Customer Careless

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InterCity’s customer care policy is failing

PKP InterCity’s new COK in Warsaw. From a photo by PKP.

This week’s horror story about a PKP InterCity guard who threw a disabled girl’s wheelchair off a Szczecin – Katowice train illustrates how PKP InterCity bosses seem totally oblivious to the fact that they are running a service company in a highly competitive industry where the way you treat your customers makes a real difference to market share and bottom line.

PKP InterCity lost PLN 76.8 mln in 2009, and this year, the deficit is getting worse. InterCity boss, Grzegorz Medza, blames Przewozy Regionalne (Regional Services), which offer cheaper fares on some of the same routes. But in fact the number of passengers carried by PR is tiny compared to the number of passengers lost to long distance buses and motor cars.

InterCity passengers pay a premium price for their tickets and if InterCity wishes to retain their custom it must offer a premium service. Sadly the opposite often seems to be the case. My mailbox regularly fills up with complaints about how difficult it is to arrange group bookings through InterCity, but it seems that even the tiniest problem is beyond the wit of the organisation to put right.

Recently I was due to make a journey by PR osobowy (stopping) train from Lodz to Kutno followed by a dash across country in an InterCity TLK train from Kutno to Poznan and finishing off with another osobowy train from Poznan to Stare Bojanowo. With the ticket office at Lodz Zabieniec closed for refurbishment, I was forced to buy my tickets on board the train. The first problem that occurred was when I attempted to book my through journey through the guard. He could only sell me a ticket for the first part of the journey – from Lodz to Kutno; because InterCity and PR had not agreed a common ticketing policy, the cost of the journey would be the sum of the cost of the three separate journeys.

The next problem reared its head as my first osobowy train was delayed in a passing loop some 10 kilometres short of the mainline junction at Kutno. We were due to cross a second osobowy running in the opposite direction, but that train had been delayed waiting for its connection at the Kutno.

Any chance of holding my TLK train till we arrive at Kutno? I asked the guard. No chance, he replied, however there’s an InterRegio semi-fast running just behind. I’ll sell you a ticket for that and then you’ll also get a better price for your onward journey from Poznan to Stare Bojanowo It seemed to make sense the total price of my new ticket for a journey from Lodz to Stare Bojanowo via Kutno and Poznan using PR services was about the same as the cost of a TLK ticket for just the segment Kutno to Poznan.

I arrived at Kutno in the middle of a rainstorm. As I huddled down the subway to keep dry a train came into the platform. It was my InterCity TLK train which itself had been delayed! I leapt on board cursing the bad information I had been given by the guard of my osobowy. When the ticket collector came to my compartment I launched into my explanation and asked him to issue me with a new ticket for Kutno to Poznan and to endorse my PR ticket as unused on this section. The guard refused to endorse my PR ticket and charged me a 5 zloty penalty for buying my ticket on the train. As soon as I realised what had happened I marched down the corridor, and gave the guard my special 5 minute customer care course which I have carefully crafted for the checkout operators at my local supermarket. This had some effect, 10 minutes I had a brand new ticket and 5 zloty. I promptly spent the latter on a very welcome cup of tea from a lady with a trolley. I now had three tickets for the journey from Kutno to Poznan. Surely, I thought, I’ll now be able to get my refund from the PR ticket office at Poznan? How wrong I was! But I’m getting ahead of my story.

As I sipped my tea, one of the ladies in my compartment confided that she now lived in Austria and was on a trip to Poland to visit her relatives. After reading in the papers about passengers being unable to get on board their long distance trains because they were so packed, she decided to leave her children behind with their Austrian grandparents. Her worst customer care experience ever was also with PKP InterCity. A year earlier she had bought tickets for herself and her children at the InterCity ticket office. On board the train, the ticket collector gravely explained that only children who attended schools in Poland were entitled to the 37% discount school children’s ticket; children who attended schools outside Polnd were only entitled to a 33% discount ticket. He could not, he claimed, upgrade her children’s tickets. She would have to buy a new set of tickets and claim back the cost of the original office at InterCity’s ticket office in Warsaw. Arriving in Warsaw she made a beeline to the ticket office and demanded a refund for her unused school children’s tickets. She got her refund minus a hefty administration fee. When she complained she was told that she was lucky that she had not been fined 150 zloty for each of her children who had been travelling on a train without the right ticket!

Arriving at Poznan I went straight to the PR information office and explained what had problem. No problem, smiled the attendant, just go the the InterCity Customer Care Office and explain what has happened they’ll endorse your unused ticket and you can then get your money at any ticket window. So I went to the Customer Care Office and waited, and waited… Finally someone was free to talk to me. I can’t endorse your ticket. Only the guard can do that. But he refused. Well, he shouldn’t have. Perhaps you would like to fill in a complaint form? All my words and entreaties had no effect. Sadly I made my way to the platform to wait for my final osobowy.

When the guard came round to check my ticket. I thought, At last I am dealing with a PR employee. He will know all about the wicked ways of InterCity. He might be able to advise me on what to do. Who knows, he might even agree to endorse my ticket. I apologised that this might take a long time and launched into my story. But the guard had no time for my tale of woe. He just wanted to see my ticket. We exchanged polite pleasantries. I ventured the opinion that by not listening to customers he was not doing his job. He proffered the view that he couldn’t see any customers and that I had uttered a great calumny and that he was minded to call the police. I went back to my seat sadder and wiser. Perhaps I should have threatened to call the police when the InterCity guard had refused to endorse my ticket? Maybe there is a special squad of police who keep up to date with the ever changing regulations on Polish railways and who are the ultimate arbiters in all such disputes?

My rude guard not withstanding I made a mental note to avoid InterCity operated trains in future and to travel on Poland’s railways in PR’s InterRegio and osobowy trains as much as possible. After all, my PR guard was probably terrified that if I had managed to explain my problem to him, he would have been obliged to try to solve it, and to do so was way beyond any authority granted to him.

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2 Responses to “Customer Careless”

  1. John Ball Says:

    This sounds like British Rail staff in the 1970s – ‘I work for a state industry, sod the customer, my job’s safe’. With privatisation, they are more polite these days, though the fares are even more of a rip-off on some routes – they aren’t bad in the South-West, to be fair.

    Are Polish railways yet in private ownership? The situation does seem terribly confusing with tickets not being valid on different sectors’ trains. The way they treat people, no wonder if the railways are in decline.

  2. Bjorn v/d Meulen Says:

    I come from Holland, and I (well, my parents actually) also have encountered the problem with the reduction tariffs for school children. I think it is pure discrimination.

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