Thursday, 4 February 2010

First ScotRail and the curse of the Shitty Customer Experience

I have just had, and actually am continuing to have, a pretty appalling customer-service experience with ScotRail regarding a refund for cancelled train journey. It’s got to a pretty ludicrous stage so I thought I should share.

It seems to me a classic example of a business which has clearly outsourced it’s sales and service efforts to a third-party as no individual I have communicated with seems able to actually take ownership of the problem and solve it. It also raises questions about the ‘cross-channel’ capabilities of the business as it seems that requests get lost between the different internal stakeholders...or maybe they simply just don’t care, you decide!

Below is a chronological diary of the events. Please bear in mind that these events followed 3 calls to the Indian-based call centre which although perfectly pleasant yielded absolutely no results.


13th December 2009 AM - Bought a full fare, fully refundable, sleeper ticket with ScotRail for a journey to be taken on 16th December. Cost £118.50.

14th December 2009 AM - Cancelled journey with ScotRail and raised refund request. Was told that this would take around 10 working days as the refund would need to be ‘manually’ requested. There would also be a £10 cancellation fee meaning that the total refund would be £108.50 which I accepted.

Waited until after Christmas (27th December 2009) and called the contact centre to be told that there was no new information, refund application was being processed, but that the money should be refunded by 10th January.

Called again after the 10th January 2010 to be told that it was in process and that I would receive an email when the refund had taken place.

Waited another couple of days and called the contact centre again to be told that my ‘case’ had now been escalated. Until this point I was unaware that it was a ‘case’ but there you go. At this point I looked for alternative contact details as I felt that I was really getting nowhere with the contact centre. There now follows the communication flow, I have divided this into Rounds so that you can see the communication that has taken place at each stage.


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
15/01/2010 01:42 PM
I have been awaiting a refund for my journey above (due 16th December) that was cancelled by telephone on the 13th December. I have called the call centre several times now. The last time I was assured that the refund would take place on the 10th January 2010. Having checked with my credit card company I notice that the funds have still not reached my Account.
I have just called again to be told that my case has now been escalated. Could someone please look into this asap as I need to settle my credit card statement and am currently unable to do so and will incur additional charges.
Many thanks,
Jamie Anderson

Response (William Scott)
15/01/2010 08:12 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for contacting First ScotRail.
I apologise for the inconvenience caused to you.
Your refund request has already been forwarded to our refund department as soon as we receive any update from them we will get back to you.
We appreciate your patience and sincerely hope that this matter will be resolved at the earliest opportunity.
I hope this information is helpful. Please let us know if you should have any further questions. We will be glad to assist you.
Kind regards,

ROUND 1 VERDICT: It’s really a stalemate at this point. First opportunity to test the multi-channel capabilities of ScotRail so nothing to report. My feeling at the time was, ‘look this is not the best customer experience I have ever had but I’ll give them the chance to put it right’


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
22/01/2010 10:12 PM
This situation is still not resolved. My credit card company have not received this payment which is now outstanding well beyond the time I would deem acceptable for a refund. I am unable to pay my credit card bill in full as I am still awaiting this refund hitting my Account.
I want to know what First Group and Scotrail are prepared to do to ensure that this refund reaches my account before the 27th January. If not I will inevitably incur additional charges which are not of my making and for which I would expect to be compensated, not to mention the number of calls to the Customer Support team.
This process has been handled very poorly and I cannot understand why it is taking so long to manage a simple refund request.
Please advise me asap of the status of this refund.
Jamie Anderson

Response (William Scott)
22/01/2010 10:56 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for writing back to us.
I apologise for inconvenience caused to you.
I have checked your account and confirm that due to the unusually high volume of refund requests, there has been a small delay in processing your refund. We expect to have credited your bank account as soon as possible.
I hope this information is helpful. Please let us know if you should have any further questions. We will be glad to assist you.
Kind regards,

ROUND 2 VERDICT: It’s pretty clear that I am getting roundly f*cked about here. I am not even grateful for the apology at this stage, it’s just words and the usual blah-blah response. An ‘unusually high number of refund requests’ being the issue creating the ‘small delay’ now that is pissing me off now. A SMALL delay?!?


