Train strikes have two victims – customers and brands

The rail sector seems to be one of the last bastions of trade unions with gumption and power. There’s been at least one strike in the UK per year for the last few years that I can remember.

This week Southern Rail has a 5 day strike, Virgin East Coast has just announced one of their own voting 84% in favour of walkouts and Eurostar staff are talking of a 7 day strike too.

In Southern’s case, their service is already the subject of media headlines with reports listing numerous customer complaints about punctuality and delays, ticket price and overcrowding amongst others.

Brands already delivering dysfunctional service and poor customer experience normally don’t survive.

If these brands were operating in the supermarket aisles, competing in the air industry or in the logistics and delivery market the brand perception and sales would plummet when their disgruntled customers turned to a competitor.

They simply wouldn’t let it happen if the business depended on it.

The reality is there isn’t any competition at all on some lines.

This means unions can strike without fear of there not being a job when they return and the franchises aren’t under competitive pressure to improve. They have a largely captive audience with nowhere else to turn.

The victims in this scenario are the customer and the brand. The customer has nothing they can do except vent their frustration at bad experiences which in turn hurts the brand. It takes an awful lot of effort to overturn broken trust and poor brand perception when you have to ask for forgiveness.

With no competition is it any wonder the rail franchises can get away with delivering the current level of customer service?

The UK was once a pioneer of the rail network. Now the glory days sit with systems like the Hong Kong MTR which runs with a 99.9% on-time rate and many customer benefits such as wide-open doors and mobile data signal on board in tunnels. Now privatised too, the brand perception rating must be pretty high.

In all markets, delivering exceptional branded experiences is one of the most powerful ways to build brand image. Brand owners must take more control of each and every part of the customer experience for the good of their customers, their staff and the brand itself.

Will Rees-Hooper