Thursday, February 03, 2011

ViaRail : terrible pricing policy saved by excellent customer service

I know that Canada's passenger train system is a sad shadow of what it once was, but I have never had particularly negative feelings towards ViaRail. They seem to do a decent job. However, they do have a pretty bad reputation here in Canada.

I am happy to say, I just had a positive customer service experience with them that definitely has improved their reputation in my mind.

My wife and I are going to Toronto and we bought our tickets separately. I mistakenly thought we were leaving on Friday, when it was actually Thursday. We didn't discover this mistake until 4 days after we bought the tickets.

Of course, I bought the cheapest tickets possible and was under the assumption that I would have to pay a penalty. No such luck! If you buy a non-exchangeable ticket, it means you can't do anything with it. You are just screwed.

How utterly retarded is that? So I just swallow it and buy the Thursday ticket and they now have an empty seat on their Friday train, which they could have sold and got me for a penalty.

Well I had a long discussion about this with the woman on the phone, who was quite pleasant and articulate (though she could not explain the reasoning behind the no exchange rule beyond the circular logic that "it can't be exchanged"). She did suggest that I call customer service, after having bought the Thursday ticket, to make sure I had a seat on the train. You do have a 24-hour grace period where you can change your tickets, but I had bought the tickets 4 days ago.

I called customer service and they quite promptly just refunded my newly purchased ticket and changed my originally purchased Thursday to Friday.

When I went to pick up the tickets, I saw the woman at the counter do some fiddling with the computer. When I remarked on how complicated it seems, she said she had to do that to ensure I didn't pay a penalty.

I find it such a breath of fresh air that ViaRail gives their front line workers the leeway to change things in the system. So often these days, the customer service representative is simply a voice telling you what the system already tells you: you're screwed. There are so many things wrong with this system, I don't have time right now to go into it. Suffice to say that it is fucked. So I really appreciate ViaRail having some flexibility built into their system and having a policy that lets customer service reps actually serve the customers.

Well done, ViaRail and thank you.

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