Rules of Engagement

As more people are picking up their phones to use Twitter on our trains – and invariably comment on our excellent, impeccable service – it is becoming clear that there is a need for someone to explain the rules to them (so I don’t repeat myself and bore everyone who is already aware).. Given that this company is obviously run by a single person and some monkeys, and given that the alternative for me is to actually do some work, in true Southern spirit, I will take the plunge and explain. So here it goes, based on our tweets from the last two years,

The Southern Trains UK Rulebook & Customer Service Handbook (in permanent BETA and can change at any time with retrospective effect to suit our needs)

  1. We know that if you are saying you were late, or have any other complaint against us, you are probably from the competition and you are just trying to make us look bad. So don’t even try it…
  2. If you have unquestionable proof that a train wasn’t doing exactly what it was supposed to do, then it wasn’t our fault. [Customers are encouraged to read this whilst listening to Shaggy’s: Wasn’t Me)
  3. Only attractive people will get responses from us on twitter. So, for a chance to win an answer, make sure you have your photo available on your profile – or send us a link with one. The more politically incorrect, the better. Your sex is irrelevant – we do not discriminate.
  4. On that point, please don’t feel that any issues with the service are the result of something personal. It isn’t. We don’t know you, we don’t want to know you, and we give you our word: we hate you all just the same! Nothing personal there.
  5. Very cold carriage conditions are good for you. They are good for the soul, and build characters. Not to mention that they help with the morale as everyone looks.. perkier!
  6. Very hot carriage conditions are even better for you. Eventually people will start taking their clothes off, and then you will thank us!
  7. Crammed conditions are fantastic for you! Being new you may not know that we are run by laid back mexicans in lycra, and all management feels that the Brits need a bit of.. encouragement with the other (or the same – we are not judging) sex. So we have created the “up close and personal” Signature Southern service, which brings customers closer together. This is the kind of service for which one can be caught with his lycra around his knees in Stingfellows, and pay a fortune for it. So it is not logical when people complain about this.
  8. No toilets on trains is good for everyone, as they leave more space for paying customers, we don’t have to clean them, and the rest can finally stop taking the piss.
  9. The distinct aroma of poo on most services is a purposeful nasal re-enforcement of the ongoing message that no-loos are good for you. It is there on purpose and
  10. Rude staff are good for you. They are there (seriously) to create low expectations so when something accidentally goes right, everyone forgets about all the other times.
  11. Yes, there was a train back in 1998 that did run on time.
  12. Timetables… a huge point. Just like the bible, or other books of faith, aren’t really there to be taken literally. They are more like polite indications of our good intentions.
  13. Refunds. No, there won’t be any. Ever. Please stop asking, it makes you sound like you are begging! Some people do get selected randomly for distribution of (zero value  in the real world) non-transferrable non-refundable soon-to-expire vouchers, so we get the urban-myth of re-funds going. However people are strongly encouraged to apply for refunds at all times, as research shows that everyone is happier when they feel they have “done something about it”, and when they write letters, they aren’t complaining on twitter.
  14. Platform-side no-arm bandits are clearly labeled as “Ticket Machines” and are obviously there for your amusement whilst you are waiting for the trains. Winning when playing with them is obviously not guaranteed, so when you win no ticket, just play again!
  15. Bikes, and alternative means of transport are strongly discouraged – unless you have already paid for the full fare. Because it is only fair. (God, if I see that sign again, I will probably hurt someone).
  16. If you are stuck for longer than expected periods of time on one of our trains, please feel free to talk to a conductor and find out how much more you owe for the extra time you spent using our trains.
  17. Last minute platform alterations are an excellent form of early morning and after-work invigorating exercise. It also provides endless entertainment to our staff, that thoroughly enjoy watching the stampede from CCTV cameras.
  18. The website often has “accidents”. As our best rates are on the internet only (we feel it is a good way to keep undesirable elements – such as all these partially sighted and blind people – away) when we are in need of some extra cash, someone accidentally pulls the plug. The sooner you buy the more expensive tickets from the platform-side no-arm bandits, the quicker the service is likely to resume.
  19. We are obliged by law to offer a “customer services” number and contact address. Please don’t take this literally – “customer services” is a euphemism for what is internally known as “the dairy”…
  20. Siesta time is a very important ritual and cultural elements within our organisation. Please respect it.

More rules will be added on an ongoing basis and based on customer suggestions. It is only fare.. (See?! See what I did there?).

Posted in Great PR, Let Loco Hump, Southern, Torture, Trains | 2 Comments

You truly suck – so much more than 10%!

