Southeastern’s Community Panel: how (not) to engage

20160405-community-panelIn October 2015 Southeastern launched a Community Panel and invited customers to join it. It has been used to recruit testers for the Problem Reporting Application, but a principal part of the Panel was an online, members-only, discussion group.

The reasons for establishing this discussion group was not clear – a cynic might think that perhaps it was to intended to take some of the more public and strident criticism of Southeastern on Twitter, Facebook and blogs into a less visible private space?

On its website the purpose of the panel is explained as:

Southeastern have set up this community panel, in partnership with Verve (members of the Market Research Society), in order to obtain their customers’ opinions. Southeastern will use your feedback to ensure that the services they provide continue to meet your expectations. Verve will communicate directly with you through the use of a range of activities including surveys, quick polls, interviews and online discussion groups.

A careful reading of this statement shows an odd distinction between Southeastern (“will use your feedback”) and Verve (“will communicate directly with you”). It may be that in Southeastern’s view it can hand off communication with its customers to Verve. That’s not how customer-service businesses normally think, and we certainly do not consider that that’s what people taking part in the forum would expect.

However, and whoever’s job it is, the Community Panel is not working well by the normal standards of community engagement:

  • Southeastern have initiated just one discussion in nearly six months: “We’re interested in your recent experience of Southeastern”.
  • 83 members have posted to the Community website in response to this.
  • Some members posted thoughtfully and at length – some posts are 400-500 words long.
  • Southeastern have not responded on the forum to a single comment. That’s a discourtesy to those who have been asked to contribute their views. It seems to show that Southeastern are not prepared to engage in a conversation with their customers even in a more private space.
  • Only 9 members have posted on more than one day. That’s unsurprising given that none of them received a response to their first posts.
  • Only one comment has been posted since the start of 2016. That’s also unsurprising given the lack of response and discussion on the site.
  • There was also two polls – but again no response from Southeastern about the results.

In principle all feedback and discussion is good, and so the Community Panel could have been a sound idea if it was intended to engage new segments of their customers and so add to the feedback already provided through social media, through direct complaints, and through rail user groups such as the Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association (which you can join here!).

However Southeastern do not appear to have made the resource or cultural commitment to engage with members of the Panel and to draw them into a dialogue to improve their train service. It’s a pity that Southeastern have not bothered to make better use of people who are actively prepared to help. But at the moment the Panel is not serving any useful purpose.

20160405-verve-misuseA further concern

Incidentally we have a record of at least two instances where Verve appear to have used personal details registered as part of the Southeastern Customer Panel for non-Southeastern research – in one case into mobile phones. We do not regard this as acceptable use of personal data by Verve – people enrolling in the Southeastern panel would not have expected their email addresses and other personal data to be used more generally by Southeastern’s sub-contractors. Unfortunately several emails to Southeastern have failed to get a response from them on this important point.

Your views

We’d be very interested to hear from other members of the Community Panel on what they thought about the idea, and how valued they feel that their contributions have been. Please let us know here.

Update 13 May 2016

Southeastern have axed the Community Panel with immediate effect.


Southeastern’s Community Panel: how (not) to engage — 13 Comments

  1. You’ve reminded me – I found my personal details used by Verve for something else too. Can’t remember what now. I think I mentally filed it in the “oh, they’re that sort of bunch of cowboys, are they” box, and that’s why I took little part in the rest of this half-hearted attempt by Southeastern at direct engagement.
    I would have taken it further, but life’s too short, and I see you’ve got the usual response from Southeastern to this blatant disregard of our data protection legislation.
    And they wonder why it gets personal……

  2. If verve are part of the market research society and have used your personal details for other research without consent this contravenes the market research Society’s code of conduct which is supposed to give participants in research protection from research agency ‘cowboys’ – I would suggest contacting the MRS if your data has been used for other purposes without your permission.

  3. @notacowboyresearcher

    Because Southeastern have sub-contracted their customer panel to Verve, people joining the Customer Panel actually sign up to Verve’s terms and conditions Hidden in the Verve “privacy policy” is a clause stating “Through Verve Voices we’ll be asking you to take part in a number of research activities on behalf of ourselves or our business partners.” So passengers who think that they are working with Southeastern have actually signed up to a wider engagement with Verve.

    So we’re not saying that Verve’s use of the data is unlawful – they can no doubt show consent. However it is at the very least sharp practice by Verve.

    It also seems to show that Southeastern themselves have not thought through the implications for customers who thought they were volunteering to help Southeastern rather than become targets for general research.

    Southeastern have also contracted out their customer service and complaint work. We do not know how customer’s privacy is protected in those cases either.

  4. The latest from Verve to (some?) members of the Southeastern. Did members of the Community Panel know that they were signed up to this?

  5. Agree, that is a little sneaky. Shame it doesn’t sound to be very engaging or productive.

  6. Trawled back through my emails. Received this on 26/20/15, 11:36, 2 days after I received the invite to join Southeastern’s community panel which I then joined. I immediately clicked the unsubscribe link on this email – and this is why I didn’t engage on the panel (although I did take part in the “instrumented traveller” project – which was handled professionally)

    Hi Mike,

    We have a new minipoll and forum on Verve Voices about your mobile phone apps from banks and financial services providers and we’d love to hear from you about how you use them and if you don’t, why not?

    Please click here to take part.

    In the last minipoll we asked if it is true or fiction that 77% of “mobile” searches occurs at home or work. As over 500 of you correctly answered, this is in fact true!

    Thank you for your support, new surveys will be available soon!

    The Verve Voices Team

    Privacy Policy Terms & Conditions Contact us

    To unsubscribe, please Click Here .

    Winners will be contacted via email within 28 days of the closing date & will be announced on the Verve Voices

  7. @mike

    Thanks for this.

    What was the “instrumented traveller” project? Did this involve a banjo?

  8. Dug around my email history a bit deeper still. Back in 2013 I took part in a beta trial of the NowTV app on our LG Smart TV.
    Guess who Sky used for communication with the beta triallers.
    But that time around, I didn’t get any irrelevant communication from Verve.
    Maybe the offerings have changed, or Southeastern thoughtlessly signed up to a cheaper (or free) one.

  9. @notacowboyresearcher

    Yesterday we lodged a formal complaint with Verve Partners Ltd about a seeming breach of the Market Research Society’s Code of Practice in regard to “informed consent”. We have not had a reply directly, but one of one members received this email today:

    This may be total co-incidence – but we hope that our intervention might be bearing fruit!

  10. I hope you get some feedback from the MRS about the complaint at least. This is issue is more likely to be related the research agency rather than southeastern though – although no surprise southeastern weren’t aware of this happening (based on the comments)

  11. @notacowboyresearcher

    In accordance with the MRS website we submitted the complaint to the company in the first instance. Thanks again for highlighting this route.

    One issue here is that in running the Community Panel the research company appeared to be working as Southeastern’s sub-contractor. Three emails in the last four months about this issue to the relevant @se_railway Director have not even been acknowledged – and, presumably, were not passed on the research company either. It looks like another instance – like complaints and station maintenance – where Southeastern have contracted out on a “pay and forget” basis. This might of course explain why there has been no Southeastern engagement on the “Community Panel” either.

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