Thursday, 6 June 2013

South West Trains - A little bit of social media escalation (updated)

In an attempt to remain current in South West Trains minds (something I seem to be struggling with), I am going to attempt to draw their attention to the following in a blog post.

On 20 April, I had a ticket for a Southern Rail train from Portsmouth Harbour to Brighton.  The long and the short of it is that the train left without me, but there was no information on the display boards about it, there were no audible announcements made, the ticket office staff didn't know the train's location, and it was hidden from view, behind other trains, and there were two trains on the same platform, so you would only know it was there if you happened to be standing in front of it.  Here's a picture of the view from the main station concourse, where passengers are advised to wait for their trains.

The South West Train is at Platform 3. Apparently, I should've been able to see a Southern Train at Platform 5, hidden from view, without any announcements or information displayed, and without the ticket office knowing it was there.
The staff member in the ticket office didn't know where the train was, and by the time I found a staff member who did know, the train had left.

Sometimes, events like this can be down to passengers not researching the information correctly, or not arriving in time ... however, as the information will show, I arrived in plenty of time, tried asking staff members and tried consulting information screens.  In the end, through no fault of my own, the train departed without me, resulting in me being late for my conference.  I also spotted a very young child looking worriedly at his watch and mobile phone, and - once I'd found out that the train had left - discovered that he too was meant to be on it, and gave him the information I'd been given on how to reach his destination on later trains.

When I complained to Southern, I was informed that the station was run by South West Trains, and - as such - would need to be chased up by them.

I compiled an email complaint, which I sent to both train companies, on 23 April, and acknowledged by both companies' Customer Services email systems.

Following on from being told that I should follow up my complaint by South West Trains, I was also informed by the Southern Rail customer care team that I could follow procedures for a refund with them, once South West Trains had responded to me.  It seems odd to me that you need to complain to a different company from the one that may issue a refund?

I informed Southern that, as the ticket provider, I felt it was their responsibility to deal with the station owner on my behalf, and they thanked me for the feedback (but didn't offer to take up my suggestion).

My original complaint was on 23 April.  When I didn't hear back from either company by 30 May, I tweeted both their customer services departments, to ask when I could expect a response.  I was informed that South West Trains were busy responding and that they'd get back to me shortly.

I didn't hear anything by the next week, so I tweeted South West Trains again on 4 June, to ask what the update was.  Their Customer Services person on twitter didn't know and advised that they would get someone to respond the next day (5 June).

The working day is now finished on the 6th of June, and I still haven't heard anything - bearing in mind my original email was sent on 23 April (a total of 50 working days, by my counting, leaving off the bank holidays and weekends!), and was sent to both train companies to avoid confusion.

It certainly feels like someone's hoping I'll forget all about it, but the more time I spend chasing it, the more expensive this complaint will become to resolve.

Update on 19 June 2013:

I had a reply from South West Trains, offering an apology that I couldn't hear the (non-existent) automated announcements, and a peace offering of £20 rail vouchers.  I responded that I didn't feel they understood the complaint, and I had hoped for more, as the cost to me was greater, but that I would accept the vouchers, and I offered my postal address.  That response was sent on the 7th of June at 11h13.

It's the 19th of June now, and I've not had any response, or received any vouchers.  Bearing in mind that this happened on the 20th of April, I complained on the 23rd of April, and waited till 7th of June for a response from their Customer Services department, this is turning into a case study for epic fails in Customer Services and Complaints Resolution.

I've now gotten Passenger Focus ("the independent passenger watchdog") involved to try and bring the matter to an end.  I wish them luck.  Here is the email I sent them:

Subject: Re: Passenger Focus - Our reference: PFO-11077-M9L1D9 PF:0037387
Dear **************
Thank you for your response and apologies for taking a few days to respond.  I had a reply from South West Trains, which you'll see below.  Interestingly, I responded to *************, as you'll see, on the 7th of June.
You'll note that he apologises that the "automated announcements were not audible", which is absolutely not the case.  There were no automated announcements, and I arrived in plenty of time to hear them.  The staff member at the ticket office did not know which platform the train was on, there was no information on the screens, and there were no announcements made - automated or not.  There were two South West Trains at platforms 3 and 4, obstructing the view to platform 5, and the designated Southern Rail train was one of two on platform 5, only the first of which could be seen from the station concourse.  There was, therefore, no means of knowing that the train was parked out of view, behind a South West Trains train on the same platform.  When I went back to the ticket window to ask - by which time there would still have been time to make the train if I'd run - he still didn't know which platform the train was on, and advised that I ask a member of staff on the platform.  These members of staff were notoriously hard to find, as I couldn't see any in the information office (to which the door was ajar), but finally noticed them neatly secluded away in the glass office in the corner of the station, atop some stairs.  When I managed to get the attention of one of them, I was informed that the train had just left.  That was the first time I encountered any member of staff who knew the train's whereabouts.
So, I don't accept **********'s assumption that I didn't hear the automated announcements ... there simply was no information forthcoming, from staff, speakers or screens.  Hence I and the young child missed the train, causing me unnecessary financial expense (as I missed the keynote speaker at the conference I was attending, whom I wanted to question about important developing matters in government & the Church), and causing the child distress as he was travelling alone and didn't know where his train was.  Interestingly, none of the station staff offered to assist him ... I passed on the information I gleaned from the staff member, on how to make it to our respective destinations.
I don't feel South West trains have understood the nature of the epic fail of their systems and staff, or the cost implications to me.  However, if all they're prepared to offer is £20, I'll take it.  However, to date, and in true South West Trains fashion, I have not yet received a reply from ********, or the promised rail vouchers (I received his email on 7 June and replied the same day ... not even 2nd class mail is that slow).  This is a fairly disastrous complaints procedure and attempt at complaint resolution, for a complaint that I originally emailed through on 23 April.  We'll shortly be exceeding two months since my original complaint, and still no resolution.
I also feel the system is needlessly complicated.  It's a Southern Rail train I missed, but Southern wouldn't deal with the complaint, saying it was a South West Trains matter as they managed the station.  You should be able to complain to the company you paid for your ticket, and they should take the matter up, not leave you to approach their respective service providers.
I thank you for your assistance with this matter and for the work you and Passenger Focus are doing to attempt to resolve the shambolic running of the British Rail system and look forward to some kind of resolution.
With kind regards


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