Saturday 14 March 2015

9 Out Of 10 Passengers....

Imagine, if you will, Tesco on Christmas Eve. I know it's not a pleasant thought, but imagine again if 10% of the people in there are queuing at the Customer Service desk making a complaint, not happy with something about their shopping experience. Imagine again if say McDonalds had to throw away 10% of everything they cooked because it was returned as unsatisfactory. If one in ten toys bought from Toys R Us had to be taken back. If one in ten cars sold by Ford turned out to be defective. You see where I'm coming from. If I was to start a business I'm not sure I'd be really happy if 10% of my customers were dissatisfied with the service I was providing. I'm also not sure the Theo Paphitises of this world would agree it's an ideal business model.

This week the latest Passenger Focus Survey results were announced,and it's fair to say that little has changed in the last year, with the results extremely similar to last year. York and Nottingham have come top in Customer Satisfction, with Milton Keynes and the West Country coming bottom. Norfolk and Suffolk came third and fourth, both above the national average (88%) scoring 92 and 91% respectively. This, of course is due in part to so many blogs keeping them on their toes!!

Norfolk is to be congratulated, having improved scores in every single area from 2013 except one, which was how close the driver stopped to the kerb (down to 92 from 93). Suffolk has actually dropped a couple of points overall, down from 93 in 2013, but I'm pretty sure the neverending roadworks in Ipswich are mainly responsible for that, as it's young people and commuters that have caused the figures to drop.

Now for the individual companies and I'm rather chuffed to be the first to announce that the top operator in the country for Customer Satisfaction is our own AnglianBus, scoring 95%.  That is quite something, especially with some of the internal turmoil that's gone on in recent months. All credit to the drivers. Any chance of some new buses now? KonectBus were only a point behind in joint second, with Ipswich Buses scoring 93% in joint third. Within First Group only First York scored higher than First Norfolk and First Suffolk, so well done to the First team here too. Norfolk Green were not part of the survey. Nor were BorderBus.

AnglianBus top of the pile
However this post isn't really to analyse the survey results - you can do that yourself by clicking here and downloading the survey in full.

No, this post is to ask if the knowledge that for every thousand passengers you carry a hundred of them aren't satisfied, is that a reason to boast. Go-Ahead were tweeting merrily on Thursday about their overall 90% Customer Satisfaction rating, and it made me think of something Lord Clarkson said about the UK car industry in the 1970's and 80's. He said that there was a "that'll do" attitude, which meant the products were ok, but when companies like Datsun, VW and BMW really attacked the UK market with models like the Golf, Sunny and 5 series the extra build quality and attention to detail spelt the end for the "that'll do" UK industry.

I have long thought that same attitude exists within public transport. Please the majority and well you'll always get some whinging git won't you! We see it in the bus building industry - how come buses built outside the UK rattle less than those built here? Even more typical is instead of responding to criticism by trying to match the Germans or Portuguese in build quality the UK companies threaten to sue their customers if they publicly complain about their product. I repeat you cannot sue against fact!

Go-Ahead have a right to be proud of their achievement in coming top in the survey, but I sincerely hope that there is not the "that'll do" attitude up in Newcastle as it still means one in ten of your passengers isn't happy, and if I was running a business that wouldn't do at all. It certainly doesn't do in Japan or Germany. If I was on a 10 mile bus journey and at 9 miles I found I had to walk the last mile I wouldn't call that a completed journey. So let's see what Go-Ahead and the others intend to do to win over the other 10%. To coin a phrase 90% - it's good but it's not Carling!


  1. I think you are over estimating the customer satisfaction scores that the other industries you listed attain. The bus industry is widely attaining satisfaction figures around 90% which most retail businesses would kill for. One independent survey I have seen has the highest satisfaction rating for the supermarkets at 82% satisfaction & which Tesco recorded 45% (though as this was by a different organisation using different definitions we shouldn't be taking the exact comparison too literally what it does show is that so called 'customer focussed' retail businesses aren't necessarily better at customer service than the bus companies). What this shows is that the consistently high, improving satisfaction ratings that the bus industry attains in these independent assessments are unusually good for an industry as a whole and show an industry serving its customers well.

    As for build quality you are comparing one German manufacturer with a particular reputation for build quality (though their earlier imports are just as bad as anyone else's if not worse) & one Portuguese manufacturer who have historically not had a good reputation for build quality (so if their latest model is well put together that is a enhancement on their previous offering) with mainstream British builders. You can't extrapolate all European manufacturers from a partial survey of two builders whilst I have found some Wright products (theirs do appear more dependent on how they are looked after) & Optare products quite well put together whilst the new ADL range has been designed to eliminate rattles and this is being pushed by operators.

    Getting 100% will always be highly unlikely, the Passenger Focus survey asks about the last journey taken for some parts of the assessment, and you will always have issues that crop up (such as traffic delays or the like) that mean that the likelihood of every person surveyed having no issue with their last journey will always be a little slim.

  2. Yep, the stats always make a good headline. But most of us in our daily lives realise that you can lose out by focusing on one thing to the exclusion of everything else.What is public transport: a logistics business or a customer service business? You can please the traveling passengers by keeping to time with comfortable journeys and nice buses. Running less of them and avoiding traffic jams always helps. The trouble is that also means serving less of the community that might need the buses. The Traffic Commissioners (and possibly Bus UK) are more worried about the passengers on the buses than the passengers that aren't. But is that the same as the community's interest? I'm not sure these satisfaction ratings are the be all and end all of everything. I've certainly learnt not to blindly accept every award or rating at face value, whatever the marketeers say.

  3. viewfromthesouth16 March 2015 at 21:32

    You hit the nail on the head with the comment about never ending roadworks in Ipswich. All the while there are big issues such as congestion and roadworks which are outside the control of bus operators, 90% will remain a very good score and one which other service industries would kill for.

  4. It would be interesting though to get a bus of 70 passengers and find out why 7 of them weren't happy. I know it wouldn't work out that way obviously but a thought.

    I am one of life's complaiiners, as you may have noticed. I'm not afraid to complain about small portions, bad workmanship, poor service etc. So as one of the "whinging gits" I referred to I've been analysing myself and I'm pretty sure I don't complain about 1 in 10 of my dealings with businesses, so my satsfaction rate is well over 90%.

    However, and I deliberately didn't say this as I was hoping to provoke debate with the post, I do appreciate it is far easier for smaller companies to score highly than the bigger ones. So my village store, for example, is likely to score higher than Tesco for Customer Satisfaction. Not for bloody prices though it must be said. In the same way if BorderBus were to be part of the survey I'd be amazed if they didn't get close to 100% Customer Satisfaction as it is far easier for them. If you have 100 drivers it only takes 5 of them to have an off day on the day of the survey and the score goes down. If you have 5 drivers who are blissfully happy in their work it is almost inevitible a higher score would be attained.

    I agree with Ipswich Buses and monitoring their Twitter, as I do, I know they get complaint after complaint about circumstances they just cannot control. A bit like Greater Anglia with overrunning engineering works. So I agree with a lot of your points, but I maintain if I was starting my own business in the retail market I wouldn't be satisfied with 90%! My father was self employed for 40 years and I know full well he wasn't.