Customer Service from National Express (with a happy ending!)

Everyone has a horror story about dealing with a particular company or organisation. A severed ear in your KFC bucket, a seven-year wait for a new kidney on the NHS, too much head on your pint at your local, the list is endless. But some companies are hated more than others. Ryanair, for example, is so hated by one person that there exists a website called A .org website? That guy really hates Ryanair.

My dad had just such a horror story recently, with a UK coach company called National Express. I was in London with him to watch a football match (Coooome on yoooooou Whiiiiiiteeeees!). After the game we had over-priced London dinner and then I took him to Victoria Coach Station where he was getting on a coach back to Cambridge – I was staying in London for the night for a friend’s birthday. I saw him join the queue for the coach then I headed to my friend’s party.

National Express Coach in Car Park

A little while later, while I was busy getting drunk on cheap lager and whiskey, I got a text from my dad that simply said, “Chirpy, I’m on a bus to Portsmouth.” Instead of being sympathetic to my dear old dad, I actually thought it was hysterical, as did the people at the party after I told them what I was laughing about. It was about 9 p.m. by this point and he was still 90 minutes or so from Portsmouth, so there was no chance of him getting home that night, not by bus or by train, so he spent a night in Portsmouth, which is no one’s idea of a great night out.

Eventually my dad did get home. About 3 p.m. the following afternoon. That bus ride from London to Cambridge, which takes about 50 minutes and costs £20 on the train, took him 18 hours and cost him £130. Talk about great value!

I then wrote a letter to the National Express’s customer service department. My dad had written off the extra costs — “guess I’ll do some overtime this weekend” were his exact words — but I thought, “Hey, this wasn’t my dad’s fault” (it wasn’t; the Portsmouth bus was at the Cambridge gate and the driver never checked my dad’s ticket properly), so I was hoping for some free stuff. A free ticket somewhere, or two seats for the price of one, or a bus where the toilet smells of lavender and rainbows, some little thing to say “sorry that we fucked up”.

After about six weeks of radio silence, followed by a few emails, followed by a phone call, I recently received a cheque for £65 in the post, which marked a 50% refund on the additional costs my dad paid to spend a night in a Portsmouth Travelodge. I almost wasn’t sure what it was when I looked at it – it’s been about three years since I last saw a cheque. Nobody uses them anymore. They used to be acceptable and normal but are now out-dated, like floppy disks, VHS cassettes and child molesting (seriously, it’s starting to seem like everyone was a paedophile back in the 60s).

It was £65 that I really wasn’t expecting. I gave my dad half and banked the rest – I can use the toilet at Victoria Coach Station in London 116.7 times with that money. I should probably write a letter of complaint to see if I can get a lifetime pass, or at the very least one free flush.

There are two lessons to be taken from this story. One: if something goes wrong, always embrace your inner Englishman and write a letter of complaint. You might get more than you expected. Two: National Express is actually quite a good company and taking the bus instead of the train can save quite a bit of money if you don’t end up in Portsmouth. Buses and bus journeys are great.

Over to you: what’s your worst experience with a company? Anyone ever actually had something freaky in their Egg McMuffin? Anyone had any experiences of *good* customer service?

12 Comments Add yours

  1. My mother one time reached into a bag of potato chips and pulled out a whole potato, not completely terrible or horrifying but it did leave the rest of the chips stale.

    I did once however find a razor in one of my meals. Being a dancer, I’m traveling a lot for rehearsals and performances and I pack lunches often. I had a frozen “Lean Cuisine” meal one time and when I took it out of the microwave to stir I found something that didn’t belong. Good thing I didn’t find it with my mouth.


  2. Ruth2Day says:

    hang on a minute, how come you pocketed half the refund!!!! Must admit I did have a chuckle at your dear old Dad heading in the opposite direction 🙂

    Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 08:38:26 +0000 To:


    1. ambigram0 says:

      He’d written it off and basically said ‘if you get anything back from the letter, you can keep it’. I did all the work in chasing it up. In the end, half and half seemed fair!


      1. Ruth2Day says:

        what a nice dad you have 🙂


      2. ambigram0 says:

        He reads this blog so I suppose I’ll have to agree with you 😉


  3. globalexplorer1 says:

    Last year’s 4 month long trip through Latin America entailed 10 flights. Copa and LAN were fine. Aerolinas Argentinas was a nightmare. There was no line at their check-in, just people crowding en masse to the counter. They had maybe two desk clerks for 100 or so customers. That was getting out of Buenas Aires. It was no better at smaller airports. They are just totally unorganized.


  4. That’s nice, here in Spain you’d be lucky to hear back from a company after filing a formal complain.


  5. renpiti says:

    Funny, I just blogged the other side of this coin: the customer service rep side. Oh, and your posts always have that moment where I get to explain to my office neighbors why I suddenly burst out laughing. Can’t really explain to them that it was pedophilia this time around.


  6. Actually, I had a good experience with British Airways – I got stranded last year because of one of the millions of hurricanes that the US gets (I can’t remember which was last year), and I was stranded in Houston, TX. But I had to get to Greece (as I was starting my teaching job and all that jazz). I was pushed from counter to counter until I ended up at the ticket counter, crying (of course), and the ticket guy, this little French man, ended up getting me a hotel voucher and a hook up for the next morning, so I got to leave the next day on one of the first planes out!


    1. ambigram0 says:

      That’s the kind of thing I expect if it’s the airline’s fault. Well played to them for doing it for something caused by the weather!


  7. Rhino House says:

    Try this in France & the driver will come round & bitch-slap you until you give him money to go away.


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