Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Surveying the Surveys

On my return from my Swiss holiday, I found a number of the companies I used had emailed me asking me to complete satisfaction surveys. Specifically, they were Easyjet, Etap Hotel and Expedia (the latter of which I have used for many years as a flight and hotel booking facility, and once again came up with a great hotel – the Agora – in Lausanne).

It is tempting to disregard these emails – busy life, lots of other things to do etc – but generally I take the view that if they are sufficiently bothered to want my opinion, I should be sufficiently bothered to give it . This is especially true as I am always looking for ways to improve the satisfaction of customers in my company, and therefore I should not turn down the opportunity to help these brands do the same. Besides, the alternative was an evening spent completing next year’s BSOG estimate and anything beats that! So I set about filling out the various electronic survey forms.

Needless to say, they were all quite similar in their general style and layout. They asked broadly similar questions, but the one thing none of them asked was what I thought of the survey! In every case, this was the least satisfying aspect of all my dealings with their brands, which is disappointing since in every case my experiences of the actual brands themselves were very good, and all will get my business again!

So just in case any of their customer service staff should happen to be avid readers of this blog (which I appreciate is slightly less likely than the chances of me finishing the BSOG estimate tonight), here is my critique of their surveys….

Firstly, none of the surveys worked properly. At some point, something failed to load correctly or told me I’d done something wrong when I hadn’t. It was only because I was patient and I’m not frightened of internet browsers that I persevered and managed to get through to the end. Less patient people, or anyone nervous of their computer skills, would have given up and gone away long before I did.

This was particularly true of Easyjet. When I first clicked the link on their email, nothing happened, I just got egg timer. So I clicked it again. This loaded a page telling me I had already started the survey (even though nothing had opened on my computer) and that I must wait 10 minutes before I could start again. This had me screaming at my computer. How dare they ask me to fill in a survey then tell me I’ve done something wrong and must wait ten minutes to be allowed to try again?! Sorry Easyjet, I love your airline but this was a major black mark.

The Etap Hotel survey stuck on a question half way through. Twice when I clicked the “next” button it reloaded the same page, and it was only on the third time of clicking “next” that it actually advanced, just as I was about to abandon the process (and after many people would have). Expedia took ages to load, then loaded a screen saying they were creating “your own personalized survey”. Sorry, but there isn’t someone at the other end of the internet connection crafting away setting up a detailed questionnaire closely tailored to my individual interests. Please don’t patronise me.

Once I’d been allowed in and was answering questions, Easyjet went straight to the top of the class. Their questions achieved the right balance between general perceptions of the airline and airports, and specific issues about the flights I caught. My only criticism was that it was perhaps slightly over-long, but it was easy to follow but thought-provoking – a good mix. Etap Hotel wasn’t too bad at this either, but frankly the Expedia experience was pretty poor. The survey was so short that I can’t really begin to imagine what useful information they would glean that would actually help them develop the product. Perhaps if I’d answered one of the questions differently it would have unlocked a further compendium of questions, but the whole experience seemed entirely pointless.

One specific point for people compiling surveys. I much preferred the Easyjet approach of asking me to rate “very satisfied, quite satisfied, neither, quite dissatisfied or very dissatisfied”. Both Etap and Expedia wanted me to score on a scale of 1-10, but that’s far too detailed really. I’m really not quite sure how you evaluate the difference between an 8 and a 9. Perhaps some people prefer that approach. Perhaps we need a survey to find out?!? (Someone is bound to have done one, probably my old Data Analysis lecturer at Aston University!)

On the whole therefore, I would say I was “quite satisfied” with the Easyjet and Etap Hotel surveys (whereas I was very satisfied with my actual experience of both brands), but “very dissatisfied” with the Expedia survey, despite – again – being very satisfied with the actual service provided.

The real question that remains unanswered of course is why I was only surveyed by brands beginning with the letter “E”, and is this statistically significant?

Monday, 24 January 2011

Un trolleybus Lausannois

I've just got back from a short holiday in Switzerland, which may well be mentioned in this blog again over the next few days. It's one of my favourite countries to visit - a combination of interesting transport and some stunning scenery.

However, while trolleybuses - both rigid and articulated - are still prevalent on the urban transport scene, one thing I noticed for the first time on this occasion was articuled trolleybuses where the trailer was completely separate from the main vehicle, with no opportunity for the passengers to walk through.

Here are two shots to illustrate what I mean...

I encountered these in Lausanne (as seen here) and also in Lucerne and very odd they look! I have no idea whether the driver has a way of seeing what's going on in the trailer - internal CCTV is no big deal these days, but the bus in this shot and many of the trailers look to be getting on in years, so I very much doubt they would have such features, so how could the driver know what was happening in the trailer? Or is this simply not seen as being a requirement?

My travelling companions and I also found ourselves wondering whether the trailers are semi-permanently coupled to the drawing vehicle, or whether they are separately allocated and attached on a daily basis. Our bus spotting skills and the length of our stay were not sufficient to enable us to see whether the same buses always appeared with the same trailer, but we certainly saw instances of buses with the relevant towing equipment operating without a trailer.

