Using Twitter for customer service: @ChilternRailway

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Chiltern Railways cow disruptionLast night I was pleasantly surprised at how well Chiltern Railway are using Twitter for customer service.

Like many other commuters, my journey home was disrupted by cows! Even though it was a very unusual situation, I wasn’t too surprised as I’d already seen a tweet from the Chiltern Railway account before I had even left the FreshNetworks office.

As I already follow @chilternrailway , I immediately had all kinds of updates in the palm of my hand – relevant information on alternative travel arrangements and even news about the steps being taken to get the stranded passengers and train moving. I felt informed and was able to make my way home using the information they provided – while it was frustrating to a certain degree I was glad that Twitter was being used, even though it was well after office hours.

I also saw lots of engagement and individual questions being answered, and even received a personal apology in reply to one of my tweets about the disruption. The Twitter account was in full swing until about 1am this morning, and back with updates at the usual rush-hour time just a matter of hours later, all in a cheerful tone of voice and personality.

However, even as a social media advocate, it took me a while to learn that Chiltern Railway even had a Twitter account, which is a shame.  Chiltern Railway appear to be very pro-social, having given the Foursquare mayor of Marylebone the privilege of turning on their Christmas lights (which I’m hoping will be me this year!). Before seeing another commuter tweet Chiltern Railway, I was unaware that they were providing such a great service, and even using it for promotional messages and general announcements such as the introduction of a brand new train.

I think their execution of Twitter for customer service is excellent and it has changed my perception of them for the better. Chiltern Railway are the only train company I have available to me, and before following them on Twitter my perception of them was neutral at best – viewing them as a means to an end. Now, though, I feel much more involved and informed about the company and their service, and feel more forgiving when unexpected incidents like this one take place.

What I would suggest to Chiltern Railway is only a small thing – they could improve their promotion. They currently have about 2,000 followers and I imagine there are many many commuters like me who may use social channels but don’t know what they are missing.

A quick fix suggestion to this could be that the in-carriage scrolling LED signs on trains, giving a Welcome message, next stop and other stop information could have a simple ‘Follow @chilternrailway on Twitter for travel news and updates”, which would surely reach the eyes of thousands of smart-phone equipped commuters.

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6 Responses
  • [...] Using Twitter for customer service – Chiltern Railways ( [...]

  • Alex
    Jun 10, 2011

    I contrast this with South West Trains who have been appalling and them (along with Network Rail) made me 45 mins late getting into work yesterday morning and four HOURS late getting home last night.

    Their total summary on Twitter yesterday – which isn’t even their own account, they communicate via a generic UK Railways account (what do they have to hide?) – was that all was running OK on their network.

    Whilst there were thousands of stranded travelers on their trans and at their stations (Waterloo was a particular mess) their communications was inconsistent, often incorrect, lacking information and depressingly non digital (in a social media context).

    The icing on the cake was the train guard saying for an hour (paraphrasing) “I have no idea what’s going on”.

    And they have the gall to post on their website today that their communications was good – it’s as bad as it is every other time they do this. They never learn. Information is poor and they don’t use social channels to engage with their customers.

    I got off and got a taxi home in the end. Oh for proper competition for us commuters.

    Alex Jun 10, 2011
  • Al Pittampalli
    Jun 10, 2011

    Twitter updates for transit systems are a must. All should send updates that way. What a great service for twitter users, so much so that I might go out of my way to take a form of transportation that cares enough to utilize it over one that doesn’t. Great post, Jon.

    Al Pittampalli Jun 10, 2011
  • Jun 13, 2011

    Interesting post, thank you. I pioneered the use of twitter in the rail industry for customer service and it’s pleasing to see so many other train companies using it.
    Chiltern and others, including London Midland, have essentially realised information provision in what is quite a complex industry is historically poor – especially in times of disruption.
    The industry as a whole is working on this and whilst I agree that promotion of the account is important, it’s vital to ensure that the channel is fully embedded and resourced before promoting it through traditional channels.
    At a time when the whole rail industry is under pressure to reduce costs, the use of social media in some quarters is considered a luxury and not a necessity unfortunately.

    Intrapreneur Jun 13, 2011
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    [...] Using Twitter for customer service – Chiltern Railways ( [...]

    Seven Super Tips - Using Twitter as a Customer Service Tool | BaseKit - The world's most flexible Website Builder Jul 1, 2011
  • […] Earlier this year I wrote about how Chiltern Railways were using twitter for customer service. […]


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