Posted by: Sam Tanner | October 19, 2010

Why Southern Rail Fail

I know I complain about it every single day, but let’s face it my daily commute takes a two hour chunk out of my day and I kind of expect it to go smoothly most of the time.

However, I do know that not everything can run 100% according to plan, but it would be nice just once if there was a week when the British Rail Network can run efficiently with no cancellations delays. This would obviously be impossible as every single day for the past 3 weeks my Southern services to and from East Croydon have been at least 5 minutes delayed.

I don’t even understand how a train can be delayed at 7.30 in the morning or on a 15 minute journey from London Bridge or London Victoria, but now I’m convinced that it’s due to some magical force, warlock or pixie dust because something is very wrong.

I must admit now that since my journey has changed in the past couple of months so that I now alight and join services at East Croydon that I haven’t really been faced with a serious delay.  However, when it was a jolly old trip up to Victoria every day, it became painful. Maybe broken down trains cannot be helped, but it seems to happen a disproportionate amount of times in a month Southern Rail doesn’t it.

In August it took me a record of 2 hours 20 minutes to get from Victoria to Three Bridges, that’s London to Crawley. A journey that takes 40 minutes on the train, about the same driving and would have been quicker if I crawled home through Purley Oaks. The problem? Someone has sat on the tracks and refused to move. Why is this sort of thing not addressed by the Rail Network, it happens all the time. There needs to be more of a deterrent that other companies running a service that costs its customers thousands of pounds a year would have thought about.

I know trespassers on the line is not entirely Southern’s fault, but what is their fault is their blatant failing in customer service. Meet the directors at Victoria on a Monday morning at 9am? I would if I didn’t have to be at the bloody office. Do it at 5.30pm when I wouldn’t mind just getting the next train in order to put the world to rights. It would also be nice if staff recognised that all season tickets stopped working after the first week of having them and stop asking me to put my ticket through the barriers when I have already said it doesn’t work. (Mind you this is only at East Croydon, the staff at Three Bridges on the gate are lovely).

I pay an extortionate amount of money every month to use the trains, but they haven’t been on time for ages, I frequently have to stand and I will always be faced with the token passenger with an extreme case of BO. If Southern’s trains are consistently 5 minutes late, why don’t they just change the timetable?

However, Southern’s biggest failing is their inability to interact with their customers and take their points on board. Whenever a story is published in the press it is usually followed by a huge amount of comments slating the service and there is no online presence of any kind which would help in quickly alerting customers to problems. The website doesn’t cut it as the service info won’t load on a BlackBerry.

In recent weeks @Southern_Trains has emerged on Twitter, along the same premise as BP Global PR but on a smaller scale, and has highlighted just how many disgruntled Southern customers are out there. I thought First Capital Connect had a bunch of unhappy commuters, but that’s nothing it you see the tweets that are retweeted by Southern’s Twitter “PR” service. As a marketing professional I can tell you the fact that Southern haven’t tried to establish their own presence or attempt to get to grips with complaints online pathetic. They should know about these grievances and set about trying to correct them or at least provide their customers information on why they are being rubbish. A little goes a long way.

There you go, this is one of the worst cases of ignoring social media and your customers I have encountered yet, but for now I will continue to enjoy the rants highlighted by @Southern_Trains and their sterling sarcastic “public service announcements” which brighten my day.

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