Last Wednesday morning I travelled from London to Loughborough for a client meeting and inadvertently left an overnight bag on the overhead rack when I got off the train. I didn’t realise my loss until late afternoon, by which time my East Midlands train would have completed its northwards trip to Sheffield and probably headed south again. But my efforts to relocate the bag and to buy replacement items give some useful insights into the mobile power of Twitter and how customer service can make – or break – a company’s reputation.
By the time I realised I had lost my luggage, I was on a train heading across the Peak District towards Widnes, but I could get online and I asked Twitter. In fact, I started by looking for the wrong train company, but @LondonMidland were brilliant, quickly pointing me to the right company and to their customer service Twitter account, @EMTrains.
This was just as well, as East Midlands’ website homepage only displayed a less than helpful @EMT_offers Twitter account, and I couldn’t find any other Twitter links on the website. However, @EMTrains had clearly finished for the day, as I didn’t receive a response until late the following morning. Meanwhile, I sent an email via the web-form on the website.
I then started to wonder about replacing my belongings; I needed some basic toiletries and a change of clothes before another client meeting the following day. I wasn’t sure what shops, if any, would be open when I got to Widnes after 7pm. Again, Twitter provided the answer. Stoke-based Twitter friend Ben Mitchell (@Ben__Mitchell, technical manager for Thrislington Cubicles) knew some people in or near Widnes, including @adamhewitt79; after a couple of Twitter exchanges before my train pulled into the town’s station, I knew to head for Marks & Spencer in Widnes retail park (open ’til 8pm). Phew!
Customer service frustration
Once I had finished my morning meeting the following day, I got online again and resumed my bag quest. At 11.33am, a tweet finally arrived from @EMTrains suggesting I complete the web-form on the website. “Done that”, I told them, and also provided details of the train, coach, seat number, etc. Then I waited (allowing the minimum 24 hours suggested on East Midlands’ lost property page) … and I waited (Friday came and went) … and I waited….
On Saturday @LondonMidland asked “Did you ever get your bag back from @EMTrains?” (this is another company’s customer service team showing more concern than the one I was dealing with), and wished me luck! No wonder their Twitter use is award-winning!
Back to work on Monday, I tried calling East Midlands customer service (“press one for…, etc”) and eventually got unhelpfully switched to National Rail Enquiries. I tried calling East Midlands’ lost property office at Nottingham (got number from the website) only to be thwarted by a telephone message saying “there’s nobody here to take your call, and you can’t leave a message, so please try again later”. How much later was anyone’s guess as East Midlands’ website didn’t give any office opening hours.
I tweeted my frustration late Monday afternoon, and @EMTrains finally got in touch again the following morning (as did a fellow disgruntled customer, @EMTsuck, who suggested I email East Midlands’ managing director David Horne). I sent a second web form to the customer service, and blasted off a quick complaint to the MD, though not expecting a response.
East Midlands responds
Suddenly, things started to happen. I got a standard email from Oonagh in EMT customer service about lost property (wrongly asserting that I could leave an answerphone message – which I quickly corrected), and – more surprising – an email from David Horne promising to look into things and to respond more fully later. I then got a further email from Oonagh:
I have just been over to my manager to pass on your feedback to her as we are told that there should be an answer phone. She is going to take this up with Nottingham Station and she has informed me that due to staffing issues at the Station that in the very near future we are going to take over the management of lost property.
I’m sorry it doesn’t help you now and hopefully you won’t have any lost property in the future, … Once it is set up… we will amend the website so our customers know to call us.
Thank you for your feedback it is appreciated and I am sorry that you lost your bag.
I was just digesting this when my mobile phone rang, and MD David Horne introduced himself! He said he had asked the customer service team to look at the issues I’d faced, particularly in respect of Twitter, and make appropriate changes; he also apologised for the problems, and sympathised over the lost luggage. He has subsequently also started to follow me on Twitter (@DavidHorne).
Still no sign of my bag, but at least my loss may result in some positive changes in how East Midlands manages its lost property and how it uses Twitter to support customer service. I have written before about how responsive Twitter use can help maintain customer loyalty (post), and it would be good to think my temporary difficulties might lead to East Midlands using Twitter like the exemplary @LondonMidland. My opinion of East Midlands Trains has also been dramatically improved by, first, Oonagh’s explanatory and apologetic email, and second, the personal intervention of the managing director, who didn’t delegate but took the trouble to contact me direct (I suspect few companies have MDs that hands-on).
OK, it was one personal experience, but the negative view I had of the company on Monday evening has been transformed into something more positive, and David Horne’s talk of improvements to customer service might, in due course, rescue the company’s reputation with other customers too.