What happens when you complain to TFL about London Bus drivers?

..in short, the answer is a belated but appreciated personal reply, but tangibly, precious little.

Many London bus drivers, employed by private companies operating in conjunction with TFL, are at best aloof and at worst down right rude.

Many London bus drivers, employed by private companies operating in conjunction with TFL, are at best aloof and at worst down right rude.

Credit to this article on public transport customer service, for the photo>

My main complaints were:

  • That I had a specific bad experience with a bus driver
  • That this is not unique
  • That many people I know (including other bus drivers I have spoken to) AGREE that rude, uncommunicative, unfriendly bus drivers are endemic in the industry

My complaint, and subsequent reply, are published below in full, for those who care.

My email sent on the 3rd December 2012:

Sent: 03.12.12 12:10:19
Subject: Formal Complaint

Dear Sir / Madam

Bus REF: DLA20S,
Registration: W404VGJ,
Route: 243 from Waterloo, @ 10:47 am on Monday 3rd December 2012

Can someone explain to me why TFL find it acceptable that on repeated occasions your bus drivers are permitted, seemingly encouraged, to treat passengers with such contempt?

The bus reference and time above refers to just one occasion where, after I ran to the bus stop and bus door, the driver closes the doors as I arrive, sees me, looks at me, and despite it being obvious I wish to board chooses instead to drive off.

There was no traffic which caused his need to depart so speedily as Waterloo bus station is not on the highway.

The hall mark of a successful business in this day and age is good customer service. While a minority of bus drivers still seem to embody this (and what I would hope remains a British tradition of politeness and good will) a vast majority do not.

I have too often experienced an arrogance from drivers, or at best ambivalence. Aside from driving off, many:

– Don’t respond when said “good morning” to or “good afternoon”
– Some accents are so thick that if they do reply they either mutter or sometimes one can’t understand their response
– Some don’t speak or respond when asked questions, at all!

I’m paying for a service and they are being paid by the custom I provide. Moreover, they are representing my (and presumably their) country and London, to everyone single passenger that boards a London bus.

I’m fed up with feeling like an unwelcome guest aboard my own bus service.

In summary then I would like a proper response (and action taken) around two points:

1) Regarding my specific experience:-

A) why the driver felt it appropriate to drive off

B) what has been done to ensure he pays more care and attention in future

2) In general why so many TFL bus drivers:-

A) seem to feel empowered not to put the passenger first

B) are rude, unresponsive and uncommunicative (if you don’t want to speak to the general public all day, don’t be a bus driver)

C) ..and what is going to change in TFL’s training and employment policies to ensure the points A/B change to substantially improve the customer service and friendliness of London bus drivers, to have an impact on tens of thousands of peoples lives every day who use London buses.

Perhaps TFL’s senior leadership can view it as a revolutionary new approach to their people, to go along with their revolutionary (and very good) new London busses.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Scott

NB: To ensure a considered response from you, this letter will be published on line, on my personal blog, to my 3,600 twitter followers, publicly on Facebook, and sent to the Evening Standard newspaper.

The reply I received, 23 days later:

Our Ref:         1011585328/ABB

Date:              27.12.2012

 Dear Mr Scott

 Thank you for your message. I was very sorry to hear that a bus driver on route 243 (registration W404VGJ) did not allow you to board his bus when departing from Waterloo on the morning of 3 December 2012.

 Arriva London, who operate route 243 on behalf of Transport for London (TfL) have asked me to pass on their apologies to you. The driver could have allowed you to board and the incident is being followed up with the aim of minimising the possibility of similar errors on his part in the future.

 I am also sorry to hear of your many experiences when bus drivers in London have not exhibited the expected level of customer service. Transport for London (TfL) certainly does not encourage the sort the sort of behaviour you described and we engage with the private bus operating companies, who employ the bus drivers and manage the day-to-day running of the routes, to ensure that standards are as high as possible.

 All bus drivers in London are formally assessed by a Driving Standards Agency (DSA) Approved Assessor and must pass an additional test for Passenger Carrying Vehicle’s (PCV) as assessed by the DSA (which includes a focus on customer service). In addition, we work very closely with all our bus operators to improve the quality of our services, highlighting the need for attention to proper standards of service and driver conduct. We also strongly emphasise staff training and liaise with all bus companies to ensure we continue to achieve improvements across London. Whenever we receive complaints about poor standards, we follow them up with the bus company concerned. Assuming the complaint is upheld and it is not of a nature that could lead to dismal or suspension, the driver will undertake a variety of follow-up actions aimed at improving their standard of service.

