A personal PR disaster

Virgin Trains needs to think about crisis management. 

This morning I found an email in my inbox from Virgin Trains, delivered yesterday. On opening it, there was a profuse apology about rail works that had not been completed by the dates I wanted to travel. I could either continue to travel via a seemingly endless loop of replacement buses, or cancel and get a refund. I opted to cancel.

It seemed so easy: “For a full refund please click here” with a convenient link below it. “Fair enough,” I thought. “I’ll hire a car instead.” It wasn’t, after all, a situation of their making.

And that’s where the grief started. The link *didn’t* take me to a refund page. It took me to a page that I had to log into, and then find the Refund link (it’s at the bottom). I then had to select the booking I wanted to cancel – twice (there’s only one) – then read through a page of content before I could finally get to the refund page. Then I was advised to print off the web page, attach my tickets, and send them through. Well, guess what? I don’t have a printer at home. And I don’t have access to a work printer now I’m on holiday either.

So we now have to send the tickets through by mail, with a piece of paper with our transaction number written on it.

This whole process took about ten minutes, with two of us, both pretty tech-literate, looking for where we should be clicking on the web pages. We were already annoyed that we had to be doing this, but the web experience made it much worse.

And the answer is so simple. Give people a ‘click here to refund’ link that actually works. This is a specific case, so put specific mechanisms in place to deal with it. Take people directly to their booking, even if they have to log in, and make it all happen instantly, together with an apology in big letters. Just make people’s lives easier because the technology is surely there to do it.

And, of course, a phone call would have been much better still. The Virgin brand is about championing the consumer (it says here), and delivering a quality product / experience . I don’t feel I’ve been championed, and I have certainly not just had a quality experience.

But they probably have a bit of a nightmare on their hands right now, given that they’re affecting many people’s travel plans for the New Year. Which is why they’ve sent an email and hidden behind the technology as much as possible. Not clever, and, I would say, the actions of a company without a decent crisis management plan in place, or indeed a joined-up communications strategy that holds brand values dear to its heart.

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