Sunday, November 2, 2008

Memorable Journey (2/2)

As promised, back on the writing deck;-)

The train is still waiting at Aachen Central Station which is -generally speaking- quite normal (for some time;-)) and then the unnormal events take place.

  • First of all one of the conductors is leaving the train (it is the German one), even though the passengers don't change much in number (there is not coming a second one).
  • A slight delay as everybody could sense and see (comparing scheduled time to actual time
  • Suddenly - would have been nice at night- the lights in the Thalys go out, and one has the feeling that someone is trying to restart the engine (surely not a car's one;-)); this goes on for a quarter of an hour, shutting off lights, trying to restart - no info yet:-((
Then the inevitable happens: it is announced that the train can't go on towards Paris (passing Brussels where my interview partner is going to pick me up at 14:35h, the scheduled arrival time). It was like a flooding - only this time people are flooding the railway office downstairs to check whether and how to reach the connection trains (from Brussels there is starting an Eurostar towards London via the Channel). Nobody of the staff has a clue how to handle that, no general information for these passengers - I wonder which courses the staff has undertaken to cope with such situations in general? Nothing serious really and yet something with great impact on customer satisfaction (there will be stories like mine being told after the journey is over and the memories of a bad and unpleasant railway journey will drive people again on the roads - with negative impact on climate change:-().

After about 10 minutes standing in line, translating for some English, there is a rumour heard (nothing clearly said via loudspeaker, just word-of-mouth and yet we all get it):

THE TRAIN CAN CONTINUE ITS JOURNEY TOWARDS PARIS (with some slight delay of about 80 minutes by this time;-() and -I can't believe that!- a FULL REFUND for the travel (to be refunded at a Thalys office - which is something of a constraint as we will see later)

Everybody who has not left Aachen Central Station via other means of transport is jumping back on the Thalys and off we go - a good feeling and yet I phone to Brussels to announce my late coming - my interview partner is driving into Brussels from the country side to pick me up).

The green hills of Belgium pass alongside, we enjoy the ride and think of our destinations (some of us are seeing their families in Paris, others are travelling further up to Scotland via the Eurostar connection, and I will have a job interview in Brussels, which I am really looking forward to). So we have all our day dreams and everything seems fine.

...until Liége.

Entering the Central Station I think by myself, "Good that I am heading further to Brussels, as this looks rather grey and unwelcoming!". Reality should take hold of that thought quicker than I can imagine.

It is when we are leaving the station up a rather small hill and a signal makes us stop on the tracks. Probably we have messed up the schedules of other trains by our late coming? Ok, some waiting will be necessary.

Suddenly I feel like beamed into Aachen again, as the engine is shut off, lights go of and the previously experienced procedure comes into life again. 

"What is going on?"

"Didn't the conductor say in Aachen, everything would be ok? Where, by the way is he anyway? Haven't seen anybody of the personal coming along in our coach."

So, while all other passengers (around 300 I guess in 6-7 coaches) stay seated I take a walk to fulfill my natural curiousity, to find out what is really going on. Wandering through every coach everywhere the same picture, people talking and waiting for the inevitable (Do I see action? Where are the people of today who take personal responsibility of the reality they are in? Anybody thinking the same as me, finding out about the root-causes (yeah, here my lean thinking passion comes through - especially as I am a customer, a rather small one in terms of cash I bring Thalys (merely 42 € for the distance between Aachen and Brussels) and yet a CUSTOMER that brings money in today and will in the future (eventually;-)).

Another hour waiting just a few meters from Liége Central Station and soon we hear that the train has been running with 60% of its power due to engine problems and now that small hill is being a BIG PROBLEM to overcome.

Alright, what to do? Phoning my interview partner again, as he would be still too early at Brussels Central Station waiting for nothing and wait for what will come.

Soon we travel back into Liége Central Station and new miscommunication happens, as nobody knows which train to catch (there is standing an IC on the opposite track), some people stay on the Thalys until after some more minutes the conductor is telling everybody, that THIS THALYS is going to nowhere!

What to do? Jumping on the IC? Is it the right one? Reading the schedules on the track to find out whether this is the correct one to Brussels is not easy (French, different layout where you have to know which is the destination and then you can check which trains are running in that direction). 

Chaos! Chaos! Chaos!

Finally, just before moving the IC opens up the doors again (thanks to a service guy who was phoning the folks on this train) and loads of Thalys passengers flow into this IC which again is delayed with about 20-30 min to its initial departure.

A hell lot of experiences you really don't like to have yourself and yet this is the STARTING POINT to deliver better service in the future (NOT ONLY AT THALYS but everywhere in the service world).

What was good?
What was bad?
What have I learned?
What is the next action out this journey?

(four simple questions, which I have learned from my dear friends from Monkey Business)

I will answer them in a follow up and the personell (up and down the ladder) of service institutions such as railway companies shall practice these as well.

Together we can co-create a profitable and yet sustainable future of public transport and rail travels (which I really prefer pretty much:-))

2 comments:

Col said...

Ralph,

I feel your pain!

Your story reminds how much good service is about communication. Clarifying expectations, letting people know what is going on ... this is basic, basic, basic, yet unfortunately is rare, rare, rare.

Ralf Lippold said...

Col,

Thanks for your thoughts.

Yeah, we don't see "perfect" service too often, every once in while we are hit by it and think by ourselves, "How could that be? Seems so easy, why not more often?".

Communication is what really builds up community (both words have same foundation;-)).

Cheers,

Ralf