 We would hope that the majority of bus drivers are not rude, unresponsive or uncommunicative and that they do try to the put their passengers first. The evidence we collect from our various monitoring exercises suggest that most of London’s 21,500 bus drivers carry out their jobs in the manner expected of them and customers find many to be helpful and professional in general. It is regrettable that isolated drivers cause this perception to be called into disrepute. Therefore we greatly appreciate you highlighting this incident to us, as it allows the bus operator to take action aimed at continuing to improve the level of service provided to our customers.

Once again, please accept our apologies for the delay and upset caused by the driver’s behaviour on 3 December. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again should you require any further information or assistance.

Yours sincerely

 David Gwynn

Transport for London – Customer Experience

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My Failed Virgin Atlantic Cocktail Competition Entry

Some months ago Virgin Atlantic had a competition to find a suitable cocktail recipe to use at the opening of their shiny new Virgin Atlantic clubhouse at JFK in New York. Always eager to get creative I came up with the original cocktail below, which included what I thought was an awfully clever hat-tip to their two new routes for 2012.

Virgin's swanky new $7m club house at JFK. Image courtesy http://www.modern-traveler.com/

Sadly, the competition judges clearer didn’t agree that it was anywhere near as clever as I thought it was, thus my “Virgin-Sunrise” is doomed never to become a famed addition to the New York scene. Nor did it win me return tickets for two to New York.

Gutted.

However, rather than this concoction go to waste, I thought I’d share it with the 1.5 million internet users and rather lesser number of blog readers. Let me know what you think!

(Competition entry copy pasted below for good measure – pun entirely intended!)

Virgin Sunrise-Jack

Ingredients: Orange juice (or blood-red orange juice), grenadine and Yukon Jack.

In honour of Virgin Atlantics two newest routes to Cancun Mexico and Vancouver Canada for 2012, this creation is a hat-tip to the famous Tequila Sunrise cocktail invented in the 1930’s (Mexican Tequila, orange juice, grenadine) and Yukon Jack, the “Black sheep of Canadian Liquors” (a whiskey-based liqueur with citrus overtones brewed with honey).

The “sunrise” is for the way it looks after it has been poured into a glass, with the denser ingredients (cassis or grenadine) settling, creating gradients in colour.  Yukon Jack is said to be born of “..hoary nights, when lonely men struggled to keep their fires lit and cabins warm” it is boldly flavourful yet surprisingly smooth, just like New York itself – the city that never sleeps.

Virgin Atlantic: how one of my Lovemarks hurt me today.

Knowing I would be tight for time this morning after returning from a film premier in Harrogate, I tried to check in online last night for Virgin Atlantic VS003 to New York, but Virgin Atlantic’s website was broken.

As predicted this morning I was cutting it fine for time and tried to check-in online again; a similar problem, I couldn’t check-in. An online error.

Undeterred I ran on to the Heathrow Express, through Terminal 3 up to a Virgin Atlantic check-in terminal, to arrive right on the one-hour before departure deadline.

All the terminals were out of order.

The Human Touch

Five minutes later I was speaking to a service agent who was trying to be helpful.

Realising I was hand-luggage only she said it would probably be OK and she spent five minutes trying to get through on the phone to someone. Finally getting through, before she could even explain I was hand-luggage only, she was told the flight was closed and I wasn’t allowed through.

This was strange as it was before 9:55am. This is significant because Upper Class check-in closes 40 minutes before departure although today (courteous of a client) I am travelling cattle class; the economy check-in closes 60 minutes before departure.

It was only 9:45am (50 minutes before wheels up) so the flight could not have been closed because if it were Upper Class passengers would not be able to check-in.

The helpful desk agent apologised, looking a little perplexed.

I always try hard not to take it out on staff at the coal-face. Often these days they don’t have the authority or decision making power to help you (that by the way is another business problem I discuss here.)

So, off I go to the ticket desk to get pushed on to the later flight at 2pm (which incidentally is a nightmare for me because with only five hours in New York before flying on to Dallas, my stop over and meetings are ruined).

Show Me The Money

Andrea a pleasant South American chap says the good news is that they can put me on the next flight VS045, but at a cost of £120. I protest politely but Andrea can’t do anything.

He asks his manager. Computer says no.

I ask at least if I could have my favourite seat in economy. No. I’ll need to pay for that too.

May be at least then, Virgin Atlantic will grant me as a Silver Flying Club member ( soon to be Gold) lounge access so I can have the New York meetings I will miss somewhere quiet on Skype? No.

Err, OK. Can I pay for lounge access? No.

I keep calm despite my frustration and seek out the Virgin Atlantic floor manager, who I’m told does have the power to grant lounge access.

