The story of how my parents suffered at the hands of a train company is testament to the fact that complaining can get you somewhere. Has a complaint you made resulted in a positive change?
I think it’s fairly safe to presume that we’ve all had a frustrating experience with a delayed, overcrowded or overpriced (or all three!) train journey. I certainly have and I’ve often been disappointed by the way my subsequent complaints have been handled.
But a couple of weeks ago my parents called to tell me about the positive response they had had from ScotRail after they complained about an exhausting experience on a sleeper train to Fort William.
Since joining the Consumer Rights team here at Which?, I have become a magnet for friends and family ringing me up in outrage to tell me they’ve been the victim of a consumer rights injustice. So I have to say I was surprised to hear the words ‘positive response’.
No sleep on the sleeper train
My parents, both in their late 60s, are keen (non-lycra-wearing) cyclists and recently travelled up to the Scottish Highlands with their bikes for a long weekend of cycling.
They’ve taken the overnight sleeper train up to Scotland several times over the last 30 years and they enjoy the low-carbon comfort (sleeper cabins designed for two) and the stunning bedside views (glorious unspoilt Scottish countryside). The cost is steep, now nearly £200 per person one-way, but they think it’s worth it for the advertised ‘restfulness of sleeper travel’.
Put simply, they were proved wrong. At 3am, as the train approached Edinburgh Waverley, they were abruptly woken by an attendant banging on their door telling them that they had to move their bikes from the guard’s van. This is where they had been told to put them, as they had done on all previous journeys.
Their train was about to be coupled with another train and so they had to move their bikes to another guard’s van. Since this had never happened before, as you can imagine, my parents were extremely annoyed. They were told that this was a new policy and were left to wait until 4.38am, standing on a cold platform with their bikes, before they could move them to the new location and return to their compartment.
Repent for your mistakes
For a company that actively promotes travelling by train with bikes as ‘A Better Way to Go’, my parents were left feeling extremely cheated by ScotRail and wrote to them to tell them so.
However, they were impressed with the prompt and apologetic response they received and have been advised that a senior manager is investigating the incident with a view to imminently changing the policy.
With a bit of digging they have since learnt that the Scottish and English governments had already agreed to each put £50m into the development of the sleeper service. Presumably ScotRail’s bicycle and luggage policy will be reviewed as part of the tendering process, so they’ll be keen to get this right.
So there you have it – complaining can make a difference and some companies do sit up and take notice. Have you made a complaint that resulted in a company changing its ways?