It’s not often that I see someone so spectacularly miss a point and in doing so demonstrate the point being made. It happened to me this evening when a frustrated tweet of mine drew the following conversation on Twitter:


Me:       A sad but true generalisation, German companies tend to be very poor
          at customer service. Including Deutsche Bahn @DB_Bahn
@DB_Bahn: @RustyNailed Can we help? /mi
Me:       @DB_Bahn Not unless I can cancel a BahnCard renewal less than 6 weeks
          away? Had no reminders or notification, just a new card in the post.
@DB_Bahn: @RustyNailed The BahnCard is an subscription card. A notice of the
          cancellation must be sending to the BahnCard-Service. /mi
Me:  @DB_Bahn I know, and cancellations have to be sent 6 weeks in advance.
          I got no reminders until the new card arrived, and now its too late.
@DB_Bahn: @RustyNailed On the BahnCard application you see the information about
           the subscription. /mi


At this point I couldn’t formulate a response that covered everything I wanted to say in just 140 characters and I thought I’d write a post about how this short conversation reflects my original point.

The background is that late last year I took out a BahnCard subscription from Deutsche Bahn (DB). This is a rail card which gives you money off each time you use it. I only purchased it because for the single round-trip journey I was planning, the cost of the card was covered, and a bit more, by the savings of using it on that journey. The downside is that it is a subscription card which automatically renews. In addition to that,  and as seems popular in Germany for no good reason that I can discern, if you want to cancel you have to do so 6 weeks before the renewal date. Usually in writing. It seems Germany hasn’t quite engaged with the idea that if you can sign up for something on the internet, you can cancel things via the internet too.

As you might expect, having used this thing once, the expiry date wasn’t really something I thought much about. The card sat in my wallet gathering dust, and this morning I got a new card, 4 weeks before the expiry date. At which point I remembered I didn’t want to renew and by which point it is, of course, too late to cancel. I got no renewal notification or reminder that I might want to check the subscription. In fact, I got nothing at all which would have reminded me that, as a customer, I was about to agree to spending more money with this company regardless of whether I needed to or not. When I signed up online I gave DB my e-mail and if their system can send me out a new card a month before the old one expires, they could send me a couple of e-mails easily enough. This is what led to my frustrated first tweet.

So, from a customer service perspective, I was not hugely impressed. I understand why they do it of course, it’s a nice revenue stream – those people like me for whom their BahnCard subscription isn’t the most important thing in their lives and who forget the renewal date, automatically give Deutsche Bahn more money by default. Nice little earner. Crap customer service.

Anyway, back to the tweets. Having discovered DB have a Twitter account, and having previously had some success engaging other companies customer service via Twitter, I copied them on my tweet. I was quite encouraged by their first response. However, the next responses were less than stellar from a customer service perspective.

My second tweet explained the problem – that I needed to cancel my subscription, and had already passed the 6 week notice period, and hadn’t got any reminders that it was due for renewal. It should have been clear that I knew I needed to cancel, and that I was aware there was a 6 week lead time, and the lack of reminders annoyed me.

The response that it was a subscription service while being factually accurate was utterly unhelpful, as was telling me I needed to let someone else know.

My next tweet explained that I knew the process, and reiterated that lack of reminders as a concern.

To then get a response effectively saying, “we told you what the deal was when you signed up however many months ago and you should have remembered” was extremely irritating. Again, factually correct and devastatingly pointless and unhelpful. There were so many other responses they could have given at that point which wouldn’t have left me as irritated as I feel now. Let me try a few out:

@DB_Bahn: @RustyNailed Please DM us your details and we'll look into it and
          get back to you.
@DB_Bahn: @RustyNailed Please contact and they might be able
          to help.
@DB_Bahn: @RustyNailed Sorry we can't help, but will pass the feedback about
          reminders to the right team.

Each of those three responses represents a slightly different course of action.

The first is the @DB_Bahn twitter team taking ownership of the problem ,and accepting that it might turn out there is nothing they can do, it demonstrates willing and concern for the customer. They aren’t committing to do anything except see if they can help. This is actually great customer service – taking ownership of a problem and driving it to (some kind) of resolution.

The second is an okay response, it’s acknowledgement that they (the Twitter team) can’t help, but suggesting I get in contact with someone else who might be able to. Again, no committment to actually do anything but providing a useful next step.

The third one is again, an acknowledgement they can’t help, but they will feedback my concerns as a customer to the right team. Again, without making a committment to the customer, it demonstrates the customer’s complaint has been heard.

None of those three responses commit DB to doing anything to actually change my situation, but all three improve my perception of a company who have just taken my money when I didn’t want them to.

Good customer service covers a lot of ground. It covers helping your customers make informed choices (like sending reminders when subscriptions are due so they can decide to cancel), it covers being flexible if someone makes a mistake (like forgetting to cancel their subscription), and it covers handling customer grievances properly (not just telling them they should have remembered the small print they read months ago).

In responding to my tweet about poor customer service, @DB_Bahn went on to display the poor service I had tweeted about originally.