We are sorry for any inconvenience – getting your messaging right

Back on the topic of commuting once again…

It’s been a week of trauma so far for Britain’s commuters and the rail companies whose services they use. The ‘UKstorm’, as it was hashtagged on Twitter, managed to wreak havoc on the rail system before it had even arrived. The vast majority of rail companies in the London and South West/South East posted messages on their websites and social media accounts announcing that there would be no services on Monday morning. This move angered some as at this point on Sunday not a single leaf had fallen on the rail lines.

But were the rail companies right to preempt the potential chaos of bad weather at such an early stage? It certainly got the message out loud and clear that there would be no trains that morning, a move which no doubt meant less angry commuters stood on packed platforms waiting for trains that weren’t going to arrive. It did, though, somehow remove that ‘Blitz spirit’ that us Brits delight in when faced with a journey to or from work that
suddenly goes pear-shaped. Let’s be honest, shouting at each other about the ‘bloody rail companies’ is probably one of the few times us commuters actually talk to each other: it takes a catastrophic interruption of our usual journey to pull our beaks out of our smartphones and Kindles and get us actually communicating with our fellow passengers.

But the part that usually most adds insult to injury is the announcements by the train driver. No doubt having been schooled in the finer points of public speaking, most of these driver announcements have the tang of insincerity about them that lends the actual announcement pretty much null and void. The worst of these are the ‘We are sorry for any inconvenience to your journey’ messages. Delivered, usually, in a flat monotone that lacks any inkling of empathy for the poor delayed traveller, this particular message grates more than most. Of course being delayed or held up on a stationary train is inconvenient: you wouldn’t be on the train unless you wanted it to transport you to your chosen destination. Yes, inconvenience has definitely been caused, so maybe this specific wording is redundant. How about just ‘We’re sorry to have delayed your journey today’? That seems clearer, more heartfelt and more empathetic.

In my experience, drivers usually get most sympathy from passengers when they’re honest about the situation and speak from the heart, rather than using stock, corporate platitudes. ‘I’m sorry, at the moment I don’t know why we’re stuck at this red signal. But as soon as I find out more I’ll let you all know’ is going to land much better with a frustrated customer than ‘We are currently experiencing delays due to signal problems in the Finsbury Park area’. The later is a stock, PR answer; the former is an honest, personal – and importantly, inclusive – answer. It makes the driver one of us, dealing with the problem, rather than the mouthpiece of the rail company’s PR department. It gives that human edge which stock announcements sorely lack.

Anyway, I’d like to apologise for any inconvenience to your web browsing caused by this blog post. This was due to silly announcements in the Moorgate area…

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