It’s been an eventful week, and one that’s seen Twitter used brilliantly in some cases – and rather less well in others.
The good: the Chiltern cow incident
A Chiltern Railways (CR) train hit a herd of cows that had escaped on to the track at around 7.30pm on Thursday – mid evening, but still well within London’s extended rush hour. Their main line was closed but CR’s consistently excellent communications team stepped up the mark to help inform the large numbers of passengers facing disruption. CR do Twitter well – really well in fact. By day their tweets are friendly, engaging and create a real community spirit amongst commuters and travellers. However when events call for it, CR’s twitter team is in place to get vital information out and be there to respond to customers’ questions.
Communications is but one part of an overall response of course, and here, yet again, CR seemed to be very efficient and rolling out their emergency management plans. As soon as they were aware of the situation, mainline trains were diverted via the Aylesbury to allow many to still reach their destinations. Meanwhile, replacement buses were called up to provide a service to all the stations on the closed portion of the mainline. As for those onboard services, one twitter user was on a train following that affected and was only delayed by about half an hour. The following morning, CR dispatched its managers across the stations affected to speak to customers who had been affected. Brilliant, and such a contrast to the debacle on South West Trains (below) that was unfolding at the same time.
The bad: Three’s wild SIM goose chase
The week proved personally exasperating due to mobile phone company Three’s seeming inability to provide me with a simple SIM card, and sending me on a wild goose chase with apparently inaccurate information. This all stemmed from Three retail stores telling me that I couldn’t have a PAYG microSIM for my iPhone4, while Three’s tweeters consistently contradicted the store staff and repeatedly assured me that the stores could provide me with a microSIM. In the end, after several wasted lunch hours going to various Three Stores, I gave up, and in desperation I cut down their standard PAYG SIM to the microSIM size. It worked, and took a fraction of the time I’d spent going to the various Three stores.
The thing is, I should never had needed to go to such lengths to use Three’s service. For one, why is it so difficult to provide SIM cards so that people who want to use Three’s service actually can do. I wanted to be a customer, yet Three seemed unable to help me. Worst of all, though, was the complete lack of clarity or consensus by the Three tweeters or Three store staff about the process needed to provide me with a microSIM card. SIM cards are the most basic part of mobile phone use – it’s worrying that Three can’t get this right. I’m now trialling Three on the my cut down PAYG SIM card, however this lamentable experience with their customer services has shaken my confidence in taking out a contract with them.
The absent: South West Trains’ meltdown
On the same day that Chiltern Railways was contending with a herd of dead cows and a damaged train, South West Trains (SWT) was experiencing what can only be described as a meltdown of their services. Unlike Chiltern, I don’t use SWT’s services regularly, however the story was plain to see on Twitter, which was alight with incensed passengers.
Unlike Chiltern, SWT don’t have a Twitter account. Given the phenomenal number of tweets in evidence during the disruption, this would seem to be overlooking a means of easily communicating to large numbers of their customers, and practicing some much needed customer management. As it was, the tweets became ever more irate as people found themselves stuck on trains for up to three hours, while train drivers had to appeal to passengers for information as they couldn’t get any response from the SWT control room. Add to this stories of long delayed passengers being threatened with arrest by the police after leaving trains, and you’ve got a PR disaster on your hands.
In these situations, providing information to passengers, keeping them abreast with the situation and informed as to how things are progressing can make all of the difference. So often it’s the lack of information that infuriates customers. I do wonder whether passengers would still have broken out of their trains had SWT provided regular Twitter updates and an estimated time for when trains would on the move again, and in turn saving themselves from the PR hell that ensued.