Thursday, 30 June 2011

30 June 2011. Letter 3

Dear Mark and Sue

Re: 18.51 FGW service from Paddington to Oxford, 29/6/11. Amount of my day wasted: 8 minutes.

How are you both? Well I hope. First let me thank you Sue for your lovely email. Isn't it wonderful we're all on first name terms now! Positively continental of us!

(Talking of the continent, have either of you ever been to Switzerland? I went there on holiday once. Beautiful country... and the trains! Oh Mark, the trains! You would love it! Remind me to tell you some time about the wonder of the Swiss integrated transport system. It is a splendour!)

But I digress. Your email, Sue. Thanks for taking the time to reply personally. Great communicating! I can certainly see how you've risen to become communications director of FGW. As a journalist I deal with many communications departments, and I have to say I feel a few of them could learn a thing or two from you. And judging by the time of your email you may have even missed The Apprentice in order to send it! Now that is dedication.

And you're right Sue (you're right too Mark! You kids are singing from the same corporate hymn sheet!) It's just not good enough is it? Your service, i mean. But then it's one thing acknowledging fault and another entirely to act upon it. Anyone can say sorry. But words without actions are just words, aren't they? No matter how beautifully they're communicated.

Anyway. Back to business. As you'll already have seen, my train home last night ran eight minutes late - so accordingly this is an email calculated to waste eight minutes of your time.

Eight minutes. Doesn't sound toooo bad, does it? Maybe if I ran a train company and one of my trains was eight minutes late, I might think: "Only eight minutes? It could be worse. It could be nine, or 10, or 20, 30 minutes late. Eight minutes is nothing! Not really! Not in the grand scheme of things!"

But then that would be a pretty sloppy train company, wouldn't it? I'd be a pretty sloppy Manging Director, wouldn't I, Mark? (I'd be an appalling Director of Communications if I ever let a journalist know that was my attitude, wouldn't I Sue!)

Eight minutes. Perhaps it doesn't seem much - but then at the end of a hard day at the office, hoping you'll get home to see the kids before they fall asleep (they were still asleep when I left in the morning)... Actually, now I put it like that, perhaps it does seem a significant amount of time.

What do you think Mark? Et tu, Sue?

Food for thought!

Au revoir


A reply from Ms Sue Evans!

Dear Dominic

Thank you for your email and please do feel free to call me Sue. I hope you don’t mind me calling you Dominic.

As Mark said in his reply, the performance of the line between Oxford and London Paddington is nowhere near where it should be.

While the responsibility for much of this lies with Network Rail, accountability to our customers most definitely lies with us, and when things do go wrong we do everything in our power to make up time.

It is disappointing that despite every effort to do so today your train still arrived two minutes late. We understand how irritating this can be.

Our aim is for every train to arrive on time, every time. It is a challenge and is not easy. We are making progress, and last week delays caused by train failures were the lowest since the beginning of the current franchise in 2006. The week was not however one of good performance, and there have been far too many infrastructure problems, especially with signal and points failures.

We are working with Network Rail to help them do better at this. I know you don’t want platitudes or excuses. I know you want your train to depart and arrive at the times we say it will. This is what we want too and I am sorry it has not been your recent experience.

Do keep in touch. Mark and I will not always be able to reply personally, but we will make sure you get a full reply. Our focus remains on driving down delays, especially on the Oxford route.

Best wishes

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Another reply

It seems Mr Mark Hopwood is already palming me off on a lackey. After just two letters! I feel... hurt.

Dear Mr Utton,

I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your further email of 29 June.

As before I will ensure Mark is aware of your correspondence as soon as possible.

Kind regards

Jason Ness
First Great Western

29 June 2011. Letter 2

Dear Mark and Ms Sue Evans. (I don't feel comfortable calling you "Sue" just yet. Not until you have at least emailed me back personally. Let's not rush into familiarity. This is Britain, after all. Standards have to be maintained.)

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 29/6/11. Amount of my day wasted: 2 minutes.

First of all: congratulations! My train this morning was so much better - only two minutes late into Paddington. Accordingly, my email today shall be so much shorter. Fair's fair, after all.

To wit: just a quick one to say many thanks for your reply yesterday. I read it with great excitement: imagine! The Managing Director responding personally! I genuinely applaud you for that and I am grateful you took the time to do so.

However, because I am a man of my word, I won't waste any more than the promised two minutes of your time just now addressing some of the points you made in that mail. But I'm sure a longer delay to my train service soon will give me ample opportunity to discuss them at length. So that's something for us all to look forward to! (Even you, Ms Sue Evans!)

So, until then, au revoir! And fingers crossed for tonight's train home!

Dominic Utton

ps - you'll notice I've now started a blog. Isn't the whole social media thing a wonderful invention!