After politely waiting for her to finish dealing with a staff issue (a quick gossip about another staff member) I start to explain, but she cuts me off mid-explanation:

“We don’t give lounge access unless you’re Upper Class?” …her intonation is as though I’m asking the location of the holy grail. She’s all out of empathy today then and it’s only 9:45am. I pity the afternoon customers.

Practicalities

By 10.05am (the flight takes off at 10.35am) I have:

  • Queued to pay the extra charges to bump flights
  • Complained to the delightfully unhelpful floor manager
  • Gone through security
  • Am sat in Chez Gerard (another brand I have a history with) and have just ordered breakfast.

The fact I’ve done all this and the gate is yet to even close irritates me further, but thankfully Chez Gerard deliver on my brand expectations this morning: A warm polite welcome, good coffee, warm perfectly crispy croissants and soothing music.

Has this every happened before?

Those who know me will know I try and pack a lot into my life. That means sometimes I’m late. On the whole it is of course my own fault if I’m late, in so far as we are all responsible for our own decisions and planning.

Similarly it is definitely a passenger’s own responsibility to check-in by the deadline set; but it is also a brands responsibility to deliver on the service which customers rely on and arguably especially your regular customers.

  • I knew I would be short on time, so I tried to check in online. Twice. The web site was broken.
  • Then I tried at terminal 3, within the 60 minute limit, but the kiosks were broken.
  • The check-in clerk recognised the situation and asked to send me through, but was prevented by someone else.
  • The flight couldn’t have been closed, I only had hand luggage and were I Upper Class I’d have sailed through.
  • The ticket agent recognised the problem, but had to charge me anyway (he even left notes on my account to that affect)
  • The Virgin Atlantic manager was abrupt and had a naive approach to customer relations (perhaps how she got to be a manager..!)

Good customer service is about recognising a customer’s problem and empathising. That should be true whatever level of customer the person is.  Today’s $1000 customer may be tomorrow’s $1b customer.

More importantly, monetary value is not the only consideration. Some customers affect more influence regarding your brand than others, as my post here about the new economy of influence explains.

I do not expect any brand to do the impossible.

I recognise a flight has to close at some point, no matter who wants to get on board, but when rules are adhered to via blind process (or in order to make a quick buck, like Ryan Air) rather than for logic or good reason, that pisses me off.

And I’m going to tell people. Lot’s of people.

Brands become lovemarks for me because they exercise effort, common sense and actively behave as though they genuinely care about me – even though I realise it is in order to make a profit from me.

Pret (the British chain of sandwich shops) are a superb example of this. From their always polite staff, to sending a customer £70 for payment of his “time using the Pret brand”, to letting me off £3.45 for my lunch when I realised I’d left my wallet in the office (I repaid the £3.45 the next day) they always make me feel cared about. I also feel that the employees are empowered to make their own decisions and understand what the Pret brand stands for.

In the past I’ve found Virgin Atlantic to be more pragmatic than I have today. On top of this, I must have flown 15+ times with Virgin Atlantic in the last 3 years from London to San Francisco. I have a Founders Card which gives a discount (although I’ve yet to claim it) and I’ve met Richard a couple of times.

As a brand the important thing to realise is these things make my experience today all the worse not better.

Why? Because if you are dating someone for a month and they do something unpleasant, it hardly touches the sides. You can laugh about it in the pub with friends.

If you are dating someone for 10 years and you love them, then they do a similarly unpleasant thing, you can’t laugh about it. It hurts. It goes against your expectation and trust.

Loyal customers with your brand, which may be a Lovemark to them, are no different.

It’s ALL about me.

These brand ambassadors will sing your praises, but they’ll also be the first to call you out.

  • They’ll get very pissed off, very quickly.
  • They feel they should be treated differently.
  • They feel they should be treated with extra care.

“Should” is the key word here.

Actually ALL customers should be treated with extra care; but what matters here is how these people feel, not the reality.

Your job with your brand is to manage your customer’s perception of a situation without pouring petrol on the fire.

Preferably, you want to be the guy wielding the fire extinguisher and without spraying it in your customers face.

The psychology of loyal customers

I buy in to the “poor little Virgin Atlantic” versus nasty British Airways myth because I choose to, not because I necessarily believe it.

It feeds my potential pleasure of a brand I generally enjoy.

It adds to my personal identity to associate myself with e.g. Virgin Atlantic, instead of British Airways. Therefore:

When you as a brand behave poorly I feel you’re attacking not just me as a customer but me as your brand.

Your bad performance means subconsciously I feel like I’ve performed badly, because a little bit of your brand has become me.

