Yesterday I had a day out in London with a good friend of mine. It should be a simple enough train journey home (I live 45 minutes away from London on the mainline), but as anyone who goes into London from East Anglia will know, this is an increasingly high risk strategy, blighted with frequent cancellations and replacement bus services whilst the line is being overhauled.
Unfortunately, the network once again fell victim to cable theft at some time on Saturday, meaning that Greater Anglia and the other rail operators in the region had an additional crisis to deal with. And it is in dealing with a crisis that a company really shows what it’s made of. You see, I don’t believe customers in these situations get angry and stressed because of technical emergencies. As a nation the British are spectacularly tolerant, and we understand that things go wrong and that cable theft is not the company’s fault.
What gets customers angry is when the organisation won’t talk to them and tell them what’s going on.
The announcements at London Liverpool Street were delivered at such high speed that not a single word was comprehensible in that massive echo chamber of an acoustic space. Having been directed by the information desk to get on a train that would take us as far as Shenfield station where we would get further instructions, the driver on my train said nothing to us, his passengers, until we were almost pulling in at Shenfield station. He then informed us that we all needed to leave the train and don’t forget to take all our belongings with us. (We had to shush the carriage to hear what he was saying, because he had the volume set to a whisper). Wouldn’t it have been nice if he could have reassured his passengers at the start that he would also be stopping at all intermittent stations? Nobody in our carriage actually knew this for a fact. So much unnecessary anxiety.
When we packed onto the platform at Shenfield Station, rammed in like sardines in a tin, a tired sounding official actually spoke to us at last! Over the tannoy he gave us the exciting news that if we wanted to go to Southend we should head for platform 5. Hurrah! Information! He then cryptically stated that “other trains will take you to the country”. Pardon? What country is that? I presume you mean out towards Norwich, then…? That was just bizarre, but did get 300 stranded passengers laughing, albeit in a slightly desperate, jaded way.
Greater Anglia, listen up! What we wanted to hear was this, in this order:
- 1. “Ladies and gentlemen, first let me apologise to you for the disruption to your service this evening.” (Yes, let’s acknowledge that there’s a whole lot of confusion and unhappiness down there. Nobody else has yet…).
- 2. “This is because of a theft of the cabling at Seven Kings which has caused the signalling on this line to go down.” (It would have been nice to find this out from an official rather than via smartphone and on-train gossip).
- 3. “As a result, a decision has been made to bring passengers as far along on their journey as possible, and now you have reached Shenfield we are working hard to arrange trains that will take you the rest of the way as quickly as possible.” (Ah! So you DO have a plan! Thanks for putting my mind at rest…)
- 4. “Thank you for your patience so far this evening…” (Yes, good idea, a bit of psychological pressure on people to carry on behaving well and not start a riot).
- 5. “If there is anyone waiting on the platform who feels they need some additional help, for example because you are elderly, have a disability, have small children with you or are a pregnant woman, please make your way to the Information office.” (Wow! These guys DO understand their customers’ needs…now I’m really impressed!)
- 6. “I will update you on the latest situation at 10 minute intervals, if not sooner.” (Great! No more information vacuum!)
- 7. “Once again, thank you for your patience.”
Imagine how differently we would have felt about the company and its efforts to get us all home. They would, of course, have had to back up the words with a coherent emergency plan (not sure if one ever came into view, as it goes), but how much better we would all have felt.
And it’s an emergency strategy that wouldn’t have cost Greater Anglia a single extra penny to implement.
To close the story, my friend and I eventually got home at 11.00pm because my kind husband drove the 50 mile round trip to pick us up from Shenfield Station. When we left, at 10.15pm, there were still no trains taking anyone out to ‘the country’ and none passed us on the way home.
I shall send this blog to @GreaterAnglia by Twitter, as they might be interested. I won’t do it over the weekend though – nobody monitors the account at weekends, only Monday to Friday. They might want to put their Customer Service Hat on and think about that too…