Sunday, January 20, 2013

On hoping for a refund

Dear First Great Western

I'm writing to you to ask for a refund. Apologies in advance for the length of this letter. Hopefully you won't roll your eyes at this (I know how tiring long customer services letters must be), but this is just to make you aware of the process I've been through to try and get a refund.

My mistake (and I fully admit it) was to arrive at the station with the wrong debit card by accident. I know it was wrong, but I didn't think it'd be that bad. After all, thetrainline allows you to use “any valid debit/credit card” to pick up a ticket. And, the Paddington ticket machine seemed to agree with me. It said that, yes, wrong card, but I could go to the ticket office to pick up the tickets.

After queing at the ticket office, the man there sent me to the Information Desk, saying the woman there could help me. Her response was to inform me, in an exasperated sigh, that I shouldn't have been sent to her, and that my best bet was to either contact First Great Western to change the booking or buy a new ticket.

I went back to the ticket office and had the good fortune to speak to the same man. He offered to sell me a new ticket and suggested that I contact First Great Western for a refund on my original ticket. “But I am contacting First Great Western,” I said. “I'm talking to you.”

At this point the man in a First Great Western booth, wearing a First Great Western uniform and a First Great Western badge, said proudly: “I am not First Great Western.”

I'm very proud of the fact that I did not at this point lose my temper. I may have gaped, but I think that's reasonable. I bought a new ticket and he went away and eventually came back with a phone number for me to ring.

Sitting on the train, I rang the number and spoke to a very helpful man who told me he couldn't actually give me a refund, but how I could use my laptop on the train to do it. This was partially true. What he did not tell me was that my laptop needed to be connected to a printer. Unaccountably, I had failed to pack my printer, so sadly, could not print out the resulting PDF in order to mail to you.

Not to worry, I thought. I'll do it when I get home. By the time I got home, my session on your website had expired. When I logged back in, it claimed “Aftersales Performed” on that journey, and wouldn't let me print out the PDF.

So I rang the helpline again. Perhaps someone there would tell me how to get to the PDF. I explained my situation. Not a problem, the man said, all I needed to do was to write you a letter and attach the tickets.

I then reminded him that I did not have the tickets. At which point he suggested my best bet was to travel across London, back to the station, with the correct debit card and collect the tickets. Startled, I queried this. Not only did this seem a very laborious process, but I also questioned whether a ticket machine would even issue tickets for a journey now long in the past. He agreed that this seemed unlikely.

He came up with another solution. He suggested that I write this all down in a letter to you and that, once I had explained my case, you might send me a refund request form.

Stunned, I asked him if, perhaps, you'd simply refund me after reading the letter without the added complexity of then sending me a form, me having to fill in a form and then send it back to you. He said he rather doubted it.

And, after the day I've had, I rather doubt it too.

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