Sunday, January 01, 2006

Incompetent PR, Amtrak Style

Anger Management Wins Out Over Doing The Right Thing
When corporations or government agencies are excoriated in the press, it's often because they didn't plan for an emergency or when one happens, they simply stick to the S.O.P. playbook and set themselves up for a P.R. disaster.
Such was the case for Amtrak, which now has to wrestle with the aftermath of its Silver Meteor, which arrived yesterday in New York more than 24 hours late because of a freight-train derailment and planning that could generously be described as short-sighted.
I can guarantee I will never step foot on another Amtrak again. They treated us worse than the freight. I hate their guts. They were absolutely useless, totally incompetent, totally unprepared," Bernard Marcoccia, a truck driver from Syracuse, told New York's Daily News.
Not that Amtrak needs any bad press, what with its legacy of shoddy on-time performance, balky equipment and frequent dalliances with extinction.
True, it appears Amtrak was given the bum's rush about how long the derailment would take to clear by CSX, which owns the tracks the Silver Meteor travels for most of its route from Miami to New York.
Yes, Amtrak tried to charter buses, but none were available over a holiday weekend. It was not a good situation, but it was one the railroad only made worse.
First, you had 250 passengers using toilets that weren't getting serviced. That's enough to get everyone on edge. But it gets worse.
Some genius apparently thought it was a good idea to continue charging for food even though passengers were running out of money. Not everyone had credit cards, and not everyone expected to be on the train for the better part of two days.
The cluelessness was evident when the Daily News asked Amtrak flackette Tracy Connell, who pointed out that passengers got a box lunch -- albeit only when they reached South Carolina -- why the railroad charged for food. "I don't know," was her reply. She was not alone.
As Pat Dawson made sure to remind viewers on NBC Nightly News yesterday, Amtrak had no plans to offer compensation to passengers.
Of course, some lunkhead at Amtrak HQ may be taking a lesson from the airlines, which don't offer anything for events out of their control, such as the weather. Amtrak didn't cause the derailment, but they made the situation worse with its blinders-on, callous approach to customer service.
It's so easy to say you're sorry, but PR 101 states back it up with some words or deeds. Offers of a free ticket for another trip, along with vouchers to make up for having to pay for the crappy food on board wouldn't be too much to ask. Sure, there will always be those who kvetch no matter what you do, but most people are just looking for a gesture, some token of recognition that what they went through was extraordinary, uncalled for and worthy of the railroad's further attention.
That should have been the first thing to be heard from the Amtrak mouthpieces. Instead, they played the blame game and come out looking the worst at a time when you thought that was no longer possible for Amtrak.

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