Last night I stayed in a rather lovely hotel in Wimbledon. At £275 a night, you would expect the experience to be worthy of such a hefty price tag. The building, décor, facilities, public areas and bedrooms were all extremely well appointed – as you would imagine. So why am I telling you this? Having checked in, I was escorted to the lift – something that does not usually happen in most hotels. On arriving at the lift, the receptionist had to ensure that I was clear in understanding that my bedroom was on the first floor. Confused? I was…..until I realised that my room number was 217. The rooms on the ground floor all began with a 1. The rooms on the 1st floor with a 2, and the rooms on the 2nd floor with a 3. Utter madness!! Three members of my party ended up on the wrong floor, either ignoring their instruction, or pretending to listen – they will not have been alone. If you owned this hotel, what would you do? Personally, I would change the room numbers!
This serves as the perfect example to help introduce a blog about common sense – or the absence of common sense in so many experiences we encounter on a daily basis. The example is one of a lack of common sense in experience design, but what we unfortunately experience far more often is a lack of common sense in customer experience execution.
Recently I have been contacted by two very good friends expressing their exasperation at experiences delivered by two rail operators. I have nothing against rail operators, but the recent trend suggests that the British consumer is not having much fun on our rail network at the moment. Both of my friends stories demonstrate how common sense is lacking in our daily lives – the question is why – but before you come to a conclusion, please allow me to share their stories with you:
Lack of common sense exhibit 1: the not so ‘electronic’ ticket
This is an image of a new Greater Anglia mobile ticket. It is a good sign that a rail operator has finally managed to catch up with the airlines in being able to offer a paperless experience. As we are now well into 2014, some would say it is about time. You would imagine that a company that has started to adopt paperless travel would be encouraging passengers to use this method more frequently – in fact you would assume that they would positively support the elimination of paper. You would be wrong in making that assumption.
At the end of March, my friend booked a ticket with Greater Anglia. Booking his ticket at the last minute, he opted to have his ticket emailed to him (as the mobile ticket option was not offered on this route). My friend wrongly assumed that having a ticket emailed to him meant that it acted as an electronic ticket. Not reading the small print (as many of us would not), he did not realise that he needed to print out his emailed ticket on an A4 sheet of paper. His failure to read the small print would end up having significant consequences.
To cut a long story short, customers of Greater Anglia who are travelling on an email ticket but who do not print the ticket out, will not be permitted to travel. Even though the customer is able to show the email on their electronic device, unless the ticket is printed, you are going nowhere – unless you buy a new ticket that is. Greater Anglia are not prepared to help you by allowing you to print the ticket in the station – you will be instructed to ‘find a printer yourself’. Ultimately, the only way you are going to be able to travel in this scenario (if you cannot locate a printing service) is if you buy another ticket.
Interestingly, at no time did Greater Anglia staff dispute that my friend had purchased a valid ticket. In fact the duty manager on his return confirmed that ‘this happens all the time’! So why did they insist that he purchase another ticket? Greater Anglia stated in their response to his subsequent complaint that their staff correctly conformed to their processes. They may well have done, but are their processes appropriate?! It was quite clear that a ticket had been purchased, so surely it would have made sense to advise the customer of what they needed to do in future and let them travel. The stress, time and effort that has since been exerted by the customer and company could have been avoided. This is a classic case of the application of a complete lack of common sense.
Greater Anglia have since acknowledged that the ‘product needs to be reviewed’ and that they ‘want to make travelling with Greater Anglia easier’ – whilst they are setting the bureaucratic wheels in motion, maybe they should empower their customer facing staff to apply a little common sense in future.
Lack of common sense exhibit 2: the friends and family ‘not so friendly’ railcard
My other friend (I do have more than two by the way) had an equally frustrating experience on Virgin Trains recently. She frequently travels from the North West to London with at least one of her two children – often doing a return trip on the same day. When travelling with the kids, she uses her friends and family railcard, On this particular occasion, she was travelling down to London with a child, but returning by herself. Unsure whether or not she should use her railcard, she contacted Virgin to find out what she should do. She was told that as long as she purchased a return ticket for both her and the child, she could use her railcard. In this case, it was more expensive for her to do this than buy a single adult return ticket, but for ease, she went ahead and purchased a return ticket for one adult and one child.
You can probably guess what happened. On trying to board the train at Euston, a ticket inspector advised her that her ticket was not valid as she was not travelling with a child. Despite her explanation and protestation, the inspector would not listen. She even tried to explain that the cost of these tickets was greater than the cost of a single, but her explanation fell on deaf ears. She was given no option but to run to the ticket office to buy a new single adult ticket. She ended up catching the train by the skin of her teeth.
The behaviour of this member of staff is in my opinion completely unacceptable. With no interest in listening to reason, the insistence on the black of white application of process meant that no common sense was applied. The result was a very distressed and upset customer.
So what exactly is going on? Why are we experiencing so many scenarios like these? Why does it appear as though employees of companies have no ability to use their heads?! Customer experiences cannot be delivered without people. People ensure that your proposition (if you have one) is delivered to meet and hopefully exceed the expectation of customers. The most customer centric organisations delivering the greatest experiences are those that TRUST and EMPOWER their people to do what is RIGHT for the CUSTOMER. They are not constrained by process – they are guided by process and appropriate behaviours and values to ensure that where the process is not suitable or acceptable, an appropriate solution is found to the benefit of the customer. In both of these cases, it is clear that the employees involved are not trusted or empowered to do what is right. They are managed and measured to strictly apply process – even if it makes no sense at all – BONKERS!
