Friday, 9 March 2012

Bristol Passengers Offered Underwhelming Promise

When is a ‘customer promise’ not really a customer promise?

Bus passengers in Bristol could soon be finding out that it is precisely the sort of customer promise which is now being offered by First Bus.

To help sweeten the pill of their latest fare increases, the company has made a promise to its customers that their bus journey will be free of charge if the bus is more than 20 minutes late. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Er, well no, not really. Look a little closer and you’ll find that the offer is not quite as generous as it first sounds.

To begin with, it is beholden on the customer to prove it was the company’s fault the bus was not on time. That might not be easy. And then First would only accept liability if their bus failed to arrive because its driver didn’t turn up for work, or the bus had suffered a mechanical breakdown.

In addition, it would not be liable for delays caused by Bristol ’s heavy traffic. Or by road works or road closures. Or bad weather. Or vandalism. Or security alerts. Or industrial action.

Oh, and it doesn’t apply to concessionary pass holders either.

Doesn’t sound quite so good now, eh?

First Bus reckon that their generous new promise “… reflects its increasing confidence in its ability to operate buses more punctually and reliably than ever before”. However, given their offer’s many and complicated limitations, ‘confidence’ is not a word that springs readily to mind. There may be good reason for this.

In January 2011, the Traffic Commissioner levied a fine of £40,000 on First Bus for running late buses. That followed a £50,000 in 2007 and a massive £100,000 in 2005. The company has an unfortunate history of running late buses, so its confidence might justifiably be fairly low.

And when you look a little closer, you’ll find that First Bus are actually legally required by the Traffic Commissioner to ensure that their buses are no more than five minutes late without reasonable excuse anyway – which is way, way above the level of punctuality promised in their ‘customer promise’.

Perhaps it is no surprise that First Bus’ customer promise is being introduced on Sunday, April 1 – April Fool’s Day. But who is the fool?

Well, it might just be First Bus, if their ‘customer promise’ proves to be as big a public relations car crash as it looks set to be. You only have to think about the number of angry passengers who make a claim only to discover that, for any one of a dozen reasons, their claim is not valid to work out that people might feel a little let down by the company’s promise. And that’s bad for business.

Any PR consultant worth their salt will tell you that consumers who receive great service will generally sing your praises to four other people – but will report bad service to at least ten. The imperative to get it right, and rescue it quickly if it goes wrong, should be overwhelming. Again, ‘overwhelming’ is not a word that readily springsto mind. Underwhelming, perhaps…

Local councils aren’t impressed, either. First Bus’ avowed confidence ‘…in its ability to operate buses more punctually and reliably’ has got at least something to do with the £78 million which local councils have invested of bus priority measures in recent years as part of its Greater Bristol Bus Network. That money was spent to get more people onto buses by making bus services more reliable and, in return, it was hoped First would drop its fares.

Yet later this month First Bus will be putting up fares for all day, single and return fares for adults and children.

I reckon First Bus might have a tough job ahead of them. And it’s not likely to get any easier.

1 comment:

  1. Suggest that anyone who wants to true facts in relation to the Customer Promise and the fare review (which is linked to the Govt's reduction in BSOG) read the actual press release, not the Bristol Evening Post spin (or this cut and paste version of the Evening Post) on the story. The burdon of proof, for instance, is not on the customer - they simply have to submit a claim using one of the specially created forms. The complete story can be found here, under news and initiatives: www. / bristol(NB the web address is deliberately spaced out so this comment does not get caught in a filter).