Knowing might lead to change

In January this year we made plans with USA friends, Peg and Dave Ertmer, to ride the Spirit of Queensland from Brisbane to Cairns and spend a few days in Far North Queensland before flying south. I tried to book immediately but bookings were not possible beyond 31 August.

I continued trying at least weekly for a while before calling Queensland Rail (QR) to ask. There was no clear date for when I might be able to book but I was added to a list to receive an email when it was possible and I registered our Queensland Seniors card numbers for the concession.

Not entirely trusting the system I continued checking periodically with no success. One morning, a couple of weeks ago, the email message arrived. Booking was possible.

After checking timetables in January we had agreed to depart from Brisbane on Tuesday, 1 October and I had booked accommodation in Cairns to match. The new timetable had no Tuesday departures. I emailed and messaged Peg to ask if they preferred to travel on Monday or Wednesday.

Their response preferred Wednesday so I attempted to book that online but found no rail beds available. I called QR to see if there might be an error. All the rail beds on Wednesday were booked but there was availability on Monday, 30 September. The operator assured me neither he nor I would want to travel sitting up so I needed those rail beds.

I logged in again on the online booking site, selected seats (the last 4 rail beds, it seemed), and proceeded through the system. Majella’s seniors card number verified but mine would not. I called QR again and found my card number had been entered with a missing digit. The operator corrected that and told me to try again.

All the while, I had been entering data or otherwise interacting with the form to avoid a timeout which I knew might be possible. Once my concession was verified I began entering details for my emergency contact but I was timed out without warning. When I tried booking again there were no rail beds available. Reasoning that they may still be held for my booking I continued trying. A minute or two later they reappeared and I was able to book and pay. All good for travel and adjusting the Airbnb booking was straightforward.

I’m a firm believer that systems and organisations will not fix problems they don’t know about and the people who design and build systems don’t often experience them as ordinary users might. Once I had recovered from the stress of almost missing our bookings I used the feedback system to tell QR what had happened, compliment them on the helpfulness of the operators I interacted with, and make two suggestions for improvement:

  • First, add code in the system to validate card numbers for concessions.
  • Second, add code to warn about impending timeouts as happens in many online systems.

Both of those are common features of such systems and should not be difficult to implement.

Next day I had the following response:

Good afternoon Peter,

Thank you for your feedback regarding your recent booking experience with the Queensland Rail Travel website and online booking system. We sincerely apologise for the difficulties you encountered while using our online system and for any inconvenience this may have caused.

We appreciate your detailed account of the issues, including the challenges with booking dates, the verification of your Seniors card, and the unexpected timeout. Thank you for your persistence and patience in resolving these issues, as well as your recognition of our staff’s helpfulness.

We also thank you for your constructive suggestions for system improvements. Validating concession card numbers and providing warnings before timeouts are excellent ideas that could significantly enhance our customer’s experience when booking travel. These suggestions have been recorded and forwarded to the relevant business area for consideration.

Your feedback is invaluable in helping us provide better service to our customers. Thank you again for taking the time to share your experience and suggestions.

I’m unlikely to book many more rail trips with QR so I’ll probably never know if they make the suggested changes to their system. Still, based on their response, I’m hopeful that my feedback might lead to some improvements. I doubt they would change anything if they did not know about the problem.

2 Responses

  1. That’s a worry, Peter. We were thinking of doing something similar. In the fullness of time, we’ll let you know if they’ve fixed their systems.

    • I think there may have been pent up demand and a rush. I was delayed because I had to consult and seats had been heavily booked for the date I needed. If you are booking with some flexibility there should be less likelihood of problems. The system glitches are common and easily overlooked by non-user. Hopefully they apply some well known fixes 🙂