How often do you complain when a train’s delayed or you receive terrible customer service? If companies took these complaints seriously it would save us the hassle of getting ombudsmen involved.
I’m turning into a serial complainer. I’ve taken NatWest to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office about Experian’s ineffectual handling of my complaint.
Then there’s all the feedback emails I’ve sent to companies that had given me shocking customer service (yes I’m looking at you, Next, ASDA, Marks & Spencer and Caffe Nero). I just won’t put up with poor service and products.
And now I can add First TransPennine Express (FTE) to the list. My patience finally broke earlier this month when my train from Grimsby to Doncaster was delayed by well over an hour due to ‘signal failure’, meaning I missed my connection back to London and only arrived home in the early hours.
We want refunds, not excuses
I used the sparkly new Which? train delay tool to claim my money back from FTE. However, I was shocked by their response:
‘The disruption was the result of a deliberate act of vandalism. A length of signalling cable was cut causing all signals on this line to revert to danger. […] As I am sure you will appreciate, such conditions are clearly outside our control. The railway by its very nature is very open to trespass and it is impossible to monitor and police every mile of trackside. […] I regret that our Passenger’s Charter and the National Conditions of Carriage exclude compensation in such circumstances.’
My own response was predictable: this ridiculous excuse was a clear case of a corporate worm trying to wriggle off the hook.
My contract with FTE was to get me from A to B at a particular time. They broke the contract. As a passenger, I really don’t care about the cause – if copper theft is such a problem, do something about it and increase security.
Why don’t you deal with our complaints?
Which brings me circuitously to my point. The various ombudsman services and consumer watchdogs play a key role in ensuring consumers get a fair deal from companies that just don’t care about their customers. I contacted Passenger Focus who, within a couple of weeks, had secured Transpennine Express’ agreement to send me a refund.
But there would be no need if companies weren’t so happy to either ignore their customers or fob them off with weak excuses, intransigence and flat denials of responsibility.
The 200,000 complaints received by FOS alone last year suggest that the financial services sector in particular still doesn’t get it. That the banks had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the high court over PPI speaks volumes.
My own experiences of taking a complaint further have been mixed – FOS and Passenger Focus were efficient, friendly and, most important of all, on the consumer’s side. The Information Commissioner’s Office on the other hand came across as ineffectual and unengaged.
Which companies have you found to fall short when it comes to complaints handling? And what are your experiences of using the various consumer watchdogs and ombudsman services?