Operational Excellence

The Customer-Centric Culture – Don’t Forget the Human Touch

By Simon Brennan 1 May 2019

The maiden voyage of the new London-Glasgow sleeper service wasn’t the PR coup the company hoped for. The Caledonian Sleeper train arrived 3 hours late, and the journey was plagued by water leaks and booking mix-ups and food issues. It’s the sort of experience that usually results in irate customers and angry social media posts.

And while there was no shortage of Twitter complaining, many passengers came away feeling positive – because they were happy with the improvements to the (literal) customer journey and grateful to the train staff.

Train upgrades reflected customer feedback

There was much anticipation about the £150 million overhaul of the Caledonian Sleeper fleet.

And when they got on board, regular passengers felt listened to. According to news reports, they “pointed joyfully to the power switches, USB sockets, dimmer lighting and en-suites.” Carriages were compared to furniture store showrooms and hotels, complete with ample legroom and double beds. Storage lockers were added to alleviate customer concerns about security. And microwave food was replaced with oven-cooked meals (even if dining service experienced lengthy delays).

There were clearly teething problems – but passengers realised the effort that had gone into the upgrade, enjoyed the positive elements and could clearly see the quality they’d experience once those teething problems were resolved.

As one passenger told The Guardian: “It’s a bit chaotic, but everything new has teething problems. It’s fun, beautiful and we love it.”

Staff dealt well with hiccups

There were inevitable complaints about the lack of information regarding the delays. But passengers overall praised train staff for how they dealt with the many issues that arose during the journey.

Staff were widely reported as “remaining remarkably cheerful and resilient” as they juggled the mishaps. They passed out compensation forms for customers to claim full refunds, and even booked taxis for people who had missed connections.

The social media team was also active, responding to online comments with apologies and providing as much information as they could.

The lesson: Human touch can turn around negative experiences

Yes, the delay was disruptive and the issues with cabins and food service were annoying. But passengers could still feel the effort going into the customer experience – and nonetheless appreciated the improvements.

As companies increasingly take a multichannel approach to customer experience, looking at how people interact with them digitally and by phone, this Caledonian Sleeper story is a salient reminder not to neglect face-to-face interactions. It shows the importance of fostering a customer-centric culture that when things go wrong, the company has the ethos and staff have the training to leave a positive impression.

Learn more about how businesses are putting customer experience at the heart of their operations and business model.

See other posts by Simon Brennan

VP Sales

Simon Brennan has more than 14 years’ experience in the customer engagement sector, working with a wide variety of companies from tech start-ups to FTSE100 organisations. He is an expert in improving corporate customer communication, using technology to supercharge internal processes and deliver increased sales. Simon has a strong track record of successfully delivering cross-channel communication solutions for Engage Hub's corporate customer base, across multiple divisions within an organisation.

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