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
23/01/2010 02:56 PM
I'm sorry but I do not view 41 days as a 'small delay'. As I stated in my previous communication I need this money in my account by 27th January. Please advise when this will be re-imbursed.
Jamie Anderson

Response (Carter)
23/01/2010 03:37 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for contacting us again.
I have raised this case with our Refunds Department. They would investigate this case and would provide you a speedy response. I assure that they would resolve this issue at the earliest opportunity.
I appreciate your patience in this matter.
Kind regards,

ROUND 3 VERDICT: Hmmm...’thank you for contacting us again’. This response drips of sarcasm but I console myself with the fact that at least my name is not Carter. I do make the point though that 41 days is ridiculous which makes me feel a bit better but as they ‘appreciate my patience’ I’m sure they simply couldn’t give a f*ck. Another Round to Scotrail!


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
29/01/2010 02:42 PM
I have STILL not received this refund. I want to know the following:
1. Why is it taking so long?
2. When will I receive my money back?
3. I want this complaint escalated IMMEDIATELY to someone who can resolve this for me.
I do not want a 'we will look into it response' I want a response that tells me exactly when I will be getting my money back.
This service has been a total and utter disgrace and I have now been waiting 47 calendar days to have my account recredited.
Jamie Anderson

Response (Andrew Woods)
29/01/2010 05:56 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for writing back to us.
I am sorry to learn that you have not received a refund till now.
I have raised this matter with the Refunds Department as it is still under investigation. I understand your dissatisfaction as it is taking a long time for this procedure.
Furthermore, I acknowledge your feedback about this matter. I have passed your feedback to the appropriate team to ensure this issue is addressed promptly.
I understand that your experience with us has not been good. However I assure you that at First ScotRail, it is our constant endeavour to meet and exceed our customer's expectations and sincerely hope you will give us another opportunity to serve you better in the future.
Kind regards,

ROUND 4 VERDICT: Another Round to Scotrail but at least someone with a sensible name this time. They still have my money and they are right they have exceeded my expectations. My expectation was that they were marginally incompetent but perhaps well meaning. Now I think they are just a shower of c*nts.


Date: Thursday 4th February 2010 10:15:23 +0000
Subject: Failure to provide Refund [Incident: 100115-002362]

This unacceptable situation continues and I STILL have not received my refund.
Current number of days outstanding since this issue was raised: 53 DAYS!!!
I have reported this to my credit card company who will now act to recover the funds unless this refund is repaid immediately.
Customer Service is non-existent. No-one has provided a helpful response. Not a single telephone call from anyone who is able to help. Calls to the contact centre have went with no resolution. Emails are also given standard responses which are unhelpful. Nobody has accepted any responsibility for this situation and a such nothing has been resolved.
I believe that ScotRail has acted if not in a fraudulent, at least immoral, manner by taking money from me and not upholding its side of the contract. I am extremely disappointed.
Next step for me is to publicise this shocking case of customer relationship mis-management. I could not possibly allow anyone else to suffer this disgraceful lack of customer service.
Please advise on when this case will be resolved.
Jamie Anderson

VERDICT: Good points well made. Let's see! Look, embarrassing though it is I have to accept that First ScotRail have shafted me but really what do I expect, they’ve been doing this to their poor customers for years; jamming them into trains between Scotland’s 2 major cities with limited seating accommodation, failing to turn up on time, reducing network services. At least in that context my experience is an isolated one but one I am happy to publicise in solidarity for everyone they have shafted, and continue to shaft, over the years!


  1. Get a Writ in County Court (or the Scottish Equivalent - proabably the Small Claims Court?) for non-payment of a Debt (plus inconvenience and hassle).
    Costs about £5 .....
    Should get their attention fast enough, since non-attention to one of those gets ALL their assetrs seized by the courts until they pay up .....

    PS: I'm G. Tingey - but I could only log-in as "anonymouse"

    1. Agree exactly with your comment...The case in question is totally appalling, an utter disgrace.. How can people be treated this way...

  2. Thanks for the support and the suggestion. As this is becoming quite ludicrous (and popular) I may even blog it further.

    I got a response to Round 5 and am now at Round 6. I sent a message saying "Do you have a Victim Support Group?". They directed me to their Complaints Department!?!

    Nothing like stress-testing a company to expose their shocking lack of Customer Care. I genuinely dont want to let this one go too easily until they are properly, and publically, embarassed.

  3. Hello Jamie,

    I'm sorry you have experienced problems obtaining your refund.

    I work for the company who do the refunds on behalf of First Scotrail. If you provide me with the booking reference or your registered e-mail address I will investigate your refund request and ensure it is promptly refunded without further delay.

