This week, as a result of my lost coat incident, I have had dealings with customer services across a number of different companies. While it is true that different companies pride themselves on different aspects of good service, good customer service is absolutely vital to the running of any customer-facing business. It’s not something you can afford to get wrong.
My first contact, immediately after losing my coat, was with London Midland, specifically, with the ticket officer working in Solihull railway station. He was excellent – helpful, sympathetic, not at all accusatory. He started the ball rolling and continued to help throughout the process, right up to the point at which he handed me the number for customer services, an hour after I had first spoken to him. He managed to juggle his ticket office work with looking after me, and although we were unsuccessful in retrieving my lost coat, I was calmed and soothed by his handling of the situation.
Second strike was once again London Midland, this time their customer services and lost property department. Despite not having a touchtone phone, I was quickly and efficiently put through to an operative who could help me, by the name of James. He was knowledgeable and efficient, put me on hold while he phoned through to the station lost property, came back to inform me he couldn’t get a response, but would keep trying and call me back as soon as possible. He called me back within the hour, again without luck – but again leaving me feeling soothed because I knew someone cared enough to follow through on my behalf.
He even provided me with Chiltern’s number in order that I could check whether my coat had appeared at Moor Street. But calling Chiltern proved… somewhat trickier.
Calling Chiltern prompted a series of options for touchtone telephones. I don’t have a touchtone telephone: our work telephones are on one of these internal/external network thingies. But there was no option for those without touchtone, and eventually I was put through to a very shirty advisor, who told me I needed to phone the number again, but this time pick the right options for lost property. She was not able to transfer me, and simply couldn’t understand that my phone wasn’t touchtone, just kept repeating that I needed to call back and choose the right options this time. Frustrated and angry at being treated in such a patronising manner, I eventually hung up and, with a little help from my colleague, figured out how to unlock touchtone on an external line…
I went through three (I think) menu options before I was finally put through to “Lost Property”: or, a recorded message telling me to visit the website and fill in the lost item form there.
By which point I was furious. I filled in the form, but punctuated the activity with angry tweets about Chiltern Railway’s lost property procedure vis a vis London Midland’s excellent service.
This is where Chiltern Railway had the opportunity to turn things around. I confess, I knew what I was doing when I did a quick search to check whether they were on twitter. I wanted to draw their attention to the poor service I had received so far. I wanted to see what, if anything, they would do to fix things.
The socmed rep picked up on my angry tweets, and in a very short space of time we were exchanging direct messages. While I received no apology regarding my experiences thus far, I was quickly calmed and reassured, as I was aksed for my details and a description of my coat, and kept informed of the rep’s progress with lost property. The rep then gave me their word that they would visit the lost property office personally in the morning to check for my coat, and, indeed, the next morning I recieved a tweet saying that, while they’d had no luck as yet, they were expecting a delivery from up north later the same day and would let me know if anything came in. This blow-by-blow account of progress is such a reassuring procedure, and so far removed from the “email us and if you don’t hear, sorry mate!” attitude their lost item form suggests.
The immediacy of twitter and other social media platforms has twofold consequences for customer services. On the one hand, they are expected to tackled problems in realtime while demonstrating the relevant levels of tact and sympathy. On the other, it offers the ultimate opportunity to really shine. On this occasion, Chiltern ultimately got it right.