It’s been yet another interesting few days for Southern Rail. After a catalogue of unresolved disputes and disruption over recent months, their decision this week to adopt a different tactic to recruit customers’ influence against the RMT Union may have felt like a bold move on Monday morning – it had delivered an audible backfire of disgusted tweets within minutes. Southern Rail embarked on a high risk strategy by taking to Twitter and full page print adverts in commuter papers urging customers to “strike back” and tweet @RMTunion & tell them how rail strikes makes them feel. Within minutes, frustrated passengers were responding:
"You brought this on yourselves. We, your customers are suffering."
"I dislike unions but I dislike incompetent management more."
"Strongly recommend you read this thread, @SouthernRailUK bc the problems are on you."
There are many reasons why customers end up hating organisations (and yes, hate IS a strong word): a failure to deliver the basics, confusing terminology and the sense of being penalised to use a product or service are just a few. But the sense of being used as a pawn in an unhappy relationship surely features high up on anyone’s list. Already experiencing that sensation on a daily basis for many months now at the mercy of the service they have no other option to choose, the decision that Southern Rail took to invest in this week’s advertising campaign placed customers firmly in the pawn position and reaches new depths.
It’s understandable that Southern Rail wish to reach a conclusion with their dispute but in focusing on their fight with the Union, they have very publicly demonstrated another facet to their insensitivity and lack of regard for the very people who are paying for their service.
Southern Rail reaped the precise opposite of what they set out to achieve. It’s time to start again and stop failing to listen. It’s time for leaders to spend golden time with their complaining customers, facing it out, being in the room, listening to what lies beneath the complaints. It’s time to understand their customers’ underlying motivations and behaviours at every point in their customer experience. What do they actually want as a customer – a reliable, clean, efficient service that they feel they get value for money from? Why?
It’s time for Southern Rail to devise a plan for the whole organisation to act upon a desperately needed change of strategy – one of behaviour and actions on their part rather than words that leave weary customers feeling further manipulated.
Leave your infighting to the meeting room table where it belongs. It’s like the old adage that “Mum and Dad should never bring the kids into their rows”. It’s people who are the real victims in the crossfire of the infighting between Southern Rail and the RMT. For other industries who exert similar exclusivity in their product/service, this is an important example of the effect on people who get caught in the crossfire of disputes. For now, Southern Rail needs acts…not ads.
Let's have a conversation - face to face or via social media - about those customer-centred desires.