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Author Topic: Approaches to looking after your customers - a contrast in philosophy?  (Read 1403 times)
grahame
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« on: September 23, 2018, 08:45:53 am »

For ten years, we ran a 24 x 7 customer facing business.  Whilst we had a target of always providing the service we promised, and of doing so in a routine way, there were times that didn't work out.

1. Our standard working practise were pretty darned good and things rarely went wrong.

2. We had backup plans in place so that - should there have been a foreseen issue that took us outside standard practise, we could deal with it. If things went wrong to the extent that we had to spend more to get things right, standard policy was to do so - put the customer first and deliver to promise, even if it meant making a loss on that transaction.

3. With the very best will in the world, there were very rare occasions (very rare indeed!) where we failed to deliver what we had promised. And we made sure people were looked after quickly, without any inquisition if there were unknowns, and beyond the level they might have expected.

During the development of any issues - at an early point where we were unsure of outcome - keeping the customer informed and where appropriate offering them a say in the outcome was paramount.

Overall result?   Rated No. 1 out of 16 in Melksham by TripAdvisor.  Occupancy rates that were the envy of other 24 x 7 B&B friends.  Lots of happy returning guests.  Stable staff team in an industry where there's traditionally a very high turnover.  Very low extra costs for putting things right and delivering up to standard.  Very low refund rates or reduced / unpaid bills - I can count them on the fingers of one hand.   Scammed / taken advantage of because of this policy - just twice by customers in the ten years, and one of those was on "Four in a Bed".

If only the rail industry could take the same approach! If the standard system provided was fit for the purpose of delivering to the promised timetable. If there was sufficient bandwidth in to deal with out-of-plan situations, which should be far fewer than there are anyway. If information was shared with customers. If systems appreciated staff more, and empowered those staff to make decisions.  But, sadly, "we" seem to have gotten ourselves into a circle of make do and mend, of minimising information, of providing long and complex systems to do anything out of the ordinary that would be common sense. I just hope it's a circle we're in and not a downward spiral. But when I hear people who have tried the train for the first time and had a bad experience saying "never again" and sharing that experience with friends, I do wonder.



Am I just "mouthing off" this morning with our first train replaced by a bus that fails to make an advertised connection by 1 minute, and our second train cancelled due to lack of crew (there's been lack of crew for over a year now!!)?  No - I had planned to write this review long ahead of this morning's changes.  But this morning's changes do emphasise my point, and confirms that problems are so endemic that the approach we took of "if it costs a bit on this one occasion, that's a good business decision" could be expensive.

I have ... a great deal more negative evidence that's pushed me to the sad conclusion that the rail industry isn't taking a positive approach to looking after customers it's inconveniencing by its lack of running trains to timetable. Whether that is by plan, by incompetence/accident, by no-one being available to sort things or by no-one having responsibility, I'll leave my reader to decide which / whether there's a mixture.

Stop Press - As I wrote this, two more cancellations due to lack of crew have popped up for my home line / station.   So - of 13 trains due to call at Melksham today, just 7 remain (so far). 2 have been replaced by buses with extended journey times - 353% of the normal time taken to Swindon. 4 have gone completely, leaving just 69% or 53% of service depending on whether you count the buses.  At that level of failure, I can understand why the operating company's shareholders would not take the view of "make sure the customers we promised a service to are well looked after even if it costs a bit".

Edit to correct typos
« Last Edit: September 23, 2018, 09:36:49 am by grahame » Logged

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broadgage
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« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2018, 02:53:29 pm »

Railways do seem to have got worse in the last couple of years, both GWR and others.

In many cases I detect a lack of basic competence.
GWR have been cancelling significant numbers of trains for want of staff for at least TWO YEARS, that to me is incompetence.
Taking the example of a hotel, it would be out of business if for two years it was unable to serve meals, clean rooms, and the like.

And network rail have demonstrated that they lack the basic competency to electrify anything in a timely fashion or within budget.

Likewise the failed re-signalling scheme around ReadingMaidenhead which still breaks regularly.

In many respects the railway has gone backwards.
Of course breakdowns occurred back in the good old days, but rush hour closures of major terminals seems to be a new thing.
I can remember trains running even if it snowed, these days even a forecast of snow results in mass cancellations.
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"When customers say that they want a seat, they dont mean they want to sit with their knees behind their ears so that 4 more can sit down. They mean that they want an extra coach so that 74 more can sit down"
"Capacity on intercity routes should be about number of vehicles, not compressing people"
CyclingSid
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2018, 08:09:41 am »

Not meaning to discount your achievement, but is it easier for small businesses?

