Ticket booking with First Great Western #feedback

I had a moment this evening, a little one, where my frustration peeked when I went to book my train tickets for next week. I try not to book with The <insert mode of transport>line because they are explicit in their charges of a booking fee and a credit card transaction fee. Of late I’ve tried to book with First Great Western, the train provider on my route. I’m not completely sure that it ever works out any cheaper, my hunch is that they sometimes roll the associated fees into the fare and hope you won’t notice, but I used to give them that because their booking process just felt cleaner than the other service.

Except relatively recently FGW redeveloped their website booking system. I’d been very fortunate until the end of last year to be in a position which afforded me Rachel, an angel sent from heaven, who was employed as my shared PA. It took me a while to become truly dependent on Rach but eventually I gave in to my inner-working class guilt and decided to allow her to organise my life, and she was great at it. No longer did I have to worry about booking train tickets, or finding the best fare (because I’ve got an almost compulsive obsession when it comes to finding cheap travel), this was all looked after for me. Right now I’m cursing that I allowed myself to indulge and develop such dependency, and I’m also cursing First Great Western for their changes. I offer you the background in case it is just me being mardy, and to legitimately allow anyone to call me on being precious if I am the only one with issues!

So what happened I hear you ask….the following screen grabs indicate what happened (don’t worry you don’t need to be able to read them, although if you click and zoom you probably can, they’re just indicative):

FGW
1. Nice front page, clear form, pretty pictures – seriously it’s good and even warns me about upcoming work at Reading. So far, so good.

2. Enter details and you’re presented with this screen. The top boxes are possible fares, the bottom boxes train options. Given I specified a time I think two or three train options, four at a push, would suffice – there are only three options within two hours of the time I specified.

At this stage I now know (from talking to awesome Ollie who mans the FGW twitter account) that if I select the fares I’m interested in the fares according to each train will be displayed.

3. Taking Ollie’s advice this is what show’s up.

However, having no Rach in my life, and until this evening no Ollie either, I have simply selected the train I wanted – after all I’m motivated by getting to London in time for work. So let’s start again:

4. Bizarrely on this occasion when I went to book a return it only gave me one window to complete (as though I wanted a single) – I suspect this is a minor bug because I returned to the booking page from within the programme. Anyhow I enter my details having hit refresh to fix that.

5. This is what happens if you pick by train – the only indication of what fare is available is the feint grey line around the box – none of the pink colouring used earlier, and it’s not easy to spot.

6. This was the screen once I’d checked out – this is really just to draw attention to the overlapping frames, minor, but again not the sleek experience I’d hope for.

All of this is intended as feedback for First Great Western because I don’t think it’s possible to make clear in a tweet. At this rate I may just go back to the other provider, depending on whether my feedback is acted upon, a gauntlet thrown down by @JamesMB.

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 21.29.01Ollie who was on the @FGW twitter account was awesome, and James was quick to acknowledge how good he is too, so let’s see if the rest of FGW respond with the same customer facing skills. Watch this space, I’ll keep you posted!

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11 thoughts on “Ticket booking with First Great Western #feedback

  1. Great post!

    If I had to guess, the site was tested on ‘sophisticated users’ – and by that I mean people within the company and or inside the developer business. It packs in loads of information in a way that makes sense to internal users which, if you were used to dealing with it all the time, would look great. It isn’t, on any level, designed for Joe or Josephine Customer.

    Personally, I think that this perfectly reflects how FGW works in general. Some great customer facing staff (some – not all) and some kind of glass wall, behind which no customer views are relevant. It is a ‘this is what’s good for you’ attitude and it completely undoes any of the good that people like Ollie do.

    It’s actually not that uncommon a problem. I could name a dozen household name companies that have spent lots of money on a facade of customer facing services that are just that – a facade. For some inexplicable reason, the customer is an inconvenience to how the company wants to do business.

    The reason that, to me, it is inexplicable is that social networks give these companies a great opportunity to listen, react and adapt to real customers and their views – completely unvarnished and untempered – but they rarely do.

    It’s cultural and it is something that will not change easily (those who push the views of the customer against the convenience of the business aren’t going to be first in line for promotion). If I was going to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, I’d point out that there is form for this sort of behaviour in former state run businesses that have been privatised with little or no competition (think trains and water companies) but it can also be found in businesses that have always been in the private sector.

    Of course, where there is the choice, the joy of social media is that there will always be someone there to help you find it. Where there isn’t… well, you’re stuck.

    But it’s your own fault for being a customer. Why you can’t just fit in with their business model, I just don’t know!

