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St Jude Storm – Impact on our customer service

October 30, 2013

Many more people than ever before used our services on Monday morning and reported a satisfactory experience, but there were problems encountered by some customers. If you were one of those customers who had difficulty in accessing our information on Monday morning, I am very sorry for the additional stress and inconvenience that we caused you. I’ve set out below a brief account of how we approached preparations for the storm and how events unfolded.

Saturday / Sunday

Storm St Jude was well forecast with the Met Office predicting weather that would have an impact on transport and other infrastructure. Some Train Operators took the decision over the weekend not to run trains early on Monday due to the likelihood of there being debris blown on to the tracks and the consequent potential safety impact. This information was posted onto our website homepage on Saturday evening.

On Sunday evening the amended timetable for Monday was made available in our journey planner.

Over the course of the weekend we had a planned upgrade of the journey planning systems which affected our ability to send alerts. This was communicated to customers in advance via their alerting preferences and by email. The upgrade went ahead as planned: one reason for the upgrade was that it allows us to add more capacity as required so that we could meet the needs of more customers.

Our contact centre team drafted in extra staff to work overtime on Monday to try to the cope with the anticipated increase in the number of customers calling. Our information management team was also bolstered with extra people.

The eye of the storm

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We saw a marked increase in traffic across all of our channels (website / mobile / app / contact centre) from Sunday evening which continued through the early hours of Monday morning. Despite many more people than ever before using our services on Monday morning and reporting a satisfactory experience, there were problems encountered by some customers.

The problems included some customers being presented with a blank page rather than their journey plan, live departure board or other information – including in some cases our home page. This also had an impact on some customers using our mobile website, our apps and TrainTracker. This was identified by our support team who immediately began to investigate the cause of the issue and rectify it, whilst adding extra servers to cope with the increased demand. This took some time to complete, but the upgrade at the weekend meant that it was possible without reducing service to the majority of customers.

On our telephone lines, although our contact centre had additional staff working overtime and all desks were fully staffed, some customers had to wait quite a while for their call to be answered. Our advisors answered 47% more calls than a normal weekday and in addition our recorded message system answered almost 12,000 calls.

What worked well

Between 6am and 7am we had approximately 40,000 people on the website at any one time – about ten times what we see on a normal weekday morning. In the hour from 06:00 to 07:00 we answered 50% more requests for train times & ticket prices than in our previous busiest hour, which was when there was heavy snow on 18th January this year. The majority of customers were still able to use the website satisfactorily whilst the fixes were put in place.

Although journey planning in the apps was affected by the overall journey planning problems outlined above, live departure boards and other functions worked well. The Social Media team worked at full capacity delivering over 2000 messages to our Twitter accounts – by the end of Monday we had an extra 11,000 followers on our @nationalrailenq account. On the Facebook page we compiled an album of the pictures of the issues being found by Network Rail and the Train Operators.

Lessons Learned

We are working with our suppliers to investigate what went wrong and why, so that we are better prepared for the next major disruption.

6 comments

  1. Every time your organisation needs to step up and actually do it’s job when most people need you, it fails. Then we have the same set of excuses and apologies and of course ‘lessons learnt’. Which your track record shows they rarely are. Just do your job better than you currently do or find a leader who can.


  2. “so that we are better prepared for the next major disruption.” – I’d really like to see what you say after the next major disruption… this winter.


  3. Agree with the above. When are you going to stop learning and start applying the lessons (allegedly) learnt? We don’t need Mr Nice Guy on Twitter and all the rest – we need a service that can cope with problems that are not a major issue in other western European countries.


  4. I always find it funny when CEO’s, despite lots of problems, manage to write 10 – 12 lines about what went well, but just a couple of words in the “lessons learnt” section.

    Far be it from me to tell you how to run a company, but why not have a couple of words of self congratulation and then a long, clear list of all the lessons you’ve learnt and the steps you’re going to put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    It says it all.

    I’ve found NRE to be poor recently and this sort of thing sums it all up.


  5. Thanks to train cancellations or should i say no trains being run by SW Trains i was unable to get to work that day. Will passengers be compensated for that days travel as i buy my ticket monthly i had paid for travel on that monday.


  6. I think the biggest problem on the day was the lack of co-ordination. FCC were not going to run trains into London before 9am but East Coast reckoned they could – they were very badly wrong.

    It wasn’t just the issue of debris on the line – you cannot drive a train at high speed into torrential rain just like you can’t do that in a car.

    I think the lesson to be learned from this is that Network Rail should decide whether or not the TOCs attempt a service in poor weather.

    For myself it took 6.25 hours to make a 2 hour journey – 2 hours of that delay were due to East Coast. I travelled from Peterborough via Nuneaton, Rugby and Watford Junction to Hemel Hempstead.

    Which brings me to the other big question – why on earth is there a plan for “Crossrail 2″ when by reinstating 7.5 miles of track between Bedford and Sandy you can potentially run services direct from Peterborough to Clapham Junction. I could also afford a season ticket too.



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