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Inconsistent Service: A bigger problem than the food?

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MARC Rider

Conductor
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Apr 5, 2011
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What will happen if Congress repeals the "Mica Rule?" That is, F&B are no longer require to pay for themselves. Would Amtrak management upgrade the food service, or have they bought into the philosophy that food service is not essential for their mission?
 
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crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Oct 21, 2015
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What will happen if Congress repeals the "Mica Rule?" That is, F&B are no longer require to pay for themselves. Would Amtrak management upgrade the food service, or have they bought into the philosophy that food service is not essential for their mission?
What is the current Mica rule by the way? Is there any actual new rule or is it just Mica trying to enforce the original law. I’m sure it’s been linked to somewhere but it gets so confusing.

If Amtrak survives I’m sure a new manager will have a “new” idea to have better food and service on the trains. Just like we went up and down with the simplified dining service in the early 2000’s.
 

Ziv

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 25, 2011
Messages
664
China and Russia are not as litigious as the US, but sleeper trains in both countries have large samovars with gallons of steaming hot water at the end of each sleeper car. If they can do it safely...

There is some merit in that - guess the same goes for coffee machines ... hot, scalding water is very dangerous.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
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Messages
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Location
Baltimore. MD
Sometimes "inconsistent service" is necessary for operational reasons. However, management has to be proactive in informing the customers about the current process.

For example .... This morning my daughter and I went over to the local bagel shop to get sandwiches and buy a bag of fresh bagels for tomorrow night's Yom Kippur break-the-fast. As you can imagine, we weren't the only people out and about doing this. Thus, the bagel shop changed its traffic flow and set up bagel ordering tables by a side entrance and had people enter through there and then go to the main store to pay and/or order sandwiches to carry out or eat outside. This was a good idea under the circumstances, given the heavier than usual traffic and the need to keep long lines from bunching up inside.

The only problem they had was that they needed to have a large sign on the front door directing people who wanted to buy bagels to go to the side. This they didn't have. While we were waiting inside for our sandwiches, we saw numerous customers in search of bagels enter through the usual door only to be told (more or less politely) to go around the side. It was kind of amusing to see the confused, deer-in-the-headlights look that many of these people had. We probably had the same look when we walked in the "wrong" door. It would probably ended a lot of confusion if the management of the store had posted a large sign outside. I'm not sure why they didn't do it.

The same applies on Amtrak dining cars or cafe cars. There may be times when it's operationally better to have customers wait at the end of the car, and other times when it's better to have them come to the center of the car to get their instructions. What the staff needs to do is just put up a clear, legible, professional-looking sign that instructs the customers about what to do. There would be a lot less need to bark orders like a boot camp drill instructor, and the travel experience could be more pleasant for all involved. There are lots of cheap printers out there on the market, so there's no reason why the crew couldn't do this. They all seem to have lots of digital devices, all of which have some kind of text editor with a printer driver.
 
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PNW
If we really care about LD trains and seeing them continue, On-Board Service needs to be fixed.

If you ride the LD trains long enough, you'll run across OBS that are absolutely passionate about their job, OBS that treat customers like they're an inconvenience and OBS that basically get the job done without too much fuss.

I want to emphasize that I don't believe the problem is the union. The problem is the lack of supervision. Simply replacing a unionized workforce with a disposable workforce is not the answer. The problem is that the OBS that are complacent drag down the OBS that really care about their jobs. Management has very little way of knowing which is which or coaching out OBS that aren't doing their jobs. Bad union workers can be fired, it just takes proper documentation. I believe that once management starts holding OBS accountable and weeding out the worst offenders, the rest of the employees will follow suit.

While respecting the unionized workforce, there are a few things that Amtrak can do to make sure OBS is consistent, high quality and able to enhance the amazing experience of LD travel:

1. Make the LSA (Lead Service Attendant) management, outside of the TWU (The Union).

2. Consistency. Raising the floor: LSAs should not be mandating that passengers cannot have meals in their rooms. They should be providing all available options per policy and communicating that to the passengers. You provide options and let the customer decide, you don't treat the customer like cattle and herd them into your preferred option. A welcome card stating the policies in each room along with the schedule should be standard. The SCA should not be allowed to "turn off" the call buttons to the entire car, etc.

3. Welcome e-mail.

4. Survey e-mail.

5. Letting good service take precedence over seniority.

None of these things cost more money. If anything, by making the staff more efficient it will save money in the long run.

