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Northern Rail – Where Trains are as Bad as Customer Service

I usually use this blog to post about my trips to various places or about my latest achievements; the main purpose of this website was to showcase my work as I was looking to start a career in Media Production after I graduated.

However, things change. I am now employed full time and it’s probably time to adapt this blog and use it for various posts that aren’t fit for my gaming/tech website; this is one such post.

Today I am writing about a train company with poor health and safety standards, the company, which can’t run own trains on time. The company, that still uses pacers, which were rejected by IRAN. The company, that is stuck in 1993 in terms of graphic design and Internet usage. Yes, today I am writing about Northern Rail.

So, here goes…

I live in Manchester city centre and work in Salford. I hold a season ticket with Northern Rail to commute by 4-minute train journey to work five days a week. (I should mention that it has never actually been a 4-minute journey and, even when the train departed on time, it would arrive late). I realise that my train journey is short, but I am paying £40+ per month for a broken service.

Unfortunately, and since I started working in Salford this July, I have never had a chance to experience a timely service on a single occasion. Even if my outward train was on time, the return service was delayed.

We’re sorry for inconvinience / We value your feedback

I tried contacting Northern Rail via email, but received a standard (and unsatisfactory) response from them. They also blocked me on their Twitter and Facebook accounts despite asking for customer feedback on both of these social media platforms.

I responded to their email to inquire why I had been blocked, but received no response. This demonstrates not only their poor etiquette, but also their habit of marking such cases as “resolved”, thereby devaluing follow-up emails, tweets and comments.

As a manager of social media and other channels for a large education provider, allow me to explain: I know that companies like Northern Rail use various customer-service software to manage their Twitter, Facebook and email inquiries. This software marks each tweet/comment/email as a “case”. The social media operator can then assign that case to their colleagues, respond to it, and mark it as “resolved”. 

I have noticed that every time someone Tweets to @northernassist, they respond with a reply which most of the time can be summed up as “[the problem is] someone else’s fault” or “a train was hit by a fly”. If, however, you add a follow-up comment saying (for example) “could you also explain why this service was late yesterday and the day before?”, they will not respond to it. This is because their social media managers have already marked the original tweet as “resolved”, and it is no longer monitored. Why would they monitor follow up questions? The report for Daniel Edwards, their head of customer service, will show how Northern’s fantastic social media agents answer all the queries anyway.

I use similar engagement software at work, and I am appalled by Northern Rail’s customer service team. I never ignore a question or a complaint, let alone blocking someone; the whole point of an organisation having a social media account is to establish a dialogue with its clients/audience. Northern’s social media agents, that are known as ^LM ^JB ^VR, are like three children pretending to be the three wise monkeys that hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. However, dear ^LM and the rest, blocking won’t remove people’s tweet and everyone else will still be able to see people’s complaints and comments.  Though I doubt that Northern knows how twitter works; judging by their MS Word designed graphics for social media they clearly hired someone without any experience in this area. 

I still cannot believe that a major rail company can be so unprofessional.  If you look up in the sky, there, right above the clouds is the rock bottom that Northern has hit as a company. 

“We’re sorry, this is someone else’s fault”

I also fail to understand how “someone else’s” fault is a valid excuse in any instance of delay or cancellations: I pay my money to Northern Rail for a service and, as such, it is their responsibility to liaise with every possible stakeholder – be it Network Rail or anyone else – to provide me with a satisfactory service. If I was to purchase a can of Coke in Tesco and find a finger inside the can, the store will issue me a full refund, apologise and even compensate for all the trouble with vouchers, despite the fact that it is clearly the brand/manufacturer’s fault. 

A few weeks ago, for example, I bought a battery for my drone on Amazon. I bought it off a third party seller but the order was fulfilled and delivered by Amazon. The battery arrived on time however the seal on the box was broken. The battery clearly was brand new and it probably was returned by one of the buyers previously. However, it took me a single tweet to Amazon to not only get a full refund (and keep the battery) but also get £10 store credit and 30 days of Amazon Prime for free! Imagine Amazon, or any other serious and professional company, blocking people for complaining. I am glad that in my experience only Northern is so unprofessional.

United By Their Common Enemy

A week ago, before I got blocked by Northern, I noticed a retweet from an account @northernfailz. Upon checking that account I noticed various retweets from angry commuters. One particular retweet mentioned a group on Facebook called “Northern Resist: Northern Rail Ruining People’s Lives on a Daily Basis”.

The group is only a couple of weeks old, yet it already has over 1500 members. This is a public group, and you can easily read (and often see) the evidence that Northern Rail is absolutely unfit for purpose as a railway service provider. There is photographic evidence of over-crowded trains, appalling behaviour from guards and staff at the stations, and various stories about how people have been left stranded for hours. Personally, it made me feel better that I am not the only one who has issues with this terrible company. I also found out that I was not the only person who got blocked by Northern on Twitter and Facebook; which made me take a bit more proactive approach…

#northernapologies

 Since many people are blocked by Northern on Twitter and unable to get even their apologies, I have created a bot that will do just that. All you need to do is add #northernapologies to your tweet. It works just like Northern Rail – randomly chooses a reason, blames someone else and (ocassionally) threatens with blocking if you keep complaining. It will also retweet your complain if you add #northernresist.

^AK