Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A few pleasant days away with the other half...

...Only buggered up by First Great Western's appalling customer lack-of-service.

I've been spending some quality time with my other half, in the sticks, in the middle of nowhere. It's very nice to get away from London, with all its' hustle and bustle, and greased whippet (to coin a northern friend of mines phraseology) speed of life, and instead, wind down to a slower pace of life, and have quality time with one's partner.

Last time I came over here, the trains were well stuffed up; seems a goods train, shortly before Christmas, parted company with a few of its' carriages, and blocked the line towards Newbury from Reading.

I use Newbury, as my other half lives in the middle of nowhere, West Berks, and it's perfect to get to, grab a (once an hour) bus, and walk the rest of the way (the house isn't far from the bus stop on a country lane). I can get a taxi from Newbury (and sometimes have to if delayed), but that's the exception, as like London, they're hellishly expensive.

Anyhow, when the trains got stuffed last time, First Great Western (FGW) had to lay on a replacement bus service for us, which I only discovered by chance from the Duty Station Manager (I dog eared him as he was trying to slip off the platform to his nice, safe, away from the great unwashed public, office!), his staff having been very bloody unhelpful to that point.

I wound up being over an hour late into Newbury, and had to get a taxi from there, having missed the last bus (County bus services tend to end a LOT earlier than London ones).

This time around, the connections worked well enough, but I wanted to ensure that I travelled at the right time of the day for the ticket that I had (an off peak open return, valid for a month from the day of outbound travel).

So, given that FGW, who run the Newbury to Paddington part of the trip, are the logical choice to make such enquiries of, I decided to use their Twitter feed to get my answer, that being what it's there for. Or so I thought. I posted the question after they knocked off for the night, figuring that they'd get to it first thing in the morning, while clearing the overnight queue of questions.

Here we went again: I'd made an assumption, and as we all know, "When you assume something, you make an ass of 'u' and 'me'." Well, the first Twitter question went unanswered, so I asked again. No reply. So, close to ten hours after I'd made the first enquiry, I lost patience, and called, on an expensive 0845 call from a mobile phone, National Rail Enquiries. Should have gone there first, I guess.

I got a very pleasant Indian-sounding lady, who asked two questions: what kind of ticket was it, and how much did it cost? These two questions answered, I found that I could travel at any time after 09:30am, with no further timing restrictions. Excellent reply, marvellously swift, and perfectly satisfactory. Colour me very happy with NRE.

So, I fired off a 'forget it' message to FGW. Guess what. They never even replied to that, either.

Here's the series of Twitter messages to FGW:

RogersBlant @RogersBlant
@FGW Question: I have an off peak return, Newbury to a south London station. When can I NOT begin to travel on Tuesday?
12:22 AM - 17 Jan 12 via Twitter for Android

I'd expected to see a reply by around 09:30 or so that morning. Guess again.

RogersBlant @RogersBlant
@FGW Repeat from earlier; I'll be travelling off peak newbury to south London via paddington; what are the off peak hours, please?
10:07 AM - 17 Jan 12 via web

This is when I finally lost patience with them, and contacted National Rail Enquiries.

RogersBlant @RogersBlant
@FGW Never mind. Rang NRE and got info from them. Odd that I had to call an 0845, & that you couldn't answer me in over ten hours, though.
10:47 AM - 17 Jan 12 via Twitter for Android

Now, I've heard from other travellers in the past that FGW only answer when it suits them, and that their customer service department makes the Civil Servants in the BBC telly series "Yes Minister" look like a model of efficiency, but I always thought that this was the result of not getting what they wanted, such as a refund for a completed but delayed trip, or whatnot. Having just experienced this appalling lack of respect for a paying customer - not even an acknowledgement of my comms to them, for pities' sake?! - I can see why people hate these folks with a passion.

The fact that I had to pay a hefty fee (0845 numbers are treated as being practically premium rate numbers on mobile tariffs, and are NOT counted against any free minutes you may have on your contract) via Vodafone to talk to a human at NRE, rather than wait for bloody ages for a non-existent reply from FGW, not only adds insult to injury, but it tells me volumes as well.

Twitter is intended to aid communications, by providing a social media platform with which to communicate. It's supposed to be quick, fairly painless, and is touted as a marvellous way to communicate with friends and businesses alike. Well, for the most part, such as when connecting with your friends, yes, it does that remarkably well.

But I'll say this as well: For a business, it is not just a mouthpiece from which you can utter corporate propaganda, or be selective in your choice of whom to answer. It requires, absolutely, that you answer all queries put to you, lest it be ignored by your customers.

Remember this well, FGW, because you're well on your way to making the above a prophesy, not just a rant on my blog.

Here endeth the lesson.


National Rail Enquiries said...

Hi Roger,
Really glad to see that you had a good experience talking to one of our contact centre staff. You can also ask NRE via one of our Twitter accounts - @nationalrailenq or @NRE_FirstGW - the full list are here: http://nationalrail.co.uk/twitter. Our accounts are monitored and responded to 24/7.

Thanks again for the positive feedback

Roger said...

Kathryn - Thanks for the comment. Would have been nice to know that you guys have twitter accounts at the time, but that's my fault for not looking, I guess. I only found the FGW twitter account by seeing it noted on one of their notice boards at (I think) Paddington. Just a thought, but it might be an idea to note your twitter account info to some of your in-station posters - twitter's faster that farcebook, after all ;-)