Large organisations tend to get bogged down in massive contingency procedures. This morning at work I have just been sent links to a massive pile of incident response plans. Half way through, or less, the 56 pages of the first one I glazed over. Net benefit, zilch.
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grahame
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2018, 08:52:34 am »

Not meaning to discount your achievement, but is it easier for small businesses?

Large organisations tend to get bogged down in massive contingency procedures. This morning at work I have just been sent links to a massive pile of incident response plans. Half way through, or less, the 56 pages of the first one I glazed over. Net benefit, zilch.

I totally agree the question should be asked.   I would answer to suggest it's rather different for smaller versus larger organisations - swings and roundabouts and I would not like to vote "easier" or "harder".   Some of the issues we had / have as a small business won't worry the big boys ... some of their issues would nit effect us.

You might be surprised how much we planned and documented our procedures, and without the benefit of the results being used by hundreds - just used by a handful ...
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2018, 09:09:31 am »

Not meaning to discount your achievement, but is it easier for small businesses?

Large organisations tend to get bogged down in massive contingency procedures. This morning at work I have just been sent links to a massive pile of incident response plans. Half way through, or less, the 56 pages of the first one I glazed over. Net benefit, zilch.

Small businesses tend to have competition.
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the void
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2018, 02:28:06 pm »

GWR have been cancelling significant numbers of trains for want of staff for at least TWO YEARS, that to me is incompetence.

It's not really about a lack of staff, it's about the ridiculous stranglehold the unions have over the railway, whereby train companies cannot compel their staff to come to work on Sundays. The services operate 7 days a week but the staff can simply choose not to work on Sundays if they don't feel like it. So TOCs have to bribe their workforce to turn up for work on Sundays and if they still won't come in services get cancelled. It is an absolutely ludicrous situation that the unions have no desire to do anything about.
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RA
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« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2018, 06:05:56 pm »

GWR have been cancelling significant numbers of trains for want of staff for at least TWO YEARS, that to me is incompetence.

It's not really about a lack of staff, it's about the ridiculous stranglehold the unions have over the railway, whereby train companies cannot compel their staff to come to work on Sundays. The services operate 7 days a week but the staff can simply choose not to work on Sundays if they don't feel like it. So TOCs have to bribe their workforce to turn up for work on Sundays and if they still won't come in services get cancelled. It is an absolutely ludicrous situation that the unions have no desire to do anything about.
I beg to differ. ASLEF would like to see Sunday working inside the working week as part of fatigue management. The TOCs have a large part in the problem. Bringing Sundays into the working week and keeping the remaining hours worked over a week the same requires an increase in headcount of approximately 20%. Running Sundays as overtime avoids a lot of additional staffing costs, even more so if there are not many volunteers actually working. There is nothing preventing the TOCs making an offer to 'buy out' the Terms & Conditions of its employees other than the financial cost of bringing Sundays into the working week and moving a rest day to another day.

http://www.aslef.org.uk/visageimages/Information/Rostering_best_practice_new.pdf

A paragraph on the second page of the above ASLEF document states their position on Sunday working.

http://www.aslef.org.uk/article.php?group_id=6330

This is regarding staff shortages on Northern who operate the same staffing arrangements on Sundays and sums up the situation very well.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2018, 06:13:43 pm by RA » Logged
broadgage
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« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2018, 06:43:25 pm »

I will let others argue as to whether the trades unions or the TOCs are at fault.
Most customers don't care, they simply conclude that "the railway" is badly run if sunday trains are routinely cancelled, with the reason given as "staff shortage"

How long would a hotel last if it routinely failed to provide the advertised services on a sunday ?
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"When customers say that they want a seat, they dont mean they want to sit with their knees behind their ears so that 4 more can sit down. They mean that they want an extra coach so that 74 more can sit down"
"Capacity on intercity routes should be about number of vehicles, not compressing people"
simonw
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« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2018, 06:51:17 pm »

Why don't the railways run on a 4-day shift pattern over eight days with a maximum of two overtime days per 8 days.

This would ensure better rest periods, and hopefully less overtime and more basic pay.

I know it is a hairbrained idea, but something has to be done to ensure staff do not run out of hours, volunteer for weekend shifts or not turn up due to exhaustion.
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grahame
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« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2018, 07:58:19 pm »

I will let others argue as to whether the trades unions or the TOCs are at fault.
Most customers don't care, they simply conclude that "the railway" is badly run if sunday trains are routinely cancelled, with the reason given as "staff shortage"

How long would a hotel last if it routinely failed to provide the advertised services on a sunday ?

I'm not sure why we're just talking Sundays.  If TransWilts cancellations were just 1% on Monday to Saturday ... staff shortage is not unique to Sundays in these parts!

On the hotel question - we initially closed over the weekend being a hotel for business guests and course delegates. Mind you, even then we did not fail to provide advertised services, because we did not advertise weekend services!.
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