Thursday, 13 March 2014

Failing at Customer Support

Warning: this post contains a rant against a single company. If you think this is an abuse of this blog then please don't read any further.

When I first started work, there were no computers on desks, no email, and there was no Twitter. If a complaint was received, it would either be in person - which most of the time could therefore be dealt with there and then - or by letter. A four or five day turn-around was perfectly acceptable and so a customers concerns could be dealt with in about a week and everyone could feel justified in feeling that they were being properly responsive to their customers.

That has all changed. Communication is almost instant and so there is an expectation - however misplaced that might be - that customer contact must be responded to equally instantly.

For example… Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I am engaged in a mini-battle with Greater Anglia trains. What started as a small thing - getting a confirmation email for e-tickets bought on their rather dodgy iPhone app - has escalated into a larger thing because of poor communication and, in particular, their belief that responding to a complaint within ten days is perfectly acceptable. It isn’t - partly because the original complaint was connected to a journey that has now long past. Mostly, however, because in this age of instant communication it is not acceptable to have no communication within ten days. They seem to be able to have social media team who are probably working two shifts and who were able to get back to me very quickly. Much better communication was rather blown, however, by suggestions that I should ring a premium rate number to chase up their handling of my complaint (I don't think so) or that I should direct message the media team to keep things quiet (they had a chance to do that once and failed).

My point is not simply that Great Anglia are trying to win the prize for worst customer service in the UK (and in my opinion they are sure to win). The point is that no organisation can treat their customers with such disdain. Thirty years ago if a company treated me badly I would moan about it to my friends and possibly write to the Managing Director. Each round of discussion would take about a week and so would be complete quite calmly. Now - with Facebook, Twitter and User Forums - complaints can be very public and quite damaging. If GA can have two shifts working in social media, why not in customer support - and if they do actually have two shifts working, why do they take so long to reply. Perhaps they have such an enormous number of complaints that they can’t cope…

My real point is that GA have consistently failed on so many levels. Their communication is poor at the best of times (my Train Times app knows about platform allocations and train delays long before we are told at the station) but has imploded at the point of complaint. What was a small niggle has turned into a battle of wills (now including their CEO and Operations Director - assuming that they bother to reply to the email that I have sent addressed to them).

Any organisation can do well when things are going well. It is a measure of the worth of a company how well it does when things are going badly. In this regard GA have failed spectacularly.

Perhaps the lesson is simple - look to see how Greater Anglia (or Abellio Greater Anglia as they insist on calling it in every single announcement) are managing customer service and avoid that. Perhaps a little less spent on rebranding and a great deal more spent on staff training and customer support.

1 comment:

  1. I thought that a follow up might be in order. This post was written in March 2014 and we are now in May. I have written and emailed to the COO and the CEO of Greater Anglia as well as complained through the website and Twitter - and received not a single reply. Not one.

    Wow - an impressive statement that I, as a customer, am utterly insignificant to them. They may be right - after all I still have to take their trains since it is the easiest way to get to Ipswich and Norwich. But I will continue to talk about their awful service, their old trains, their failure to tell time (apparently no apology is needed if the train is only 5 minutes or so late - I've certainly never heard one, and I can't remember the last time that the train from Ipswich to London in the evening was on time).

    Oh well - I know my place now.