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Jan 18 2012

A lost bag, Twitter help and East Midlands Trains customer service

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.

Twitter help

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 (@DavidH0rne).

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.

19 comments

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  1. Ankhara

    Hi Paul
    I think David Horne’s PR is better than his actual capacity to improve the lost property service for East Midlands train. I have been calling regarding a lost item for a week and had much the same experience as you. I now await a call from the complaints department who very feebly said even though I had not had a return call from the lost property office ( I actually got to leave a message!) if they had found it they would call me! VERY VERY POOR SERVICE as far as I am concerned.

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      My understanding was that the transfer of lost property services was likely to happen soon (not sure of the timescale) – it hadn’t happened yet. In the meantime, passengers will have to struggle with the existing service until it can benefit from more direct intervention from East Midlands Trains.

      And to be fair to David Horne, he responded personally. It wasn’t something orchestrated by a PR team. To me, that makes it more genuine and worthy of remark.

      Sorry to hear about your loss. Fingers crossed something turns up.
      Best wishes – Paul

  2. Ben Mitchell

    Glad to be of assistance. When I’m next in London I’ll tweet you for a complimentary drink eh?

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      And I would be pleased to buy you one too 🙂

  3. Catherine Pound

    Thanks for writing this blog entry. My husband has a similar issue and at the moment we are just over the 24 hour window and struggling to get hold of the Nottingham office 🙁 I am beginning to lose hope as we’ve had the option to leave a message. A call back later resulted in the same message you got and now the line is engaged.

    Not a happy customer 🙁

  4. Shane Browne

    The reason why all customers received such poor service from the Lost Property office is due to the Managers/Directors ensuring that when staff members who worked there left the company, they were not replaced, if they were ill or on holiday, they were either not covered, or covered by people who were not trained.
    When the systems and equipment failed within their office, they were not replaced. The all important answer machine worked intermittently, if the Lost Property officer was listening to the messages that had been left and somebody else tried to ring through it would cut off the messages. To hear the message again you had to listen to all the other messages that were recorded before it – some days there was over 80 messages, there was no facility to skip messages. The other crucial tool was of course the computer system, as most customers emailed their enquiry. There were days at a time when the system crashed or was on a “go slow”. We have an I.T. department, but generally they do not visit, or take so long to arrive that the fault is rectified by someone just having a go themselves.

    As well as trying to concentrate on Lost Property the officers also had to serve customers face to face with general timetable/platform information.
    Basically constant interruption.

    So now 3 people lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The Lost Property has been moved to Customer Relations. From what I hear they are also over whelmed, they received no training, and had no idea how busy the job would be. There are times when you will ring what you think is a dedicated Lost Property number only to be put through to a call centre, maybe in this country, maybe not. You said in your blog that you were told the website would be amended when the transfer took place? Well its been about a month now, and despite staff reporting the wrong information that is still being shown, there appears to be no urgency to correct this.

    I think your encounter with David Horne was intended well, I don’t believe it was for PR. The problem with our MD is he has no idea what the reality is on the front line. We have to fight to order toilet rolls for example and we buy soap out of our own pockets. The company recently told us we could no longer have note pads, so if you’re a customer and want information written down I hope you’re happy to write it on the back of your hand! There’s cost cutting and there’s being absolutely ridiculous, but this is exactly why you received the poor level of service that you did.

  5. Graham

    I’ve just realised that I have left a bag of shopping on the train.

    I’ve completed the online form, not too hopeful I’ll get a response after reading this page. :o(

    1. Graham

      Happy days!

      Had a call today from a lovely lady from East Midlands Trains, just minutes after she’d emailed to say they would let me know if it turns up.

      My bag’s at Nottingham and it seems with all contents. 🙂

  6. Sophie

    I left a bag on the train yesterday, I have rang and left a message (offices are shut at weekends?!?) and have also filled out the online form, to receive an email that they would try to get back to me within 5 working days, or if not, I should hear from them in 20 workings days definitely, which again I struggle to comprehend as how long can this process take? I am a dance student and have spent thousands over the last few years on train tickets. My bag contains dance shoes, tights and make up all of which is essential for an audition I have on Friday. I drove to Corby which was the train’s final destination and the member of staff there was very helpful, but admitted the number we are given for lost property does not even to the lost property office. I cannot comprehend why in the year 2012 a mainline rail company do not have people manning the phones to answer queries about lost property at the weekends, especially regarding how expensive travel is.

    Any advice or help would be greatfully received, I am distraught- can’t stop crying!! I need this bag and cannot afford to replace the missing items! If it’s at Nottingham I would just drive and get it, but there’s no way of finding out! Thank you, Sophie

  7. Student

    East Midland is not reliable,bad service attitude, provide incorrect information. They do not think word of mouth is kind of credit. They do not take any responsibilities with any cost to customers which was caused by their wrong information in oral. They do not solve problems for customers at all.