Thoughts?
You have some great ideas here! (sorry this is a bit of a long reply)

Although, first up ...
1. Union workers - are a whole 'nother world of 'the good, the bad and the ugly'. You really can not blame the Union for failures in quality customer service; besides Amtrak would have to replace the entire workforce; and the cost (not including legal consequences) would be enough to buy a whole new rail system.
2. Seniority - if there's a pecking order, it is absolutely steadfast and hiring outside, would be difficult to squeeze through Union contract loopholes. The stigma of 'Lazy Union workers' more than often comes from failure in company management. Disgruntled employees are still protected somewhat under contract conditions, and remain in tenure for pensions etc.

Customer service begins with the CEO and trickles down through management:
The best way to motivate employees is to engage them and empower them; give them a reason to feel pride in their role with the company. If Management fails, everyone fails. If the CEO & VPs are raking in bonuses and not sharing the profits ... they simply fail not only the workers, but the general public as well. Additionally, investing in hiring and training the right people from the start is imperative. However, right now for example, with the Covid pandemic layoffs, management thinks that cutting back on employee power will save their bottom line instead a getting creative in seeking new business and travel solutions and marketing; just adds to the frustration.

3. Emails & Surveys - these are great! Most people with complaints will happily fill out a survey, and the faster Amtrak sends out those surveys the less likely a disgruntled guest will go onto Tripadvisor (for example) to share with the world. As long as Amtrak actually follows up respectively. (and they fail at this too) This is the modern day 'word of mouth' marketing technique.

I believe that if America wasn't so damn beautiful with it's diverse terrains and climates to entice long distance rail-travel lovers, the system would fail outside of a run-down shuttle service. Until someone in management makes a difference, we all suffer the inconsistencies. And of course there are always some truly decent humans who do love what they do and find personal gratitude that resonates through their work and how they treat others .... sadly, these gems are few and far between and they tend not to stay long.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,839
Sometimes "inconsistent service" is necessary for operational reasons. However, management has to be proactive in informing the customers about the current process.

For example .... This morning my daughter and I went over to the local bagel shop to get sandwiches and buy a bag of fresh bagels for tomorrow night's Yom Kippur break-the-fast. As you can imagine, we weren't the only people out and about doing this. Thus, the bagel shop changed its traffic flow and set up bagel ordering tables by a side entrance and had people enter through there and then go to the main store to pay and/or order sandwiches to carry out or eat outside. This was a good idea under the circumstances, given the heavier than usual traffic and the need to keep long lines from bunching up inside.

The only problem they had was that they needed to have a large sign on the front door directing people who wanted to buy bagels to go to the side. This they didn't have. While we were waiting inside for our sandwiches, we saw numerous customers in search of bagels enter through the usual door only to be told (more or less politely) to go around the side. It was kind of amusing to see the confused, deer-in-the-headlights look that many of these people had. We probably had the same look when we walked in the "wrong" door. It would probably ended a lot of confusion if the management of the store had posted a large sign outside. I'm not sure why they didn't do it.

The same applies on Amtrak dining cars or cafe cars. There may be times when it's operationally better to have customers wait at the end of the car, and other times when it's better to have them come to the center of the car to get their instructions. What the staff needs to do is just put up a clear, legible, professional-looking sign that instructs the customers about what to do. There would be a lot less need to bark orders like a boot camp drill instructor, and the travel experience could be more pleasant for all involved. There are lots of cheap printers out there on the market, so there's no reason why the crew couldn't do this. They all seem to have lots of digital devices, all of which have some kind of text editor with a printer driver.
To be fair to Amtrak, I think it’s a dining car thing. I’ve been similarly barked at in dining Cars on VIA rail and on mainline steam excursions.
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,306
Location
Baltimore. MD
To be fair to Amtrak, I think it’s a dining car thing. I’ve been similarly barked at in dining Cars on VIA rail and on mainline steam excursions.
Oho! Now we find out that this isn't "bad service," it's a hallowed railroad tradition! :) And it has nothing to do with "lazy union employees." I guess we shouldn't be complaining about it, we should willingly be accepting of it, and enjoy it as part of the experience. I guess "experiential train service" can mean a lot of things. :)

I wonder if anyone got barked at when they patronized the Southern Pacific Automat Car.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
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Oho! Now we find out that this isn't "bad service," it's a hallowed railroad tradition! :) And it has nothing to do with "lazy union employees." I guess we shouldn't be complaining about it, we should willingly be accepting of it, and enjoy it as part of the experience. I guess "experiential train service" can mean a lot of things. :)

I wonder if anyone got barked at when they patronized the Southern Pacific Automat Car.
Not sure how sarcastic you’re being but I certainly wasn’t saying it’s a good thing.
 