People are the glue that gels customer experiences together. If companies do not invest in their people and make them an integral part of the experience, they will find it very difficult to deliver consistently good and continuously improving customer experiences. It is fair to say that not everyone has the ability to use common sense – but most of us do possess the natural ability. I hope for a world where the companies we work for encourage their people to just do what is right – and if you are not sure, check with someone before you do something to your customers that you would not dream of doing to yourself. Rose tinted spectacles? Maybe, but I can dream!
Ah, the old “blame everyone else but me” argument. Regarding the first situation: Um, why should have let your friend travel? It’s no good saying they showed a “valid ticket”, No they didn’t. It wasn’t printed, therefore it was not valid. if it’s not capable of being validated (presumably it needs to be printed out so it can be scanned) it’s as good as useless. What’s to stop a hundred people all showing the same ticket on their devices? Your friend didn’t follow the simple instructions, and has nobody to blame but themselves.
As for the second, well I just looked up the F&F Railcard T&Cs:
“3. Group size: At least one named cardholder and at least one child must be travelling to enable discounted tickets to be used”
It’s not rocket science.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Graham. All I will say in response is this – what consumers remember from the experiences they have is the way the experience made them feel. This is what will determine if we will use a product or service again. The world should not be seen as black or white – organisations that do are or will cease to exist. In the case of rail operators, we are hostages – we do not have a choice, but the more the consumer vents dissatisfaction about heavy handed black and white treatment, the more likely it is that behaviours will change. As a point of interest in both of these examples, the train operator apologised.
Hi Graham, I enjoyed reading your message. However, I feel that you somehow missed the point and I politely mention that you may have also missed some of the facts. There was no question as to whether the ticket was valid or not – it was accepted by the rail company at that time (and subsequently) that the ticket was valid and paid for, but that I could not travel without printing it on paper first. They refused to print me a duplicate ticket in a ticket office full of printing machines, but were more than happy to print me a replacement ticket in the very same office, on paying a further full ticket fare. The “validation” of the ticket would have been a scan of the barcode which could have easily been conducted across my screen of my laptop or my phone. (In fact my tickets were not validated in either direction, but I did see it happening to fellow passengers’ tickets at the barrier).
I would have been very happy, had they allowed me to send in the tickets for a later refund or even a credit note, but this option was denied.
The main point of course was that I had thought I had purchased an e-ticket – not a print out your own ticket (I have frequently boarded flights overseas without printing my e-ticket at any stage as, by definition, they are e-tickets – a facility incidentally that many train operators also have).
There is no denying that this was my mistake, albeit the emailed information was extremely ambiguous, referring to the ticket as an e-ticket. But as Ian suggests in his blog, some understanding of the situation – rather than a black and white approach – would have made made my journey more pleasant, and would (in my opinion) have been the right approach to make on behalf of the rail company, rather than knowingly charging the same passenger twice for the same seat (that is, if you were lucky to get a seat!).
My business relies mostly on word-of-mouth and customer experience. I am no fool and do not allow myself to be ripped off, but at the same time I would like all of my genuine customers to enjoy the services that I provide, and would always be willing to consider cases individually, allowing common sense to prevail (which I am pleased to say, in the end, the rail company eventually did!).
I hope you find my comments in the spirit within which they were written.
Um, which “facts” have I missed? The ticket was NOT valid because it was not printed out. If it was valid you would have been able to travel. As I already said the ticket needs to be printed out so it can be scanned – if it could done on a screen they wouldn’t tell you to print it out would they? You seem to think that just showing the ticket on your phone is enough. It is not, because then there is no way of validating it. If they just let you travel anyway, what is to stop a hundred people all travelling on the same ticket? You should stop blaming everyone else for YOUR mistake. You ordered a Print Your Own ticket and failed to print it out, and to be blunt your excuse about this is pathetic. Why do you think it’s called “Print Your Own” if you thought you don’t have to print it out?? And you already admitted you knew it was not a mobile ticket.
As for why they wouldn’t let you print it out in the office, um why would they let some random member of the public into their private office to play around with their sensitive computer equipment? And they can’t do it themselves because that would mean having access to your email account which would open up a whole can of worms.
>> but were more than happy to print me a replacement ticket in the very same office, on paying a further full ticket fare<>I would have been very happy, had they allowed me to send in the tickets for a later refund or even a credit note, but this option was denied. <
Because no refunds are allowed on PYO tickets.
All this is detailed very clearly on their website: http://www.abelliogreateranglia.co.uk/tickets-fares/print-your-own-tickets
The facts as I see it are these: you purchased a PYO ticket, then probably forgot to print it out, expected the rail staff to bend and/or break the rules to suit you, then started making up excuses and blaming staff for what at the end of the day was a mistake entirely of your own making.
I pity rail staff having to deal with people like you who cannot follow very,very simple rules than start claiming "unfairness" when they fall foul of them. People are always claiming "unfairness" or "lack of common sense" when it comes to the railways, when the reality is all the rules, and the way things are done, are for very good reasons.
Oh, and if you think I'm being harsh, try posting your story here: http://www.railforums.co.uk/ and see if their responses are any different from mine.