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Watchdog sets out future lessons as GWR complaints soar after systems failure

Great Western Railway (GWR) has been criticised for its poor record of responding to complaints from customers by an influential passenger watchdog.

In a document released today, Transport Focus stated that from 2015-16 to 2016-17, the number of complaints made by passengers to the watchdog due to them not receiving a response or a follow-up shot up from 12 to 654 – a 541% increase in just one year.

Transport Focus specified that the problem came about due to the operator bringing in a new supplier for their contact centre service, which coincided with a major incident at Paddington and piled even more pressure on to the new customer service team.

In the document called ‘Rail passenger complaints backlogs: lessons for the future’, transport Focus stated: “Over much of the second half of 2016 and early 2017, GWR had problems with their ability to respond to passenger inquiries, claims and complaints.

“This resulted in a backlog that caused frustration and inconvenience to many passengers who had to wait several months for a response or compensation they were entitled to.

“Many of the passengers who complained to Transport Focus were very frustrated by months of repeated attempts to contact GWR with a complaint or a claim for a delayed journey only to receive no response. Others were disappointed by the lack of an additional ‘goodwill’ gesture for the poor service they had received.”

The ‘lessons for the future’ document went on to say that GWR had met all of the milestones in the recovery plan, and that the issue has been resolved.

The watchdog stated that the transition from suppliers for call centres should not be accelerated in order to reduce the chance that a major error occurs. It also highlighted that understanding the scale of the problem was key to resolving passenger issues like this one in the future.

Transport Focus added that offers of good will were essential to “turn a bad situation into a good one” for passengers who were unhappy with their experience.

Another watchdog, London TravelWatch also welcomed the measures suggested in the report. The organisation’s CEO Janet Cooke commented on the findings, saying: “It is important that all operators learn lessons when things go wrong on this scale.

“An unexpected surge in complaints can easily create a backlog and it is important that passengers are made aware when their complaints are likely to take longer than normal to resolve,” she continued.

“Good and proactive communications in situations like the one GWR found themselves in can help reduce the number of repeat complaints by passengers following up their original compensation claims, leaving customer service teams free to deal with the backlog.”

A spokesperson for GWR told RTM: “We are sorry to all customers whose complaints took longer for us to resolve than we would have wanted.

"We moved all of our customer service work back to the UK, and the move meant a number of responses took much longer to deal with than they should have.

“Having put a plan in place to remedy the situation, complaints and inquiries are being answered within our commitment of 20 days, and we are answering 80% of calls within 20 seconds of the caller choosing an option.”

Top Image: Johnny Green PA Images

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Martin   03/07/2017 at 21:59

The passengers in the picture will certainly wait a long time on that platform for a GWR train!

Andrew Gwilt   03/07/2017 at 23:38

RTM usually uses older pictures from previous articles. But yes this is a South West Trains Class 455 train approaching Clapham Junction to pick up passengers.

William Chase   04/07/2017 at 12:27

I have had two slow responses from GWR in the last 15 months, but on both occasions their eventual reply was both very courteously phrased, free of corporate speak and generously scoped, acknowledging that they were both at fault initially and in delaying a reply. I came away well satisfied at the eventual outcome, irritating though I found the delay.

Haydn Davies   05/07/2017 at 07:37

I would echo William's comments. After some big delays late 16 and early 17 went via the compensation website to seek redress. Months passed following initial standard response about more than usual. There may put one apology for further delay, but did eventually get full ticked refund for two of the journeys. The third was not covered as 'outside GWR's control' forget the exact reason for the 'exclusion' but they did send £20 vouchers as good-will gesture. Acid test will be how quickly the respond to claim made on 27 June for delays on 26 June. I've had the standard acknowledgement about more request than usual, however this was overrunning engineering works so compensation is payable.

Jerry Alderson   08/07/2017 at 17:35

RT wrote: "shot up from 12 to 654 – a 541% increase" Really? Well, I make it 5350% - i.e. (654-12)/12*100 and even if I didn't understand what an increase was and calculated it as =654/12*100, that is 5450%. I can't make the digits '541' regardless of scale.

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