OBS

Conductor
AU Supporter
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Nov 9, 2011
Messages
1,603
Location
Long Island, NY
Because they don't want train cars looking like the floor of a movie theater?
Or smelling like the lobby of the movie theatre.
They did do microwave popcorn way back 35-40 years ago...the smell went everywhere. Even worse, when the popcorn started to burn it stunk even worse. Not to mention the mess when the bags of popcorn used to catch on fire in the "commercial" (extra strong) microwaves....
 

MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
2,306
Location
Baltimore. MD
In the days when theaters popped their own popcorn, I don't recall an aroma that was unpleasant. If anything, it was an aroma of "buy some"!
What some people find "not unpleasant," other people find offensive, and some claim that it causes them health issues. Nowadays, people aren't shy if they find something unpleasant. Back in the day, it seems like it took a lot more to get people to speak up. When I recall my youth, I'm amazed at the combination of odors we dealt with -- perfume, tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke, high-sulfur diesel exhaust, etc. The odor of fresh popped popcorn, I guess was nothing compared to that.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,839
This is getting good let me kept the popcorn... wait... that means I’m taking a side that I don’t necessarily agree on... oh no! :p
 

Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
11,726
Location
Texas
To be quite honest, I've been riding long distance trains for quite a while, and I've never had really bad service.
To be quite honest, I'm not sure you've ever had really good service with which to compare it.
Actually, any kind of "really good service" would make me uncomfortable. [...] You don't need to have somebody constantly at your beck and call during an overnight train ride.
Really good service does not wait on you hand and foot. It listens to requests, anticipates needs, and corrects mistakes. It treats customers with dignity rather than ignoring or arguing with them over minor disputes. Some Amtrak staff do this but other staff treat customers like a barely tolerated nuisance. As a regular traveler I'm rarely the target of their ire but I'm also unable to ignore the way some staff treat new and infrequent travelers. Seeing Amtrak staff balk at minor requests, make up their own rules, and snap at customers for simple misunderstandings is difficult for me to stomach.
 
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me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,366
Really good service does not wait on you hand and foot. It listens to requests, anticipates needs, and corrects mistakes. It treats customers with dignity rather than ignoring or arguing with them over minor disputes. Some Amtrak staff do this but other staff treat customers like a barely tolerated nuisance. As a regular traveler I'm rarely the target of their ire but I'm also unable to ignore the way some staff treat new and infrequent travelers. Seeing Amtrak staff balk at minor requests, make up their own rules, and snap at customers for simple misunderstandings is difficult for me to stomach.
Really good service for sleeper service also includes the following:
  • Greeting and welcoming passengers by name when boarding since they have that information.
  • Giving your name to the passengers and how you wish to be addressed.
  • Offering help loading baggage on train to older people, those obviously needing assistance or those apparently needing it, not just offering it when disembarking (which is a sign they are just looking for a tip).
  • If you look lost, telling you which direction and how far your room is down the hall.
  • Letting you know you'll stop by to see if they need help.
  • Letting you know immediately if it is meal time or when meal times are. Offer to bring meals to those with limited mobility if dining is in diner car.
  • Visiting you in your room as soon as possible and, if you are unfamiliar with the room, explaining everything including room features, shower and toilet locations and necessary information, diner and lounge/cafe location as well as OFFICIAL rules (smoking, alcohol, noise, etc)
  • Letting you know when sleep/wake room conversion is available.
  • Letting you know if you are already checked in with the conductor or if you will handle it for them.
  • Assure them that you have cleaned and inspected the room.
  • Offer to assist them, if necessary, with baggage on disembarkation.
  • Let them know you will assure they are awake 1/2 hour before nighttime disembarkation.
  • SMILE! BE FRIENDLY! BE NICE!
I'm sure others will chime in with their opinions.
 

Dakota 400

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,292
A 2019 January trip on the Silver Meteor, boarding at Fort Lauderdale, my SCA did many of the above list of "good service" items. Much to my surprise, he informed me that the Dining Car was serving breakfast and invited me to go there. (I didn't expect breakfast that morning.) A fellow AU Forum member, Bratkinson, was also told the same thing (I don't remember clearly, but I think he was in a different Sleeper, so it would have been by a different SCA). I was seated when he joined me that morning. A great way to begin what was a good Amtrak trip!
 
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