  8. Ingrid Salomonsen

    I have talked with, left messages for, completed on line forms with staff from all left property offices for all train service providers and Pumkin from Peterbrough to Saltburn by the sea.
    I left a bag of new clothes (Sahara grey carrier bag )and two chocolate fish (granddaughers easter presents) on one of the trains I was on last Sunday March 24th. I got on the 12.34 pm train at Sudbury to Peterbrough, changed at Peterbrough an hour later, had coffee at Pumpkin, got on train to Edinburgh, got off at Darlington, more coffee at Pumpkin, got on train to Saltburn and landed home at around 5.35pm. Walked up the road home, got in, and went aaagh as realised my lovely bargain new clothes from Sahara and M&S were not with me
    Anyone able to help?
    Thanks

  9. Angela Cripps

    Thanks Paul, I used the information in your blog and put a comment on twitter. Got a response and telephone number to call within 5 minutes!!

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      Good to hear that. I love it when social media comes to the rescue!

  10. Andy B

    It seems from various comments on here that EMT have a black hole for lost luggage or staff aren’t doing their job properly and ensuring that lost luggage is logged and finding its way to where it needs to be. My girlfriend recently left her luggage on a train at East Midlands Parkway that was supposed to be heading to Manchester which had already been delayed by 40 minutes, she was then hurriedly moved on to another train to Sheffield as they didn’t have the staff to run the Manchester train. This rush resulted her in leaving her bag. The train manager on the Sheffield train made a few calls, had spoken to a man somewhere and assured my girlfriend that the train had been taken out of service and was heading back to Derby depot, the luggage would be taken off and logged and if she contacted lost property the next day it would be there. She was nice enough to give my very upset girlfriend a bottle of wine to calm her down also. Well the problems with lost property started the next morning, nothing had been logged, details were taken with assurances of a call back that never came, another call in the evening, still no record on the database, a call to the depot by lost property team and there was no trace there, the bag has seemingly vanished. Same thing the next day, still nothing logged. This was a weekend so maybe it takes a couple of days for lost property to be processed. A call on the Monday and still nothing logged, the very helpful gentleman informing my girlfriend that dealing with lost property wasn’t their priority and that running trains was, a bit of a surprise seeing as they are supposed to be a lost property department and also funny given the delays my girlfriend had that night, a 2 hour journey to Manchester taking 5 hours. Subsequent calls have heralded no joy, I upgraded it to a complaint due to constantly being given differing information and the unhelpfulness of lost property. Next stop is British Transport Police to register the luggage as stolen. The bag contained an expensive, sentimental Pandora bracelet so either an opportunistic thief took the bag off the train or the depot at Derby has some very dishonest staff who upon seeing what is in the bag have taken it and not logged it. All in all, a very upsetting and frustrating experience for my girlfriend.

  11. Jessica Adams

    Hello, my name is Jessica Adams and I am writing an article for our travel website Holiday Goddess, with the working title, My British Train Hell. We would like to quote from this fantastic feature – is that possible? We would of course link back and credit you (all). We feel East Midlands Trains is a special little corner of hell all by itself and it does take up rather a lot of room in our story.

    From our experience (there are many travel writers involved, in both the website and our HarperCollins book), it’s not just lost property or BYO loo paper that’s the issue with East Midlands Trains. They also fail to help tourists to Britain who are unlucky enough to have their tickets (and wallets stolen). It seems that a printed booking confirmation – and even a passport – just isn’t convincing enough for East Midlands Trains.

    Kerching! That’s another £36.40 into the little glass window of despair from the weeping tourist.

    We like the idea of using Twitter for this. We will of course contact East Midlands Trains to give them a chance to have right of reply. Good stuff. Great article and thread. Do let me know if it’s quotable. Thank you.

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      Hi, Jessica – no problem with you quoting and linking back to the article, etc (will email you too, just in case). – Paul

  12. Josh Blake

    I’m so glad you were able to recover your lost items. I “forgot” my camera bag a couple years ago and attempted to contact someone but did not have the luck you did. Luckily I have not lost anything since, but if I do again I will do exactly what you did.

  13. John Eckersley

    I left my phone (my fault) on a train in December 2013. I wrote to David Horne about how difficult it was to get any information or any sense out of anyone. His response was reassuring, but whether anything got done I have no idea. I never got my phone back so presumably a thief found and took it at some point.

    I have just had the second of two twitter exchanges with EMT about the regular failure of seat reservations out of St Pancras. Train managers on both occasions have told me there is an underlying technical issue that isn’t being addressed by those higher up, so let’s see.

  14. Karen Walsh

    I know these comments were made a while ago, but I can assure you all that nothing has changed since. My daughter left her bag on an East midland train that terminated in the city and she was the last person to get off. Despite ever effort being made on our behalf it took the threat of complaint to get someone to do something other than scroll a computer screen. It took 6 days in the end and only after investigative calls were made.

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