Linsay Given Black: Troubled firms must get it right

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Communication, they say, is the name of the game, so why are so many organisations so poor at it? Telling us that we are important to them while continuing to operate in the way that they always did just doesn’t work.

We aren’t stupid. If we experience poor service, we know it, even if the service provider has adopted a slogan which tells us that they care.

Here’s an example from very recent experience. If you attempted to travel on the East Coast rail line after 8am on Monday you were either seriously delayed or unable to travel. I was on the train that caused the problem. We left Edinburgh on time and were rolling merrily along until just before Peterborough, about noon. Then it all went pear shaped. I won’t bore you with the details but we were stuck for about three-and-a-half hours. In that time, the “cabin crew” was excellent – unfailingly polite and helpful, maybe because if they get something wrong, they hear about it quickly and forcefully. The man with the crucial information and control of the tannoy . . . not so good. Common sense should tell you not to burble on interminably when there’s no new information to report. Better to make concise announcements when you actually have something to say – “we expect the locomotive and crew to be with us shortly” perhaps.

Telling us five times in one announcement (yes, really) how sorry he was and that he was just as annoyed as we were doesn’t make us believe he is five times sorrier – it makes us about 50 times more annoyed. I don’t want his “empathy”, I want clear communication.

Tweeting East Coast trains about the situation brought an instant (and presumably automated) response giving a link to its compensation form. My reply that it wasn’t about money but about listening to customers has thus far elicited no response at all. Please East Coast senior management: train your staff. Don’t broadcast, communicate. Listen and act on what your customers tell you. Let’s have a bit less “customer interface” and a lot more common sense.

• Linsay Given Black runs Blackharrow Marketing Communication and probably won’t dare travel by train again.