I would normally not take the time to write this entry… I genuinely can’t afford to take the time – which means that the entry is going to be quick and unpolished. I guess I will just have to apologise here in advance as I have to give this a go…. the recent discussion on twitter between @artistsmakers and @southernrailuk with regards to the very good results of “being 90% on time today despite the difficult day” did not find a sympathetic ear over here…

It all started with this:

Which CLEARLY means that 90% on time HAS to be a good thing – right?

Well, I know a few things about the narrative fallacy and the ability of made-up stats to make the public think in a certain way. And – in line with my mission to not let these people get away with it – I wanted to ask you to remember that  90% may be OK for some things but it is not OK for others.

Would your boss be happy with you if you turned up at work on time only 90% of the time? Whichever way you look at the working year, 10% late would mean that for more than a month you aren’t turning up on time!

The next crucial question is: how late is “not on time” exactly?.
In the job example, if you were 5 minutes late every day for a month, and I was your boss, and you didn’t smell of poo (like Southern trains do), and you weren’t rude (like many of Southern’s staff are), and you were informative and communicative (unlike Southern), and you showed signs that you cared a little (unlike Southern), and you weren’t much more expensive than other options I had (unlike the non existent options we have when it comes to train travel), I know I would look the other way.
But if you were – say – one hour late – or even didn’t turn up at all for work for a month… that would be a different story.

However, 90% still, simply sounds like a big number… doesn’t it?

Let’s forget our conditioning from Southern (who actively train their staff to create low expectations – I shit you not) and look at industries with competition…

Would you be happy with your internet provider if they only offered you 90% up time? In a 365 day year, that is 36 and a half days and nights of no internet!
The more easy-going of you could then say, “well, again, it depends! If my internet was down between 2am and 6am every day for the best part of a year, I wouldn’t really mind”.
But what if the 36 and a half days downtime was in your office, and for exactly 8 hours from 9am to 5pm – when you needed it the most – for over 100 of the working days of the year? The point here is that timing – not just time – is of the essence.

If Southern transports 430K people in an average day (which means many, many more on a work day) and on a day like yesterday they run at 90% on time, by how much would you say are those “not on time” trains running late? 5 mins? 10? 20? Do they not turn up at all?

Also, 10% of “not on time” doesn’t say half the story for some of us…
Say you have a person travelling from station A to station C and they have to go via station B where they change trains. A 5 minutes delayed train from A to B, may easily cause that person to completely miss their once-an-hour train to Station C. I know, because it happens to me ALL THE TIME at Brighton.
However, not all is lost! That person could then spend that one hour of delay on their phone, finding out that according to Southern’s terms of transport, they aren’t entitled to a refund. They will also probably have plenty of time to read how the service that they missed was completely on time, and the previous service was only 5 minutes delayed! Not bad for the old stats huh?

And what about the size of the trains? Size, no matter what you ‘ve been told, does matter. Running 4 carriages instead of 8 or 12 is Southern’s signature “up close and personal” choice of generating “efficiencies”. The train was on time… you couldn’t get on it, but if you could, you would be happy in the arm(pit)s of your fellow travellers. Oh, we are SO on time – but only the fit can come on board. Survival of the fittest, baby!

Furthermore, I KNOW Southern fiddle the numbers to make them look good AND they “work the stats”.

Think of a train that is supposed to leave Victoria at 18:06 for Brighton. The train driver gets misplaced, or attached by Loco in one of his humping sprees and the train gets delayed by half an hour.
In our example – and just like in real life – the 18:36 is the next train and it has a problem with the Windows Me that it runs (anybody old enough to remember those?), and is completely cancelled. Southern, will not report one train (the 18:06) as delayed by half an hour and another (the 18:36) as cancelled…. Of course not.
They will declare the 18:06 as cancelled, and the 18:36 as being on time.

Now, people will tell you that that is OK, because as a consumer, you wouldn’t know the difference. What they DON’T tell you is that even if Southern could, they would NOT run the 18:06 at 18:26 – 20 minutes late. Because they don’t want to have one train 20 mins late and another cancelled. No. They will make that train wait. By making it half an hour late (ten minutes more than they have to in this example) they look better on paper than they would otherwise!

But I digress. Lets think of the 90% accuracy thing again. As @artistsmakers points out here:

Good point, but I actually think it is much worse than that.

First, 430K is an average. On weekdays, we can easily assume that this number shoots up by 100K (there is only so many people you an ram in a weekend replacement bus service). In fact maybe one of you should ask @SouthernRailUk what the weekday number is (they have blocked me, and it is such a pain in the back-side to get an answer from them and then post it form the @Southern_Trains account).

