The customer is always wrong


I recently embraced Oyster. I’m not talking about aphrodisiacs, shell fish allergies or any combination of the two. Instead, I mean the smart card system on London Transport. The card certainly isn’t smart, not in the Kensington or even Tate Modern sense. It can be loaded with cash and effectively acts like an electronic ticket. I used something similar in Hong Kong’s MTR system some 10 years ago.
The smart bit is that it automatically calculates your fare for various journeys and even utilises fare capping so you don’t pay too much. I think though, ‘smart’ probably means that it may come back to hurt you.

My use of Oyster all went well, for a time, being careful to ‘touch in and touch out’ at stations and, especially DLR. But I had a problem at Vauxhall station. Refusing to let me pass, the barrier shrieked “seek assistance”. Not having my psychiatrist’s number to hand, I instead talked to a guard. After several more tries, the barrier capitulated and let me through. The next day, I discovered Mr Oyster had charged me an extra £6 for an “uncompleted journey” and he was otherwise keeping his mouth firmly closed on the subject. Instead of the pearl of flexibility and convenience I thought I was buying, it turned into the grit of uncertainty.

Had it not been for a few other instances, I was just going to take the loss on the chin. But I began to suspect that the card was faulty. Since fortune favours the foolhardy, I like a lamb to the slaughter, engaged an attendant at Canary Wharf. I should have guessed by his demeanour and constant head-shaking as each customer left dissatisfied that he may not be customer focused. Unhelpfully, he concluded that the ‘uncompleted journey’ and all other instances were all my fault and that I must remember to ‘touch in and touch out’ (a phrase that is probably a truism for life in general no doubt). The technology did not lie.

Despite me protesting that this was precisely what I had done, I had witnesses to that effect and that perhaps the card was faulty, he could do nothing and instead I had to phone the helpline. Instead, I ‘sought assistance’ again at Waterloo. This instead was a master class in customer care. Not only was he prepared to believe me (that the card might be faulty) he credited all the overcharges and transferred the balance to a new card for good measure.

The customer care contrast was stark. The first presented a jaded, suspicious, ‘don’t waste my time’ attitude, treating customers like idiots. The second a customer focused, empowered, satisfying (I use that term loosely, but you know what I mean) encounter. I don’t appreciate being passed from pillar to post. I expect people to at least listen to me and take me seriously. Of course some customers are chancers, trying it on. But, being prepared to believe someone and at least trying to sort it out makes a big difference. My faith in London Transport was restored. I might even trust the ‘smart card’ to get it right.

Whether you like it or not, your people are your company; they have the potential to give good or bad impressions to customers in whatever capacity they work. When I finally die and leave this earth, I must remember to touch out. Although, I don’t remember whether I touched in when I arrived……