  2. Hey George, I totally agree, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is (as said PA) to go from using a site that used to function perfectly to be suddenly faced with a site that makes your job twice as hard. After the migration to the new site all our company information had gone and there had been no warning that this would happen. The new site is not at all user friendly and what is the point of showing you the fares you can’t have for your chosen journey? If you book a journey with changes you can’t see where the changes are unless you go to the next stage which is such a time waster when you are trying to work out the logistics of a journey. Most frustrating of all is the refunds system is not functioning at all. We resorted to sending the tickets we needed refunds on back with a note detailing the problem each time. You no longer get an email telling you that your refund has been processed which makes keeping track of expenses a nightmare. I sent at least 4 emails of complaint and am yet to receive a reply. I think Trainline has got to be the better option even with the booking fee. There rant over and feel much better. Thanks for the lovely comments George and I was lucky to have such an amazing boss in you. Miss you loads x

  3. The interface was not specified or designed by FGW or for that matter the First Group. It is an off-the-shelf system supplied by ATOS (http://uk.atos.net/en-uk/industries/transport/online_ticketing_avantix_webtis/default.htm). It isn’t a particularly new product either; it was originally developed for GNER in 2007 (http://www.howsplendid.com/case-studies/national-express-east-coast/). It has been gaining business at the expense of its main competitor the trainline, with First being the latest to switch.. There are how ever a number of companies that still run the trainline platform for those who prefer that style of interface.

    1. Hi Jeremy, thanks for this it’s useful background, however the points that I, James and Rachel raise remain – it isn’t felt to be easy to use, so I guess I’m interested in whether FGW will choose to address that, or whether they’ll just accept a loss of custom. I guess ultimately they’ll get their cash because they’re the train operator on that route, whoever we book through.

  4. Hi George. Thanks so much for writing this post. I’m really pleased to read about the service you had from my colleague, Ollie. We are very proud of him! Sorry you weren’t so happy with our online booking system though. Our web team have seen your comments and have certainly taken them on board. Throughout the year we will be running a series of user experience reviews and we were wondering if you’d like to help us with these? If you would, then please just drop us a DM – Ollie has already followed you just in case! – and we will be in touch. Thanks again for your feedback and we hope to hear from you soon.

    Best wishes

    Jo Coverley
    Digital Community Manager – First Great Western

  5. You are correct…. The new site is very difficult to use and understand… If you are a simpleton.

    The mixing deck is nothing new and most toc’s use it along with red spotted hanky, it differs to the conline booking engine in that it forces you to read the terms and conditions unlike the old system which would routeinly sell you the wrong ticket because it was not clear what you were paying for, I am willing to bet that the number of refunds and unrefundable unusable ticket sales has dropped significantly.

    It is also a FACT that with the exception of offers from southern and cross country for journeys wholly on their services that tickets are the same price no matter where you buy them and they all come from the same pool, the cheapest place to buy them (aslong as you are close to one) is the ticket office in advance! This also ensures that stations remain staffed and you have a nice warm waiting room to sit in when you wait instead of a bus shelter in the snow with a Chav eying up your laptop.

    I can tell you would be the first to moan about that!

    Remember if you buy from a ticket office the person behind the window HAS to sell you the cheapest ticket for your journey, the website will push you towards the expensive option it is down to you to hunt down the cheap tickets.

    Over 50% of tickets are now sold online, welcome to moronic Britain where nobody has a job nobody cares and everyone is turning into a zombie.

    1. Thanks for the constructive feedback James, in the spirit of free speech I’ve approved your comment despite you inferring I’m a simpleton and a moron and possibly also a zombie…mostly because you amused me.

      I blogged in an attempt to be constructive, so I hope your passive aggressive comment made you feel better and it’s helped you too! Have a great day.

      1. 🙂 it was not my intention to cause offence, I was simply pointing out that too many people these days want the easy fast option, and as a result a lot of the substance within society is lost…. Was more a splash of cold water in an attempt to wake people up.

        All the best

  6. Hi George

    Since I last wrote, I have received some information from our web team that you may find interesting. We have been keeping a close eye on the new system since it went live as it’s important to us to iron out any problems that we can.

    There is a new release of the current system in April and that will include a few upgrades.

    -We have taken 1 whole step out of the booking process, to make things a little clearer and easy to use.
    -The range of fares is being updated to remove fares that have sold out from our Advance range.
    -We’re making some changes to the branding, to improve usability
    -We will be highlight any return fares which are cheaper than 2 singles

    In July, we will be trailing a more dramatic redesign of the search results page. It will be tested in parallel with the current search results page and assuming it performs well, we will introduce that to 100% of our customers

    I hope this shows that we are listening to customer feedback and we are very willing to make changes to improve it if we can.

    Finally,rest assured, we don’t hide the extra charges that you see from Trainline, or the other 3rd party sites in any of our fares. That is unique to them and their sites.

    Many thanks

    Jo Coverley
    Digital Community Manager – First Great Western

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