As we all know from bitter, bitter experience, Southern runs their signature up-close-and-personal service exactly when you go to work.
A 12 carriage train that is packed to the brim with commuters forced to feel each other up before they even had a chance to have breakfast, is probably carrying on average at least five times more people than a four carriage train running during an early afternoon, and scary amounts more than a Saturday bus.
Guess when the problems, and most of the 10% “not on time” trains, tend to happen then..
No – really…
Just take a wild swing in the dark here!
When is it do you think that the network is under pressure from the volume of trains on the move, staff that has overslept, or the volume of leafs that have fallen the previous night? Or maybe the volume of cows that wondered through to the poorly fenced rails in the wee hours of the morning to eat some of the foliage and then have a snooze? When do you think the sleepy car drivers swerve to avoid whatever they find in their way and catch the edge of a tunnel that supports a decrepit train bridge – invariably when there is only one structural engineer that is sober from the previous night in the entire South of England, and he is only getting his expenses paid if he turns up to the bridge by train?

You have guessed it right. It is when most of us find ourselves in a carriage, sweating to the point of making the morning shower completely pointless. Either to, or from work when the trains are full. And a late train with 1000 people in it should not represent just one train. The real question is “how many people do Southern ACTUALLY make late”. Not trains.. people!

Taking all this into consideration I would say that “90% on time” most likely and in real terms, corresponds to six figures of people suffering. And that is on a “good” day!

So here it is. 90% on time, announced, sealed, delivered, and smoke comprehensively blown up our back sides…

Such fun.

With apologies for the unrefined entry,


Posted in Innocent people, Let Loco Hump, Southern, Torture, Trains | Leave a comment

Our #GoodThingsAboutSouthern campaign..

A couple of days ago it was suggested that people write about the #GoodThingsAboutSouthern. Special thanks to all who contributed and here are some that I picked up..

#GoodThingsAboutSouthern campaign

Latest campaign promoting Southern Trains produces some unexpected comments

Take care everyone,


Posted in Great PR, Southern | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Southern Trains

In this first entry to our new blog, I wanted to share with you this article that the Argus published last year.

Here it goes – as was on the newspaper, including some comments I am not 100% sure I actually made… no matter though; I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first saw it.

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
by Tim Ridgway

Disgruntled passenger creates a Twitter page

A HACKED-OFF commuter has taken matters into his own hands – by tackling fellow passengers’ complaints himself online.
The unnamed traveller has created a spoof social networking account where he poses as a Southern rail boss to deal with genuine complaints about poor services.
Scores of commuters have now begun using the Twitter page, titled @southern_trains, as a way to sound off about their issues with the firm.
A spoof logo has even been added with the motto Simpre Siesta, which roughly translates as “always snoozing”.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Argus he had the idea as he returned home to Lewes from London on what he described as a “very slow, terribly smelling and overcrowded” service.
He said: “I picked up my phone to write something unkind to them directly on Twitter, only to find that actually they didn’t have any obvious touch-point for their customers.
“I did a search on Twitter, and found an absolutely shocking number of people from all over the country talking about their very bad experiences with the company.
“Sometimes people think it is a Southern account – usually for the first couple of exchanges.
“But if i see someone getting serious or upside about the whole thing, I always let them know.”
The account, which was established in July, now has almost 200 followers.
The impersonator said many people approved of his honesty.
One suggestion was that the train’s air-conditioning units have three settings: “boil”, “freeze” and “off”.
A recent tweet stated: “Trains to Frankfurt £49. Rush hour train Eastbourne to London £49@ Well, at least nobody can accuse us of complicated pricing any more!”.
The impersonator said: “The most interesting thing for me has been how nice and patient people actually are.
“It is the old British think I guess, but it is both great to see people’s kinds and patience in dealing with a company, and rather upsetting to see the company taking them for a ride.”
A spokesman for Southern said: “It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to seek to remove the account as it is a free country and people can say what they like as long as what they say isn’t unlawful.
“We don’t propose to launch our own Twitter page. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to manage this or any social media page.”

Typical Southern Service

Sharing the love... that is what @Southern_Trains is all about!

It is funny to read this now.. after Southern launched their awesome

@SouthernRailUK account… and after I had some interesting discussions last month with “the folks at twitter” who mentioned that they had complaints that I am impersonating a company… Always nice to see some solid character and direction there guys… always nice!

With lots of love,


Posted in Great PR, Southern | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment