National Express: Named and shamed

I’m travelling to York as I type this. My National Express seat is reasonably comfortable, the carriage is almost empty and the train has left on time. Normally, I’d be happy with this outcome and wouldn’t utter a word about the complimentary cup of coffee being one of the worst I’ve ever tasted, the free WiFi requiring me to reveal way more personal information than can possibly be necessary, the dirty table, crammed with cups and sachets of ketchup, or the awful announcements that are too loud, too frequent and mostly incoherent. I wouldn’t usually complain that the loo door gets stuck and anyone wider than Kate Moss will struggle to get in and out. All of these things I would have previously accepted.

But not today.

This morning, I was refused entry to the first-class lounge at Kings Cross. “Sorry sir, this ticket doesn’t give you access to the first-class lounge,” was the whiny explanation. “Why not?” I replied. “It is a first-class ticket.” “No, sir, it’s a first-class advance ticket, which doesn’t admit you to the lounge. It says so in the small print that you and many others clearly haven’t read properly!”

It’s worth mentioning that my advance ticket cost £88.50 – one way. Not that this should make any difference, but I wasn’t travelling on some under-a-tenner deal. I’ve since checked with, where I bought the ticket, and there’s no mention on there of this limitation, though the National Express site does state “customers travelling on a first-class advance ticket can purchase access into all National Express East Coast first-class lounges for £10.”

I wasn’t offered this “upgrade”, not that I would have paid an extra £10 – but I digress. Even though I think it’s ridiculous that this service is only for full-fare customers, it’s the way I was treated that’s really wound me up.

This rude, offhand manner – and total absence of any customer training – makes customers get picky. It makes them find fault in little things. The disgusting coffee and dirty table. Really trivial things in the greater scheme of things, but this is what disgruntled customers do. So my question is: are there people in your company doing stupid things and compounding them with a bad attitude that could cause real damage?

For many businesses, I’m afraid, the answer is yes – whether you are aware of it or not. I could have cited the shocking service from HSBC, the pettiness of British Airways, the rudeness of Mercedes and many other piss-poor experiences I’ve had in the past month alone.

I should mention that I was not the only person on the 10am train to York who had an unsatisfactory experience. Another passenger, one of only three others in my carriage, called for assistance. He probably thought the announcement stating “if we can do anything at all to assist you, please just let us know” would actually result in some sort of service. I overheard him complaining that he couldn’t access the internet and, after just one suggestion (you’ve guessed it – to reboot and start again, which didn’t help), he was told: “Well, I’m sorry, sir, but it’s nothing to do with us. There’s a comments page on their website. You can make your complaint there.” “But I can’t get access to WiFi, so I can’t visit the website!” he replied. “Sorry sir, nothing to do with us.”

Just how many times have you heard that?

This article was published in the November/December issue of Real Business magazine. National Express has since been nationalised and now trades as East Coast. We’ll let you know if customer-service levels improve…

Related articles:Why I’ll never shop in Halfords againBad customer service: a cautionary tale

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