ATOC–are they for real?

The ability of companies to celebrate performance statistics never ceases to amaze me, but also shows their lack of listening skills. It is important not to fall into the same trap in our own businesses.

What triggered today’s article is an item I heard on the news. Rail travel has hit the highest level since the war and ATOC put this down to customer satisfaction with the service and the value for money provided.

Are they for real?  Every paper I open writes about the horrendous experiences of people on our railways and the obscene rates charged, not to mention the monopolistic behaviour in price increases.

Yes figures are up, but the population is up a lot more. Our current population is about 50% higher than at the last peak in rail travel and half the rail network has disappeared. Are all those passengers standing for long periods on trains really that satisfied?

Well the figures do not really show that. By the autumn of 2010 83% of passengers were satisfied, up 2% on the year before. I don’t know how this was measured, but it says that a stunning 17% was dissatisfied. If 17% of my customers was dissatisfied I would do something about it – quickly!

To put another perspective on this, do you know a story about an airline losing luggage? Most of us have some awful story to tell and how you really cannot trust an airline with your luggage. Yet 96.6% of our luggage arrives – that is a much higher percentage than the percentage of satisfied train passengers, yet airlines are constantly looking for ways to improve.

This weekend I had the ‘pleasure’ of talking to my broadband supplier, as the connection keeps getting dropped. I spent 5 minutes going through menus and was then kicked out. I spent another 6 minutes doing exactly the same and got in touch with a very nice gentleman from foreign lands – I like that as it makes me feel that us foreigners are valued.

The gentleman could not fix the problem, but was very helpful. The following customer satisfaction survey was all about his performance, which was fine. What was left out was the dreadful menu and call centre system used and the fact that I have been discussing this with my provider for over a year. This was not asked and I had no reason to complain about the individual – he is not the one who installed those dreadful overhead wires! 

So the report to management is that I am a satisfied customer. My complaint email, should I decide to write it? Well probably goes into the spam filter with an automated response which can be summarised as “f… ..f – we are busy”.

Be sure you are really listening to your customers, or ask the people who deal with your customers every day. They will know. Statistics will seldom show you what is really going on, especially not if you ask the wrong questions.

As for travelling by train? Perhaps the banks will give you a mortgage to finance your next season ticket – the train company will not lend it to you, and remember to keep your legs moving as you stand. It is better for your circulation.

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