Complainer’s Dilemma

  •  21/12/14
  • Richmond – Willesden Jct – Euston – Taxi Return

Any system to provide assistance to passengers has two components, the procedures to follow, the recipe as it were, and the people who actually do the work, whether that’s handling a message and directing it to the right place or the very visible assistance actually provided by the staff. The procedures should be tightly defined and work or they don’t, and if they don’t they can be corrected until they do. The variable in this ecosystem is the people. In short, to quote Douglas Adams, “People are a Problem” because “when they’re good, they’ve very, very good, but when they’re bad they’re awful.

When things don’t work I raise a complaint. I’d like to think this feedback identifies faults in the procedures so the holes get plugged (though I may well be being hopelessly optimistic in this.) If the fault lies with a person I hope my complaint makes them think about how their actions, or lack of them, have impacted on someone who was relying on them and motivates them to do better next time. I would be kidding myself to think that in a modern business environment that there wasn’t also the possibility that the employee was subject to some level of disciplinary action.

So why is all this pertinent to this journey? For the first stages it’s not because they went smoothly. Sadly arriving at Euston there was no sign of either a ramp or assistance, so my PA went off on the regular search and found the staff member playing on his mobile at the barrier. To give him credit he was mortified and immediately accepted full responsibility coupled with profuse apologies. To put it bluntly he completely forgot.

We all screw up sometimes and to fess up deserves some credit in my book. Raising a complaint in this instance may result in this guy getting into trouble, but certainly won’t motivate him to do better next time any more than he currently is. He’s helped me out lots in the past and no doubt will again in the future so he deserves some credit for that. However, not raising a complaint means the incident isn’t recorded. It means the train operator believes, falsely, that their systems have worked. It means they will continue to say “the vast majority of assistance requests are fulfilled successfully” when my experience is closer to 50%.

So there’s the dilemma, to complain or not in this instance. I chose not to. I’d be interested to know if you think that was the right choice.

The taxi ride home was uneventful I’m pleased to say.



About Alan

I'm an Economist, Geek, Campaigner & wheelchair user who's been using all forms of public transport for 20+ years.
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2 Responses to Complainer’s Dilemma

  1. Ali Draper says:

    I recognise the dilemma, but I would complain. My complaint would probably include…
    “The usually helpful and reliable assistant has admitted totally responsibility and has apologised profusely; the purpose of my complaint is not to single out one employee, moreover it is to identify a problem with the system and offer a suggestion that could aid to avoid human error. If individual employees carry mobile phones or bleepers, perhaps the process could include an “appointment” being set on their phone to act as a reminder”.

    That way you’re alerting them to a problem, offering a reasonable and doable suggestion to prevent it happening in the future, recognising that the individual is normally helpful and reliable, but allowing them to record the complaint.

    • Alan says:

      I usually include a “I’m writing this complaint not for an apology but to improve the service offered” sentiment, but more often than not I think I’m getting a cut-and-paste reply. I’m not convinced how far investigations and improvements go in many cases.

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