As I stood waiting for my train this morning, I wasn’t exactly smiling, and neither were the mounting crowds around me. The train was already 11 minutes behind schedule, and as a result the platform was filling with people running late and expecting to stand in a cramped carriage till London. Then the voice of James Allen came over the tannoy.
James Allen, whose name I know from media reports about him, is a 52 year old platform announcer at St Albans station. He is polite, kind and generous.
From organising a mini library in the waiting room, to handing out umbrellas on rainy days, he goes beyond the call of duty on a daily basis. One afternoon I heard him offering chocolates to customers. He speaks with a gentle, calming tone, placing an emphasis of sincerity on certain words. Here’s a verbatim transcript from this morning:
“I’m so sorry to tell you that the 8:38 to Brighton is still waiting behind a train at Brighton, so if you are travelling to London, I urge you please to get on the next service to Sutton which is approximately 3 and a half minutes away. I really am so sorry, It seems that the 8:38 to Brighton service is, if you’ll forgive my expression, doomed.. oh no, hold in, it appears my system has just updated.. oh and I am delighted to tell you that the Brighton service is now on the move! And it’s 2 and half miles away, which means I can tell you with confidence that we will be expecting it in a little less than 5 minutes. I truly am so sorry for any disruption this has caused to your morning, and I do hope your day improves.”
People look up from glaring at the floor, sharing glances and smiles as we listen to the detailed and heartfelt message, behaving at last like a group of humans aware of each other’s presence. If getting the train to work on a Friday is a ceremony, James is the ultimate MC. He teases out a smile from even the most pained commuter. His updates are live, honest and transparent. He provides an authentic and sincere service which leaves customers of First Capital Connect feeling cared for despite what is often a less than smooth experience. They have an awful lot to thank him for.