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London Midland: useless and unhelpful
Categories: Life

I should start a new Googlebomb: useless.

But first, I should explain. I purchased a £26 rail ticket from London Midland from Birmingham to London back in December, and found that I wasn’t able to go after all. So, I applied for a refund online, prior to the travel date, and received an email that in part said this:

If you selected the self service ticket machine option and have not collected your tickets, we will process the claim without you having to collect the tickets.

Sadly, I thought that this would override a later part, which said that I should post a form through snail mail. But, apparently not. I emailed their Customer Relations team last week, asked why the refund was taking so long (2.5 months so far). Sadly the copy-and-paste reply came from someone who didn’t read my email, so I had to telephone their customer service number.

From there, I got stuck somewhere between telephone-menu hell and not-this-department bureaucracy. The Web Team, to whom I was initially referred, said that if Customer Relations were already dealing with it, I needed to speak with them. So, Customer Relations then were tried, and were as helpful as their systems would allow, but, I was told, it really was the Web Team I needed to speak with. Finally, the Web Team were tried again, and they said that because I’d waited longer than 28 days, a refund was no longer possible.

What should have happened? Well, here we go:

  1. The refund should have been processed online, without any paper form required. I suspect the reason that this is insisted upon for refunds is either a failure to understand how technology ought to work, a deliberate mechanism to put people off obtaining their refunds, or a system to make some interest on the side whilst the busy customer jumps through their frustrating hoops. Or maybe a mix of ’em all.
  2. I’d understood from the initial refund email that, having not collected the tickets, I needed to do nothing further. I contend that the email was misleading, but if I got it wrong, there is no need to lob T&Cs at the customer. That’s a poor business decision if nothing else; they’ll easily spend the £16 refund on staff costs incurred while dealing with my subsequent complaint, as well as the business they will lose to other transport companies. I often travel to London, and will be keeping a record of their lost business until this is resolved.
  3. If I email a customer service department, I expect my email to be read and a suitable reply composed – it isn’t that hard. Sending a canned reply wastes both company and customer time, and renders the online interaction pointless (see that bit about failing to understand technology).
  4. The bouncing around several departments is perhaps a reflection of how fragmented jobs have become in the modern customer service function. No-one is empowered to help the customer, and all an ‘agent’ can do is apologise profusely as they pass the frustrated customer onto another department… who will also fail to help. At the very least, each agent should be able to transfer calls internally, rather than asking the customer to redial; they should also be able to access account notes, so that queries are directed to the right department first time.
  5. I’ve not checked London Midland T&Cs, but a clause that says refunds expire after an arbitrary 28 days is plainly unfair. My waiting this long is a reflection of how busy everyone is these days – as well as a general disbelief that something that could be completed online has seemingly been artificially engineered to include so much hassle. Needless to say, I thought it was being dealt with, having already applied online.

Next step, a letter of complaint. As Blur would have it, sometimes Modern Life Is Rubbish ;).

Update: 23:35 same day

Google must quite like me, since “London Midland useless” and “London Midland unhelpful” has this entry as the first result. Attaboy, Google.

Update: 27 April

Finally got around to writing a letter (paper – eugh!) on 27 April, saying that I would withdraw business if the refund was not processed. I also raised some of the points above – why on earth is it so hard to get a refund on uncollected tickets?

Update: 18 May

A nice chap called Iain replied by email today to say that they would be refunding straight to my account. However there was no acknowledgement that the process was cumbersome, nor that it would be improved. I can expect to receive payment in 28 days: a reasonable win, I suppose.

Update: 4 June

Wherefore art thou refund? Will chase by email. I wonder what their admin costs are, so far? Edit: oops, I’m getting impatient; 28 days not yet elapsed. Holding breath…

Update: 23 June

Monies still not received into account; sent chase to Iain via email.

Update: 30 June

Iain responds via email, and apologises that he isn’t personally able to investigate the “web system” (see point 4 about empowerment above!). The Web Manager however has confirmed that a refund has been initiated, and will be investigating why I’ve not received my £16. I wonder how many multiples of that sum LM has already expended on the process thus far?

Update: 11 July

On the 4th, I receive another email asking me to telephone to supply my card details. I get around to it a week later.

Update: 18 July

Just checked my account, and the refund finally reached me a couple of days ago: success! If I can summon the energy – for all the good it is likely do – I’ll send the link of this post to LM via snail mail. It will probably get filed in /dev/null, but I can at least say I tried to help.

Update: 15 August

Ah, I see what happened. I had originally received a credit to my LM online account, rather than a proper refund; but since the LM appears to be operating in a confused daze, they refunded me properly upon my chasing. So they’ve refunded twice, which would have been nice of them if they’d done it deliberately!

3 Comments to “London Midland: useless and unhelpful”

  1. […] recent customer complaint triggered an interesting idea for a website; since I don’t think it’s been done before, […]

  2. Charles Prinold says:

    1st June 2015 19.25pm. approx. 30 mins ago I booked 2 advance return tickets from Stafford to Liverpool. I dont know what happened, but I had difficulty in booking, having to go in and out of the site several times and when finally booking found I had booked a day later than intended. I immediately realised my mistake and straight away contacted the contact number only to be told I would have to pay a £ 10 admin. fee. Surely this could have been amended without much trouble. They were adamant that nothing could be done so I will never use London Midland again. I know it does not mean much to the company but I have been a regular user over the years but not anymore

    • Jon says:

      Sympathies, Charles. I’d only say that we have to set the boycott bar rather high, since we’d easily run out of train companies to avoid using very quickly indeed! (And if the alternative is Virgin Trains, we’d be making things very expensive for ourselves just for a principle).

      When I wrote this post some years ago, I think I knew about the admin charge, and was OK with it. My worry was LMs internal bureaucracy would prevent me having any money back at all, and it was only through my sheer persistence that they relented.

      (That was a sensible business decision, since I’ve used LM enough times in the past years – something I’ve have tried avoiding if they’d not refunded).

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