Rail boss slammed for ‘aggressive’ tweets to customers and blocking them

A rail boss has come under fire after handling customer complaints over social media in a "rude" and "aggressive" fashion.

Amid months of strike action, delays to services and overcrowding on trains that has "tested customers’ patience to the limit", Northern Rail’s top dog has taken to blocking anyone on Twitter who dares complain.

In a series of tweets, Liam Sumpter tells passengers they’re blocked and belittles their failure to "grasp the basics".

Many of his responses on his account @nettlecroft explain circumstances and background behind service issues.

But the Arriva Rail North director’s responses in some cases have led disgruntled customers to complain to the Manchester Evening News.

Northern says the boss ‘chooses to engage directly with customers’ and deals with ‘criticism and tough topics’, but Mr Sumpter’s account has since been made private.

One example came after GM Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted that he would be looking into a number of complaints of ‘poor service’ from the operator.

When a passenger informed Mr Burnham that Mr Sumpter never replied, Mr Sumpter tweeted at him: “Not to yours Simon as they’re pretty much nonsense and never ask a sensible question.

"So…I’ll just block you to save us both time. See Ya.”

And during a Twitter row over operator profits and funding, he told a passenger: “As for profit and subsidy, I’m sorry to say your grasp of the basics is so, so limited that you should probably go and research it if you want to understand it better.”

He also wrote he would block another follower "so I don’t stumble across his vile idiocy again".

Passenger Mike Smith, who commutes on the Bolton line, which has been plagued with overcrowding issues, has accused Mr Sumpter of ‘taking Northern’s customer service backwards’.

“His aggressive and condescending nature when communicating with customers is frankly unacceptable," he said.

“Like many customers, I am having to endure a terrible service at the moment.

“This has been the case for the past three months, with endless cancellations across Greater Manchester, not to mention a major downgrading of the timetable on many routes from May.

“Customers’ patience is being tested to the limit due to this, so do you honestly believe that in his position as a director of the company, Mr Sumpter is truly representing Northern in the best light by being rude and argumentative with paying customers when engaging with them on Twitter?”

He added: “I am sure if station staff spoke to people in this way, it wouldn’t be tolerated.”

A Northern spokesman said: “Twitter is an excellent platform for customers to ask questions and share their frustrations with companies and brands.

"Rather than rely on the corporate Twitter handle, Liam chooses to engage directly with customers, making it clear in his profile that the views are his own.

“Through Q&As, videos and responding to enquiries and criticism directly, he deals with some of the tough topics such as strike action, disruption and delays.

"This openness is appreciated by many and these two examples are isolated and does not reflect the positive interactions he has with customers.

"We have made Liam aware of the feedback.

"As his account is not managed 24/7 we would encourage customers to tweet @northernassist who are well placed to handle most enquiries.”

But after the M.E.N contacted Northern about the complaints, Mr Sumpter’s Twitter account was made private.

Over the last year, Northern services have been blighted by strike action as staff dispute plans for driver-only trains.

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