What is this lovemark stuff again?

The simplest definition of when a brand becomes a lovemark to a customer is when they make irrational decisions to choose that brand over another.

I’ve often in true Lovemark tradition gone against logic when booking my flights. Virgin Altantic are usually more expensive and I had an unlucky run in the mid 2000’s where seemingly every flight I went on had no entertainment system working. Until my last flight, I recently had a run of crappy seat locations, whatever class I was in.

Despite this I stayed with Virgin Atlantic; but now I feel like our relationship is on the rocks; but hey, as they say, better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

The moral of the story is that a Lovemark is a double edged sword, both for the company and customer.

Handle with care Mr Branson, and now I’m off to get my VS045 flight.

How Britain Is Seen From The Outside, ‘init.

I had the pleasure of attending my first Arete Club dinner last Friday, where the topic under discussion was “How is Britain perceived by the rest of the world?” certainly to my mind a timely subject ripe for debate.

Britain remains sometimes schizophrenic in its approach to the outside world. We maintain a veneer of global power broking thanks to pivotal roles in modern history, a legacy of Empire, our native English speaking tongue, London being a global financial centre and an experienced foreign office and diplomatic service (what’s left of it).

We are still an independent nuclear power and, despite the drastic cuts in our Armed Forces, still maintain a more professional and capable army, airforce and navy than most other countries; but the vacuum of meaning created by our decline as an Imperial world power remains. By this, I’m arguing that until the 1950’s our role in the world was clear. Even during the Cold War, a position as an Atlantic bridge and European protector against the Soviet menace provided some level of direction for foreign policy and excuse for defense spending.

Today, with the imminent Communist threat dissipated, where does Britain’s future lie? Are we the bridge for Europe to our American cousins? Should we continue to try and project power and police problem countries outside Europe? With higher levels of mostly well(and some not so well)-integrated immigrants providing a richer cultural landscape, what does being a Briton mean? Colour, race and creed these days do not define Britain. So what does and does this bear any resemblance to how those outside view us?

The dinner speakers tasked with stimulating discussion around this theme, did not disappoint.

First up was Roddy Gow who gave a polished and highly educational talk on the way Britain is seen in Asia, specifically India. Current affairs communicated eloquently in context of history always delivers a rich and engaging speech; Roddy Gow did not disappoint.

An image of Britain and indeed it's Empire, long gone. How are we perceived now?

Sadly I can’t write specifically about what was said, as the events are held under Arete rules in order to precipitate honest and candid debate – another reason why attending an Arete dinner can be a unique experience.

Events are black tie and usually held in salubrious surroundings. With good wine and good food fuelling the invited guests, between each course the speakers take the floor, propped up by their dining chair as lectern.

Our intellectual main course was Minister Qin Gang from the Chinese Embassy. He spoke candidly and passionately. Inevitably some of what was said you might expect to hear during a formal press conference – the Minister is after all a member of the Chinese Government and consequently – just as our own government ministers – he is expected therefore to speak bearing in mind his formal capacity.

Minister Qin Gang also brought though a personal perspective to his own experiences living and working in London as native Chinese and highlighted some of the challenges that two different cultures can face, living and communicating in our complex globalised world.

Ziauddin Sardar was reserved the honour of “being the pudding” as he so eloquently noted (I asked him specifically if we could use that quote!) and gave a very informed and often humorous talk on straddling two cultural origins, being both British and Pakistani. Many of the topics are covered in his recently published book, “Reading the Qur’an”, which I’ll be adding to my reading list.

Our current circumstances, immigration, the make up our society and what people think of us around the world are as a direct consequence of the Empire Britain once commanded

 

Over coffee we had the honour of questioning our speakers; for me this was the highlight of the dinner. It produced enlightened and engaged debate between the speakers, ably chaired by Professor Stephen Chan who was a pitch perfect ringmaster for the evening. Before drinks, Arete’s founder Sara Fazlali rounded off with an insightful and humorous summary.

There are many networking dinner events out there, but Arete Club does much more than provide wine-fuelled matchmaking. First, it combines people from disparate sectors (business, politics, the military and the arts – indeed this idea was a cornerstone of Arete Club’s inception) and second, does so in a way that challenges dinner guests to think about something beyond swapping business cards.

In summary, I enjoyed an excellent dinner and then drinks in the most stimulating of company. I discussed global politique with a senior Chinese Communist party minister, the global challenges facing our Armed Forces with a Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander and with a Canadian journalist the stubborn hangover bequeathed by a loss of the British Empire.

I will certainly be returning for seconds in the months to come.

You can read more about Arete Club here.