We had visions of Lausannois trolleybus drivers getting to the depot of a morning and complaining that their allocated trailer was parked at the back as always, or grumbling about particular trailers that they dislike!

If there are any knowledgeable Swiss transport buffs reading this, feel free to comment and advise!

Although the towing buses all seemed to be of the older types - a trawl of Wikipedia reveals that the bus in the above shots dates to between 1986 and 1990 - there was quite a wide range of trailers, from those appearing to be of very advanced years, right up to youthful low-floor examples. Indeed on a number of occasions, journeys advertised on the real-time information screens as being wheelchair accessible were fulfilled by an elderly step-entrance bus towing a modern low-floor trailer!

Just as an aside, the Swiss transport system is rightly revered in many ways. There is an obvious, logical hierarchy of services, with very efficient connections between them. Trains in particular are generally very comfortable and offer attractive frequencies, and everything runs very punctually.

However, one negative feature is that buses of the age shown in the above photos - equivalent to an E-, F-, or G-registered bus in the UK - are still running in very great quantities on main line routes on most Swiss urban networks. I can't think of a single major UK city where entire routes are still in the hands of similarly aged vehicles (there may be the odd exception, but nothing on the scale seen in Switzerland), and in many cases such networks are now one hundred per cent low-floor, so the British public transport system deserves some kudos for that!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Customer Service

My favourite cinema is the Harbour Lights in Southampton, part of the Picture House chain. Not only is it a five minute walk from my flat, but it shows a very interesting and diverse range of films, mixing the big name Hollywood blockbusters with more obscure (but usually much more enjoyable) independent films from around the world. The staff are also enthusiastic, friendly and helpful.

On Monday this week I went with a friend to see Tron Legacy - not a film I expected to enjoy but which I was really curious to see. I'm glad I saw it, although science fiction doesn't generally do much for me and this was no exception.

Clearly there was something wrong with the projection in the cinema because the whole screen was bathed in pink and green for the duration of the adverts and trailers. The content was practically unwatchable because the colours were completely wrong and every scene appeared entirely in shades of pink and green.

Initially we wondered if this was intentional. The film was in 3D, I've only seen one 3D film before (Avatar, and I was so bored I left early - it was either that or fall asleep!) so we wondered if this was some peculiar side-effect of the 3D process, but putting on the 3D glasses made no difference at all! In due course a member of the cinema staff appeared and explained to us that they were having problems but hoped everything would be sorted by the time of the main feature.

And so it was! Once the actual film started it played perfectly, with no distortion of colours or sound.

So that was the end of that we thought, until the film ended and we were leaving the cinema. As we walked out, a member of staff was there apologising for the earlier problems and handing out a voucher to watch a future film free of charge. This was entirely unexpected as the actual film had been fine, but I thought was highly creditable.

In fact we used our vouchers the following night to watch a film called The Tourist, a thriller set in Paris and Venice which was quite fun to watch, albeit the action scenes were hugely unrealistic, some of the acting was dreadful and the final plot twist was obvious almost from the start!

But the point of this post is that I already thought very highly of this particular cinema. I have had many enjoyable visits there, this was the first time there has ever been a problem and even then it didn't affect the film at all. They had no need to do what they did but by doing so, they have elevated themselves into the stratosphere in terms of my perception of them, and of course have caused me to blog about it here and hope that by doing so, at least a few people might be encouraged to visit and see what they have to offer!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Roadworks and raindrops

Emergency roadworks in Southampton Road in Eastleigh colluded with heavy rain to throw a severe spanner in the works of Eastleigh's traffic system this morning! Luckily, and with some astute controlling, we were able to keep all buses running on time from Eastleigh (apart from one which was about 10 minutes late), even though some were delayed by up to 20-30 minutes coming in!

We were therefore able to report to the world that things were running smoothly, even though behind the scenes we were having to reschedule on the hoof to keep things moving. From 0800 onwards, departures from Eastleigh went like this...

0820 C1 left on time using the bus and driver that should have been on the 0835 C2
0825 A started from Barton Peveril College on time at 0831 (using the correct bus and driver but having arrived at BPC 20 late). An additional bus ran from Eastleigh Bus Station at 0835 driven by the controller and covered the route as far as the college)
0835 C2 left on time using the bus and driver that should have been on the 0820 C1
0900 C3 left on time with the correct bus and driver
0915 A left on time with the correct bus and driver (having arrived about 20 late on the inbound journey but with 45 minutes layover)
0920 C1 left on time with the driver that should have been on the 0940 C2 and a bus that was spare until 1430
0940 C2 left on time with a driver who was spare from 0915 until 1330, but the correct bus
1000 C3 left on time with the bus that should have been on the 1020 C1 but the correct driver
1015 A left on time with the correct bus and driver (the bus was due in at 0955 but just made it at 1012!)
1020 C1 left on time with the bus that should have been on the 1000 C3 but the correct driver
1040 C2 left on time with the correct bus and driver
1100 C3 left on time with the bus that should have been on the 1120 C1 and the same spare driver that did the 0940 C2

After that things calmed down a bit, and apart from the buses on the C1 and C3 being transposed for the rest of the day (they are both DAFs so it doesn't really matter), everything has returned to normal so far!

But an interesting morning, nevertheless.