    You can e-mail me on

    Thanks and apologies,


  4. The Trainline - that says it all. Unlike the Train operator managed call centres and booking systems, which can be called to give account to Passenger Focus - the official rail watchdog, and of course are also within the nest of ATOC, The Trainline was sold-off 'outside'

    Scotrail's Customer information centres in Plymouth and Fort William are run by Firstgroup because of problems with third party call centres, Chiltern and National Express also do their own core call centre work and ticket sales - East Coast (the DfT-run holding company) has kept the NXEC suite of software AND the deal where they offer 10% discount on fares which are entirely allocated to East Coast (effectively not collecting the handling fee (roughly 10%) when they sell their own tickets).

    THe East Coast on-line booking suite offers options to select the type of seat you want and book a bicycle space on-line. making it one to reccommend to anyone wanting to book on-line (Unlike the Trainline the East Coast and most TOC-run operations make no charge for collection and standard postal delivery of tickets)

    Welcome to the privatised (piratised?) railway - and you'll be pleased to hear that your tale has made the ratings on the Railway Eye Blogspot with a tip of the stationmaster's bowler to the Fact Compiler (the railways on Sodor always were better managed!)

  5. the entire first group are a money grabbing joke! buses and trains ive lost count of the complaint letters ive sent them, my next letter is to the transport minister

  6. Never before, and never again will I travel on the Caledonian Sleeper, nor now on any First Scotrail operated train. Travelled on the sleeper from Edinburgh to London Euston last weekend with my wife, having won it as a prize from Scotrail on Twitter. The prize was 2 first class tickets, and looking at prices appear to have a face value of £400 for the 2 of us. We were very excited, but this was soon to change to bitter disappointment and disgust, even before the train had left the platform (incidentally over an hour late with no explanation from onboard staff)
    The staff ruined our experience, I have never met such ignorant, arrogant, poor excuses for customer service staff in all my life.
    In my cabin, there was no amenity kit and a used bar of soap at the sink. Great start.
    Topping it all I was rudely insulted verbally by a member of staff, I cant even type the word in this review.
    Return journey we simply went straight to bed, to avoid them as it was in fact the same crew.
    A disgrace to our nation, and hope First Scotrail are stripped of the franchise when it comes up for renewal shortly. Take my advice, take a daytime train operated by Virgin or fly. Atleast then you are guaranteed not to be sworn at by a member of their onboard teams.

  7. im trying to report a staff member

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  9. Well just in case anyone thought that the situation has changed with the progressions of has not. My wife and son puchased (at exhorbitant expense, an aston martin and driver for the day would have been cheaper) two return first class tickets from Inverness to Edinburgh as a treat and to spend a day out. The journey down was uneventful, the Virgin staff were excellent, service good, food and drink also good. Having had a great day in Edinburgh the journey home was a disaster. Firstly the train was late, then all the passengers were herded to a new paltform and told they could only board the first three carriages. Due to the lateness of the train therewere no seat reservations, no first class seating and the cleaning crew had not been round the train either. My wife was left to pick up the remains of the previous passengers meal that was spread over the seat she eventually found. So the first three carriages were packed, the guard could not move along the train and when approached by my wife was dismissive. He was replaced by a new guards at Perth who was a very helpful, sympathised and provided the train details, his details and the contact details for customer services, even though he could not find the correct form he helped as much as possible. When my wife and son arrived at Inverness they tried to engage with a member fo staff wearing a customer service hi vis waistcoat who promptly ran away without as much as a single word of help. trying to retrieve the tickets as proff of travel was another thing entirely, automated ticket machines swallowed up the tickets and the platform staff member could not identify the tickets asking if this was the same machione that my wife and son had come through, even though she had just guided them through. So all in all apart from teh guard who got on at perth and incredibly poor service and not one that any of us will use again. Scotrail have a history of not providing enough trains to meet the demand especially at peak times, cancelling services without warning or reason and not providing reserved seating in their trains. We are at Round 1 and still waiting for a response, bearing in mind the experience of many others we will "escalate" matters quickly. As an asides I had the displeasure of having to use the (non) sleeper service once, noisy, uncomfortable, no power in my "cell" , no wifi ( otherwise available on every other daytime service) and to top it all on arrival in London in need of a shower to freshen up for a business meeting, the facilities had run out of towels, most of the showers were not working and the staff were atrocious. End of rant but obvious that these companies have not learned any lessons, meanwhile the politicians are telling us to use public transport!

  10. Like you said yourself sir ...and to everyone who asks how they can do this.....They simply do not care bout you nor I....aggressive, incompetent bunch of little Hitler's in my experience of SCOTRAIL ...good luck sir!

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