A reply from Mr Mark Hopwood!

Mr Utton

Thanks for your email.

I am well aware of the issues customers face each day and use the trains myself every day. When things go wrong I try and assist on stations so I feel I am as aware of the issues we face as I can be.

This morning our trains were bought to a stand while someone was removed from the railway by the police. This is frustrating for us. We have subsequently had a signalling system hit by lightening as have a number of other rail routes into London.

I share your view reliability just isn't good enough right now and this is primarily but not exclusively an issue with Network Rail reliability and we are applying pressure for improvement.


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

28 June 2011. Letter 1.

Dear Mark Hopwood and Sue Evans

Re: 08.06 FGW service from Oxford to Paddington, 28/6/11. Amount of my day wasted: 35 minutes.

I do hope you're well. My name is Dominic Utton and I am a customer of FGW. As Managing Director and Director of Communications for First Great Western respectively, I am sure you will be fascinated, concerned and most of all keen to hear about my experiences on your trains.

Because that's your job, right? To do all you can to provide a good service for your paying customers?

So: back to me. I have been getting First Great Western trains to and from my work at the News of the World for five days a week between Oxford and London for the past 14 months. And, to be honest with you, I'm fed up.

In fact, my frustration at the appalling service you provide has prompted me to write you this email. Not only this email - my frustration at never going more than about three journeys without experiencing a delay, has prompted me into what I'm going to call a "project".

A project! That makes it sound exciting doesn't it? Do you want to hear more about my project? You do! Oh goody! Here it is then. Here's my project.

From now on, every time I'm delayed on one of your trains I'm going to send you an email letting you know about it. Good eh?

But wait! It gets better! Not only will I send you an email every time I'm late, I'm going to make the length of that email reflect the length of delay on the service you have "provided" for me. Because, after all, Mr Mark Hopwood, Managing Director and Ms Sue Evans, Director of Communications, it is your job to be interested, concerned, and eager to help with this kind of thing, isn't it? Because you're both anxious to provide the best service you can to your customers, right?

Good. So, to continue with the rationale behind my project.

The idea is that by sending you an email every time I'm on one of your delayed trains, I shall waste some of your time, just as you have wasted mine. If you've only wasted a few minutes of my morning (or evening) I shall accordingly send you a short, pithy, minute-or-two wasting email. And if, on the other hand, you've wasted more of my time, so the email shall be longer, and no doubt far more tedious for you to read.

This morning, for example, you wasted 35 minutes of my time, when the 08.06 train from Oxford to Paddington slowed to a crawl between Maidenhead and Slough. I was late for work. I'll have to leave work late now. Thanks for that. Thanks for wasting my time, messing up my work schedules and wrecking my evening.

Anyway. Back to wasting your time.

Because the thing is, it's not a bad idea of mine, is it? This project, I mean. If only there were a way I could charge you £458 a month to have your time wasted by me, or make sure that you had to read my emails standing next to a lot of similarly disgruntled people next to an overflowing toilet, the experience and analogy would be perfect.

Alas, it's not a perfect world. And we all have to settle for what we can.

The thing is, Mr Mark Hopwood and Ms Sue Evans, time is precious, isn't it? I'm sure you're not enjoying having your time wasted like this. I'm sure as Managing Director and Director of Communications for First Great Western, you have fantastically busy working days. I'm sure you have happy, healthy, fulfilled home lives too. I'm sure that you wouldn't want unnecessary wastes of time to impact upon either your work or home life, would you?

Of course not. It's rubbish when that happens.

In fact, I shall be presumptuous enough to even assume that the prospect of receiving many many more emails like this from me - some of which, let's not kid ourselves here, will be longer and far more tedious to match the longer, more tedious delays that your train company will doubtless waste my time with - fills you with a kind of dread and ennui. Of course it does! And that's how I feel every morning at Oxford and every evening at Paddington. It's like anticipation in reverse.

What do you call anticipation in reverse, do you think? What's the word for when you're expecting something that you know will be rubbish? Something for us all to think about perhaps.

So then, that's my project. It may be that by some happy miracle your train service suddenly starts doing what I'm paying you to make it do, and run according to the timetables. In which case, this will be both hello and farewell!

But, I think we both know that's not going to happen, don't we? So - not farewell, but au revoir. (That's French, you know. It means "until we see each other again". Or something similar.) I've got a train to catch home tonight, after all. What do you think the chances of it running on time actually are? I mean - as Managing Director and Director of Communications for First Great Western, you should be able to put a percentage on one of your trains running on time, shouldn't you?

Shall we say: 100 per cent chance? No, of course not. Ninety per cent? Eighty? Fifty? Twenty? Let's see, shall we?

Au revoir!

Best regards

Dominic Utton