Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to treat your best customers worst - by First Capital Connect

Many organisations, the UK Government included, are frantically herding us online to reduce the transaction costs of having to deal with us pesky customers.

The usual pitch to us is that it will either save us money or save us time. There are even some companies who will offer us both carrots.

Well here's a warning about the hidden sticks - direct from the commuter's friend First Capital Connect.
It's not just a warning to fellow commuters, it's also a lesson in how to treat your best customers worst.

For my sins, I commute regularly from Huntingdon to London. My options include car (way too time-consuming and costly by the time congestion charges and parking are taken into account, and not exactly good for the planet, either), cycling (er, no), coach (really, no thanks) or - there in a monopoly position; a season ticket with First Capital Connect.

I have a season ticket. I pay First Capital Connect over £4000 a year for my 4 x a week commute. I give them that money up front. The whole lot, in advance, for a year. In their bank account, not mine. For them to spend. Not me.

I could go on about how my 'gold card' as it's laughingly labelled should deliver a level of customer service that it doesn't; I mean I do get a seat most journeys so my commute is a shining beacon of joy compared to many I hear about.

I reckon my lining their pockets with silver a full year in advance makes me a very good customer indeed. I only wish 90:10 Group had customers like that. Wouldn't we all?

So, back to that being herded online thing. This year (last October) when my season ticket was due for renewal I took the bait. I think it two off-peak train journeys was the freebie on offer for ordering online. And I figured I'd save some queuing time.

So, for the princely sum of two off-peak tickets (during which times there are always seats free so the marginal cost to FCC is zero) I saved them time, cut down their admin etc etc.

And as one of their very best customers I expect some modicum of reward when I need assistance.
Today my Gold Card stopped going through the ticket barriers. May not sound much if you don't experience the rush of the commute, but boy that can be a tad inconvenient.

When it failed on my way in this morning I was advised to take it to the station I'd bought it at to get a replacement.

Foolish me, I'd forgotten I bought it online. Well, it was last October. I'd had one or two other things to think about since then.

So when I rocked up at the station this evening with my photocard and Gold Card in hand (yes, all the gubbins ready) I was surprised to find I could not get a replacement. I had to go back to 'where I bought it' - and the station staff couldn't tell me where that was.

So penny dropping, I'd bought it online, I had to go online to get a replacement (not that there was any advice on that coming from behind the counter).

That's a monumental fail. That's putting the inconvenience on the customer for whom convenience was clearly important - hence the decision to buy online.
It's a fail in the disconnectedness of First Capital Connect services. Apparently it's 'not the same company' that sells tickets online (via the FCC site, I'll have you know).

Guess what? Your very best customers don't give a damn which agency is between us and you. Every time we are dealing with a service related to you (and I don't think the ticket for the journey can be any more related) we're going to assume you should take some responsibility.

As it stands, it's down to me, your very best customer (ok, one of) who has to go back to the site, remember my log in details, log in - and print out what is effectively a begging letter to station staff - with the appropriate code - to issue me a replacement card.

Let's look at this a little closer. The station staff told me they couldn't issue tickets which didn't match codes for ones issued at their station as a fraud prevention measure.

1. That's FCC's problem not mine. No, seriously, make a better, less counterfeitable ticket - don't put the inconvenience on your very best customers.
2. On the website it says any ticket office can replace a season ticket issued by any other.
My Season Ticket doesn't work the entry or exit gates. What do I do?
Please return it to the station of issue (or any ticket office) where it will be replaced free of charge.
However, if you are one of FCC's very best customers, who both paid them in advance and saved them money in the way your bought your ticket...
If you bought your ticket online, log in to your account and click on apply to replace a damaged season ticket.
At which point you generate the begging letter I referred to above, which you have to print out (at your cost in both materials and time) and take to the station... again.

So, congratulations FCC - you have managed to disincentivize buying season tickets online with some truly crass disconnected thinking (and thank you for reminding me what an absolute nightmare process involving duplicate payments it was last October).

Miffed? Damn right - and angry that I have no choice but to return with my begging letter to get my replacement gold card tomorrow morning.

I bet the staff thank the management daily for saddling them with this kind of stress-generating stupidity. And I do hope the staff are reporting back how their very best customers are reacting.

But just in case - I'll be sending you a link to this post and awaiting your response with interest...

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?