Excellent customer service – and the worst!

If you book an airport hotel and accidentally select 2009 instead of 2008 then it is definitely your fault. When you arrive and the reception is very busy with people who want rooms, but can’t have them as the hotel is full, then it’s reasonable to assume you’re up s**t creek without a paddle.

Not with Thistle Hotels who when they saw we had a baby amazingly managed to conjur up a room. They even provided a travel cot at no extra cost.

Contrast that with the truly despicable National Express. Not only do they cancel our train, leaving us with a one hour wait, they then refuse us entry to an almost EMPTY first class lounge. Now I know you can’t normally use it on First Class Advance tickets, but this was its fault. National Express cancelled our train – its fault – yet they refuse to do anything to solve its problem.

The irony is that I spend less than 500 a year with Thistle, and more than 10,000 with National Express.

At least I’ve created some positive word of mouth about Thistle Hotels and hopefully some very negative word of mouth about the truly appalling National Express.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.pr-media-blog.co.uk Mark Hanson

    Similar experience with Virgin. I got caught in the Network Rail chaos over Xmas. Virgin offered a free first class ticket to all customers who sent in their original ticket.

    I didn't notice that there was a cut off date in the small print, so I was late applying.

    I too spend about 10k a year with Virgin Rail but got was told to bugger off as the 'computer said no' so they couldn't bend the rules.

    I used to challenge anyone that knocked Virgin Trains, pointing out that since the upgrade of the west Coast mainline, punctuality and speed were great.

    Don't feel like doing that anymore.

  • http://www.risingmusicblog.com Sebastian Mysko

    I tried this one on National Express last month after a train cancellation – similar treatment… would be good if it could open its doors similar to airport lounges, where any traveler who is flying business or above can use the facilities, regardless of the fee that was paid. In addition, it should definitely get itself a 'frequent flyer' esq offer. With regards to spreading positive/negative word of mouth, the sad thing is we don't have a single realistic option on train-lines for that good old Leeds – London trip. So short of flying or driving – we're a bit screwed.

  • http://olliandlime.wordpress.com Andy

    "who when they saw we had a baby amazingly managed to conjur up a room"

    Surely, they either had a room or not?! I do understand it would seem rather harsh to turf you onto the street with a baby in tow but I would hope that this room would have materialised for a baby-free couple too!

  • http://www.rainierpr.co.uk/blog Stephen Waddington

    National Express is doing a damn site better job on the East Coast line than GNER ever did. The customer service is improving and its making a real effort to innovate (etickets; email alerts for delays; mobile ticketing and web alerts for ticket booking offers).

    It sounds like got a rough deal, but then a lot of people try it on with airport and train lounges which is why they have hard and fast rules.

    Judging by the National Express web site there is a loyalty scheme coming which would cut through nonsense such as this.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/stuartbrucepr/ Stuart Bruce – Wolfstar

    @Mark – I don't use Virgin much, but when I have I've had a pretty good experience. I was once stuck on a cancelled train and decided to abandon my journey rather than continue by coach. They let me use my ticket next day and refunded the original cost.

    @Seb – I can't understand what's so hard about a 'frequent traveller' programme. GNER had one, it's totally unacceptable that National Express is still in the process of setting one up.

    @Andy – hotels usually have a room or two for emergencies even when full.

    @Stephen – You're definitely the first person I've heard say that they prefer National Express to GNER, absolutely everyone else I've spoken to thinks they are far worse. I don't buy the "hard and fast rules" as GNER did use to be more understanding. I think what irritated me most was that it was a straight no, rather than "I'm sorry sir, I do understand and would like to help….".

  • http://www.rainierpr.co.uk/blog Stephen Waddington

    I can comment only on the East Coast line where I have found a degree of flexibility and much improved service versus GNER, the old franchise operator. Maybe this comes from having got to know most of the staff from using the Newcastle/London service twice a week.

    You are right that National Express has been slow to get the loyalty scheme off the ground. It was awarded the East Coast franchise in August 2007 and we're still waiting.

  • http://www.pr-media-blog.co.uk Mark Hanson

    Stuart – I agree that Virgin normally do well but like your reply to Wadds, my issue here is that they turned an ordinary customer interaction into 'computer says no' which spoils a lot of their earlier work