Thursday, September 10, 2009

Maximum Human Discomfort

Maximum Human Discomfort.

This is the phrase which came to mind today as I wandered around Liverpool St station. I wanted to pee – but didn’t have the 30p in change needed to go. I wanted to sit but there are perhaps 20 seats in the whole place. I wanted a café and there’s only a micro-Costa in a far corner.

25 minutes passed this way until the relative comfort and relief of the 1530 to Norwich. Does it have to be this way?

Do London stations have to be this bad (Kings Cross is just as bad?). Staff are dour and unhelpful should you need them.

They could all learn lessons from another main line station – Stowmarket.

As an experience, Stowmarket station is actually gratifying. Not just adequate but a positive contribution to ones day.

It starts with the staff. All helpful and empathic to the needs of the traveler. The shop is well stocked and sells cups of tea for a quid and employs the friendliest person in East Anglia on the till. The toilets are a dream. Pristine, hot water, towels. And free to all station-users. On the platform there is a lovely waiting room, all warm and nice-smelling.

But overall the experience of using Stowmarket station is one which recognizes one as a human being. In this sense it is additive to total happiness in the world.

By contrast, a place where you can’t pee, sit or relax is the opposite. Miserable, inhuman, nearer to a cattle-market than a key travel centre of the UK, Liverpool St station captures the very worst of this country.

When people ask me why I live in Suffolk, Stowmarket station is up there on my list of reasons.

1 comment:

Rob 'Arris said...

Nice post Craig - i was imagining you hot-footing through the station thinking about your next blog to take your mind off it!

When i encounter poor service and infrastructure it is invariably in London - most people know me as a brash Northerner and i make no excuses for that (i did live and work in London for 6 years though - i earned my "worked in the Metropolis" badge for my CV then got right out of there and utilised the ever so important London kudos and made my fortune in the NW where my pound stretches a little further!). When i am in London and i experience the dismissive and rude customer service i think of the stereotypical New York; lovely English tourist approaches New Yorker and says "excuse me could you please take a photograph of me and my husband, its our first wedding anniversary and we are so excited to be visiting The Big Apple, we love New York and New York people", New Yorker responds with "Go fuck yourself, what do think i am a fucking stupid fuck!" English tourist responds with "god you New Yorkers are so funny, this is amazing". Joking apart i think there is a parallel with running a big organisation - it becomes less personal and the little bits of good customer service get lost in the typhoon of activity. Comments from staff about "management" are listened to less intently (generally) and something gets lost along the way (i have noticed this as my own organisation has grown and its not easy to tackle effectively).
I think in the biggest cities, the customer service is pitched at the lowest common denominator (unless you pay £300 for a meal at a swanky restaurant or go to Paul Smith for your suits Craig!) and like it or not that aint you.
You clearly appreciate the difference in experience at Stowmarket, and my suggestion is to hold on to that.