Rail companies '˜failing to deal with customer complaints'

RAIL companies have been urged to 'step up and start delivering' after new analysis revealed train operators were failing to deal with customer complaints effectively - even neglecting to treat customers with basic politeness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for some Yorkshire commuters who put up with months of disruption earlier this year, Northern rail came last or in the bottom three of 18 British train companies in every aspect of the complaints process studied by Which?

The consumer champion looked at 12 months of rail regulator data and found fewer than half of passengers were satisfied with how their complaints were dealt with by train companies.

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Northern scored worst when it came to the time taken to deal with a complaint, with just 15 per cent satisfied; the overall clarity at the information provided following a complaint, with just 16 per cent satisfied; and overall satisfaction with the complaint handling at 17 per cent.

Northern passengers were hit with months of disruption this summer - but the data pre-dates the chaos
Northern passengers were hit with months of disruption this summer - but the data pre-dates the chaos

Less than half, 46 per cent, of respondents said they were satisfied that Northern had even been polite in dealing with their complaint - an issue shared by almost half of customers with four other companies.

Northern commuter Kat Harrison-Dibbits, 36, said she was blocked by the company on Twitter when she complained that her train was cancelled, very delayed or too full to get on. She said: “It left me feeling like they didn’t really care and weren’t interested in engaging with me and the disruption they caused to my life.”

The poor showing by Northern pre-dates months of chaos caused for thousands of commuters in the North of England earlier this year after a botched new timetable led to unprecedented delays and cancellations from May onwards, as the figures analysed by Which? cover from April 2017 to March this year.

A spokesman for Northern said it was “absolutely committed” to helping those customers wherever possible.

He said: “It is understandable that emotions are high following well-documented issues across the Northern network – delayed infrastructure delivery and the resulting timetable problems – which led to a significant increase in complaints and newly launched compensation claims. The increase in complaints coincided with a fourfold increase in delay repay compensation claims, which significantly increased the workload of our customer service team.”

Also performing poorly in the region was Transpennine Express, with less than one in five satisfied with the overall clarity of information provided following a complaint, and scoring just 20 per cent for overall complaint satisfaction.

A TransPennine Express spokesperson said it is always looking for ways to improve customer experience.

Which? managing director of public markets, Alex Hayman, said: “Clearly there are serious underlying problems in the current rail complaints system, which need to be addressed.

“Train companies have to step up and start delivering good customer service when things go wrong - informing passengers about their rights and dealing properly with any complaints that arise.”

A new independent ombudsman to handle rail complaints was announced in July. Independent watchdog Transport Focus said its introduction, due this month, with powers to impose binding decisions to resolve complaints, “should help accelerate efforts by all train operators to improve their complaint handling”.