A train crash of a radio interview

A nice interview yesterday saw the Managing Director of Customer Experience at the Rail Delivery Group – Jacqueline Starr – face-up to John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Well, nice for the beleaguered rail passenger but I suspect that Jacqueline Starr won’t be buying her media relations team their morning coffees and croissants any time soon.

Hauled on to the show to discuss a Times story that found out of 50 rail journeys it was possible to get a cheaper fare on 33 of them than that advertised (and if you haven’t investigated split ticketing before, I’d strongly recommend you take a look), Starr rather walked into Humphrys’ gleeful clutches with a performance big on media messaging but rather lacking in substance.

image for screen-400The alarm bells rang when Starr’s first response was to laud how the “rail industry is very successful in meeting customer demands”.  Things got worse when she then fed Humphrys that awful line about how “customers are at the heart of everything we do”. I can almost see that A4 of key messages given to Starr beforehand.

All well and good to prepare some messaging but you cannot simply hope to paper over a genuine issue with some  platitudes that no one, least of all someone as tuned into PR hogwash as Humphrys, is going to roll over and accept.

Towards the end of the interview, Starr finally admitted to the issue and agreed it wasn’t acceptable. Why not do that from the outset? The rail travelling public is a cynical bunch and is never going to buy some stale soundbites about customer service.

Fair play to Starr for fronting up in the first place but a bit of empathy and, when you’ve been caught out, a good dollop of contrition and a commitment to put things right might have kept things on the rails and are what the travelling public (and John Humphrys and his ilk) want to hear.

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