Commuter technology – An Irishwoman’s Diary on Bus Éireann and customer service

Publicly funded Bus Éireann is clear in its commitment to commuters: we’re at the core of its services, it says, and it takes that relationship very seriously. All of which bodes well for customer care. You might think.

As I sat in front of my PC recently, trying to book three day-return tickets to Belfast, I wasn’t feeling the love. After grappling with a page that persistently rerouted me to a cul-de-sac, I rang the advertised help number for assistance. Amazingly, the call was answered on the second ring. Bravo, BÉ. The employee engaged fully, advising that they had no access to the website but it was optimised for Google Chrome. I should try that. As a solution it was a new one on me. But after far too much logging on, logging off and retrying the same formula, Firefox did the trick.

It was all downhill from there.

Alas, I selected the wrong departure time. “Luckily”, my non-refundable e-ticket showed I could amend the error online up to one hour before departure for a “small fee”.

Great! A long and wasted while later, I reached again for the phone and Bus Éireann’s helpline, grateful it was there.

At this point all Bus Éireann had to do, without any loss to itself, was issue a travel voucher and say sorry

My fault, I said, but can someone change the time on my ticket because I can’t do it through the website.

Not a chance.

Can I amend it at the ticket desk on the day?

No way.

If customer care has no links whatsoever to the website, why is your number on the booking page? That drew a blank. The only option for me – and surely I’m not the only one – was to seek a refund and start all over. How long to process the refund request? Seven days – a day after my travel date.

I took that advice despite the e-receipt’s contradiction – no refunds. And I made a complaint – along with alternative arrangements for Belfast.

At this point all Bus Éireann had to do, without any loss to itself, was issue a travel voucher and say sorry. Taking that course would have had the added bonus of boosting my faith in its commitment to putting “customers at the core of its services”. Sadly, the company’s policy treads a more strange path.

I won't be giving up on busing it to Cork or Belfast or Galway despite knowing that I might again have to endure BÉ's bizarre concept of customer care

Six days later, a day earlier than my Belfast trip and Bus Éireann’s customer care said, I got a response that went like this: disappointment that I couldn’t get the site to work because it was actually fully operational; refunds were out; and because a penalty had to be paid only I could change the booking. Had I tried Google Chrome and another device?

In a second email, I was asked to supply details of the device I used, details of the browser I used, screenshots of where I had an issue, if the issue occurred before or after I’d entered the details, the name of the agent I had talked to, what number I called from, and what time I called. Then came the good news. If I’d bought a second set of tickets on the basis of Bus Éireann advice, I’d get a refund for that. Google Chrome, that old chestnut, resurfaced (no mention of it on the site, by the way, at least not on the day I visited). But customer care was “endeavouring to provide me with a solution” so that I could complete my intended journey by bus.

My cue to ask for a bus voucher and apology. Total radio silence ever since. And there you have one example of Bus Éireann’s much vaunted “centrally computerised complaints handling system to deal with customer complaints speedily and efficiently”, the complaints of the customers it puts at the heart of its services. Seriously?

Amid all the labyrinthine detail of this encounter, it’s the attitude that rankles and its inconsistency with Bus Éireann’s stated aims for users of its service. Disgruntled as I am and €60 lighter, I won’t be giving up on busing it to Cork or Belfast or Galway despite knowing that I might again have to endure BÉ’s bizarre concept of customer care. Because apart from keeping our cities and rural areas on the move, we all know by now the crucial role public transport has to play in curbing traffic congestion and helping with the global climate emergency. More of us need to get out of our cars and onto buses and trains. But is Bus Éireann aware of this?

It seems the company believes more in penalising customers and making us literally pay for our mistakes when all the while a mutually satisfying alternative is waiting in the wings. That’s no recipe for popularity. Bus Éireann would do well to revisit its commuter strategy and find ways to make us want to use its service more and more often rather than have us board its vehicles with bad thoughts and gritted teeth.