A Northern Failure

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/railway-tracks-railway-3455169/

Late trains, expensive fares, overcrowding, constant strikes, rude and abusive staff! This is not what a train service should be. Welcome to the North!

I have never learned drive, in part due to my epilepsy and worrying about if I had a seizure whilst driving, so I rely on public transport; buses, trams and trains. Over the years, I have been used to the normal delays and overcrowding on the trains, and then I moved to Manchester and experienced a whole new level of poor train service! Whatever I have experienced in the past is nothing compared to what Northern have to offer.

Northern, a subsidiary of the Arriva group, is a rail service with an extremely poor record that is a discredit to the North. Since operating the franchise from 2016 it has been beset with a complaint after complaint (a quick Google search will give a slight glimpse into their failings) about the constant late running and cancellations of services, strikes (which now seem to be happening every weekend with no end in sight), and extremely poor customer service.

While every time I get a train using their service it is always delayed (usually only a minute or two, but sometimes up to 30 minutes), for me their biggest problem is customer service and management.

For me, the last straw was having to deal with the rudeness of staff at Manchester Piccadilly. Not just one, but three of them! There was just no level of customer service whatsoever, and the customer blaming was staggering.

My local station is unmanned and has only recently got a ticket machine, previously you got on the train and purchased a ticket from the when the conductor walked through the carriages. In January we decided to go into town and decided it would be easier by train. We arrived at the train station and tried to purchase tickets from the machine, but after trying varies different destinations it would not give us tickets – it kept displaying “no tickets available for this journey” (another person behind us also had the same issue). No problem, we would buy them on the train. The train arrived, late, and we boarded but for the 15-20 minute never saw a guard. So on arrival we went to the ticket booth to purchase tickets, which we assumed wouldn’t be been a problem.

There were three members of staff there who promptly told us that we would have to pay a penalty fare despite the machine not working, as we hadn’t taken a photo to prove it. After some discussion they telephoned someone who promptly said that the machine was working and asked which one we used. There is only one ticket machine at my local station as it is a tiny station, but the rather rude member of staff insisted that they were two and that we should have bought a ticket (we checked on return and there is definitely only one and this was also confirmed by the local rail user’s association). The staff insisted they were correct, we were wrong and implied that we were trying to dodge a £7 fare. We were made to feel like criminals for trying to buy a ticket.

The members of staff were rude, arrogant with no customer service skills, they behaved like bullies and if were door staff at a club would have lost their license for their behaviour.

Eventually, they let us buy our tickets and we were on our way. Their attitude was abrasive, disgusting and rude, so when I got home I decided to make a complaint via Northern’s website. If you think their trains are late, their customer service centre takes the biscuit – you have to wait up to 20 days for someone to respond (although I did only have to wait for 8 days).

Unfortunately, for me, the response from Northern’s customer service advisor was not worth the time taken to read it. It was clearly a cut and paste response that did not address any of the issues and blamed me as a customer for illegally travelling without a ticket (even though the ticket machine wasn’t working at the time and the guard on the train was never seen).

Even asking for more details (twice) so that I could escalate my complaint as I didn’t feel that he had dealt with it, he never bothered to acknowledge this request.

The customer service offered by Northern leaves a lot to be desired. Even if a customer is wrong, they should not be treated in such a rude fashion. When a complaint is made each issue should be addressed and a bulk standard response blaming customers should not be sent out.

In my opinion, Northern are not fit to run a rail service and should be stripped of its franchise. While I expect delays to services, on every train and route is unacceptable. And above all, bad manners, rudeness and customer blaming by train and station staff over the failure of their equipment and staff should never be expected or deemed acceptable, or indeed try to be justified under the excuse of “they have a difficult job to do” – there are lots of people with difficult jobs; doctors, nurse, firefighters and police officers to name a few, but they (for the most part) to not treat people with such disdain and rudeness.

Rail fares are expensive and are going up year on year and no customer paying for a service should be subjected to such levels of rudeness and complaints should actually be taken seriously, not just glossed over and then blame the customer.

While I do appreciate that staff may have a hard job to do, probably made worse by ineffective management in place, if each staff member dealt with the public in a courteous manner their jobs wouldn’t be so difficult. Treating customers with such little respect just makes them angry and exacerbates the situation rather than actually dealing with the problem.

When there are so many complaints about a company surely it should tell management that there are some serious failings?

Northern need to address their problems, do something about them and train their staff in how to deal with customers. When an issue or complaint does arise, deal with them properly.

A company with poor customer service will always be a poor company. Excellent customer service will see customer retained, keep coming back and recommending to others, even when small problems occur. Problems are always going to occur, no matter how big or small the company is, but the way they are dealt with is the difference between a good or a bad organisation.

Unfortunately, for me, Northern are a #NorthernFailure!

Disclosure: All thoughts and opinions are my own and are based on my experience of travelling with Northern.
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