A Customer Service #Fail for National Express & Icomera

National Express Train

National Express Train

As a business offering WiFi has many advantages, it can attract people to your outlet, you may even be able to make revenue from it.

It offers people an easy way to check-in on Foursquare or Facebook Places and promote your business for you. From these check-ins you are able to offer loyalty schemes, increase customer retention or just glean deeper understanding of your customers.

But if the WiFi you offer let’s your customers down be sure to have the right level of support and a back-up plan or your offer of connectivity could work against you and effect your brand as in this example with National Express.

I usually commute to work by car, a lovely journey of the country lanes from Diss to Southwold. I fill my time productively by listening to podcasts on a variety of topics related to online and tech or maybe the occasional audio book. From time to time I do make the journey to London for conferences, meetings etc. For this commute it’s the train.

The journey from Diss to London Liverpool Street is a straight forward one and as I only take it occasionally I rarely experience the mishaps more regular commuters face. In fact I actually enjoy the experience, I can sit relax, read or work on the journey to “The Smoke”.

Even before my journey begins the process of commuting by train has been simplified. I can buy my ticket with the Trainline iPhone App and book my parking with the RingGo App, saving valuable time and in the case of parking, hunting around for spare change.

Now one of the issues with working on a train comes when you require Internet access. Mobile access varies along the route and often a connection can drop and be lost completely in some areas. Frustrating at the best of times, when using an iPad, it can limit it’s usefulness.

So I was like a “Kid at Christmas” when National Express introduced WiFi on this route. The service is provided by Icomera, based in Sweden, who specialise in Internet solutions for trains. The thought of high speed Internet access for the 90 minute commute would mean my productivity would rocket. I could clear all of the days emails, missed whilst in meetings, on the way home and still have time to spare.

Last month I was travelling to London quite often so I subscribed for the whole month, £19 seemed quite reasonable to make use of what would otherwise of been downtime.

For my first few journeys all seemed to be working fine until one morning I couldn’t connect to the wireless router. With my journey proceeding at a steady rate I didn’t want to waste too much time fault finding so I rang the help desk provided by Icomera. Pleasant enough they couldn’t see the issue, saw that nobody at all had connected that morning, but would look into it and ring me back. A router restart was all that was required and I was connected 30 minutes or so of journey time lost, no big deal.

After a busy day in London my return journey was late, catching the 22:30 out of London, arriving in Diss after midnight. This was definitely the time I needed to catch up on work so I could go straight to bed when I got home.

As in the morning I was unable to connect to the router, not a problem I’ll ring the support line.

It rang a few times before the call was diverted and I got a strange ring tone, the type you get when you call abroad. I was then connected to a foreign voicemail, Swedish! I tried twice more in case I had mis-dialled but no, the same message. Now my Swedish is not good at the best of times and my patience was short at 23:00 at night. No support for a service I had paid for, my journey would be over in less than an hour and there was nothing I could do.

My email the next day outlined the issue and 3 days later I received a reply:

“I am sorry to hear about the problems that you have had with the service and apologise for any inconvenience that may have been caused. It is hard to say what was wrong with your trains without knowing the exact situation at the time, unfortunately the helpdesk closes at 22:00 so this is why you were unable to get an answer when you called. We are unable to offer partial refunds but I will be able to extend your pass for an extra week if you wish me to. Again I apologise for the inconvenience that has occurred.”

I was incredulous, polite enough, but how can you offer a service on trains that run until after midnight but not offer support after 10pm? This doesn’t make sense. It’s not like people can email for help, their journey is over by the time you reply. The offer of a free week missed the mark as I was not a regular commuter.

At the very least it should be made clear that there was no support after 22:00 when I signed up and that all calls after this time are directed to Sweden!

A service is only as good as the support behind it and in todays world of 24 hour connectivity offering something like a WiFi connection comes with a certain level of expectation. I am not naive enough to think that a service like this wouldn’t have issues but support should not be one of them.

About Sean Clark

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