31 October 2007

Disempowering Staff [Updated 05/11/07]

It wouldn't be a blog without a moan about Virgin Trains...they make high claims about excellent customer service justified by all sorts of statistics but then amazingly one's own personal experience of their 'excellent customer service' completely contradicts this.

I bought a ticket for travelling to Preston on Monday evening, intending to collect this from the station. New terms and conditions that are set out in the emails sent to me say you must bring the credit card that you bought the ticket with to collect the ticket. But this is a change from previous practice where any old credit card was sufficient.

You know where this is going...I didn't have the correct credit card on Monday and of course the machine wouldn't issue my tickets...but to compound things further I was unable to get through to the help-line and not one person at Euston Station would offer me any assistance whatsoever.

It was in fact a bit worse than that - the man at the 'Customer Information' point looked at my email said that there was 'nothing he could do' and then lifted the email printout by the corner and held it out to me as if it was a snotty tissue and said something along the lines of "this is yours Sir!". It would have been hard to have had a more sneering attitude - had he been on an expensive 'sneering without being caught' training course?

A follow-up call to Virgin Trains this evening to get a refund of the ticket (but without paying the £5 admin charge) was unsuccessful - however I did get a bit closer to the truth - it transpires that whether this requirement can be over-ridden or not is actually a decision that Euston can take...but frontline staff at the station don't appear to know this. Indeed there appears to be no policy whatsoever for dealing with this possibility.

So what's my point in writing this particular entry on my blog...it would be silly if I didn't admit it's partly giving me the opportunity some of the frustration and anger that I feel about my personal treatment. However I think there is a further point and it's that when large organisations disempower the frontline staff from being able to take common sense decisions by providing no flexibility in policies like this some honest customers are bound to get caught up. For me that means making sure that Lewisham's services don't suffer from the same problems...but for Lewisham's residents there's usually a bit more at stake than a £5 admin fee, hurt feelings and after all that a very comfortable and fast journey to Preston.

To date I've not had a response from Virgin Trains so I have sent a note to London Travel Watch alerting them to the policy in operation at Virgin. We'll see if I get a response and perhaps a slight refinement in policy at Virgin.

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