Tuesday, 1 May 2012

That's how you handle a complaint!

There was a call I took today which grabbed my attention.  It was the station master at Flinders Street station calling in response to my complaint about the communication debacle that occurred the other night when I - and the rest of Melbourne - was trying to travel home.

Mike was very apologetic.  People in these positions usually are.  I could feel the fob off coming.  But then something happened.  We had a genuine conversation.  He thanked me for my complaint and said that it had given him a list of things to follow up.  He even invited me to make future complaints if something happened that warranted it.

This is why I always ask for a phone call, rather than a letter, when I'm asked how I would like to receive my response.  When making a complaint, it's rare that you have the opportunity to speak to anyone with any influence.  More and more, there's a whole call centre with people sitting somewhere in a charmless building under the banner of "customer relations".  The poor people working there have to listen to complaints, note the details while they are aware that they are completely powerless to actually do anything to help anyone.

I think Mike deserves acknowledgement for what he did today.

Today was the first time I have been contacted within the quoted time frame (7 business days) after making a complaint about public transport.  I included that fact in my complaint.  Perhaps it worked.  I received an email the day after I called to let me know that my complaint was important and being investigated.  Sneakily, the email said the time frame for a response was 10 business days.

So well done Mike! It felt good to let him know that I don't hold him responsible every time a V Line train trips a signal at South Kensington, or the signals malfunction twice in the one day at Newport.  It was great to be able to tell him that the failing public transport infrastructure, heaving under the pressure of increasing patronage isn't his fault, but how passengers (victims) really need information when it all goes to hell.  Credit to him for being willing to engage in a real conversation where he seemed to understand the plight of commuters when we can't get home and all we want is information so we know what we're dealing with.

In my experience, it's pretty rare that people in charge speak in real terms to customers; usually they hide behind that weird corporate weasel language.  All I feel at the end of an encounter like that is uncertain.  And itchy.

After today's Victorian state budget where there's not much news about investment in public transport, the private companies operating our trains and trams are going to have to be really good at communicating information when things don't run smoothly.  Without government investment it's not going to improve.  Try  googling "Victorian budget public transport" and you'll find the first four results are from 2011!

So go Mike!  Get in the practice of handling complaints and having real conversations with commuters.  It's important that people like you know what it feels like to a be commuter;  if you have that knowledge you'll change the way you react and communicate when things break down.

That's my non-complaint of the day.

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