other than talk
15 February    18.05 Waterloo to Sunningdale
    • Four carriages only
    • Absolute zoo
    • No seat until Twickenham
19 February    17.20 Waterloo to Sunningdale
    • Noise levels from suspension probably nearing danger levels!
    • First Class compartment full - but is almost empty at Richmond


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