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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Train Companies...

...actually, not just train companies - bad customer service in general.

Today's rant, just as a bit of a change of pace, was inspired by something that actually happened to me today, rather than anything topical.  I don't usually do this kind of thing, but I reckon that if you can't relate to this theme then you live some kind of charmed life and your address is probably on Christmas Pudding Lane, where you live with your magical puppy that smells like the shampoo at a fancy gym and pisses tequila, because it is fucking ubiquitous.

I have to say, the events that transpired were triggered by me making a cock up.  Basically, I left my wallet on the train on the way to work.  Of course, I wouldn't have got my wallet out if the over zealous bloke who insists on checking your damn ticket (even though the station has ticket barriers, so either you have to have a ticket to get to the train, or you have spent enough time and effort masterminding a way of getting past the barriers without one that you have, in a fair world, earned the right to travel for free) hadn't come to distract me from reading about Nick Clegg and Fergie in the Metro just to check there was no chance of fining me a few grand.  Still, really, you know, mea culpa.   Hey, at least it was my wallet, not, I don't know, a memory stick with your personal details on it, but yes, I am an absent minded twat, and I did formerly work for the government so yes, they do hire the kind of person who could probably end up doing that.

I noticed it was gone when I went to get a cigarette out after getting off the train.  "Bollocks", I said.  Still though, I thought I would just be able to call the train company, get them to radio the guard (AKA "the bloke" I referred to earlier) and tell him to leave it with someone at my local, fairly large station when the train made it's way back through there.  No big deal.

So, at the office, I looked up the train company I thought operated the train.  Southern.  After explaining my situation to a lady with a horrible accent, I was informed that "we can only radio the guard in an emergency".  I proceeded to explain that I didn't actually want them to stop the fucking train, like they do when there is a fucking squirrel on the line or other such emergency scenario, I merely wished them to get a message to the guard.  No.  The guard's work is very important and he must not be distracted with helping people, lest he fuck up and cause havoc by say, not noticing that the guy whose ticket said Reigate stayed on the train all the way to Redhill, which should have cost him 30 pence more.   No.  Instead of having that five second conversation with the guard, the idiot woman instead opted to have a five minute conversation with me, explaining that the best thing to do is call their lost property office in Bristol (which accounted for the horrible accent) in three days as that is how long it takes for lost property to be "processed".  This gave me upsetting images in my head of my poor little wallet in some kind of Bristolian version of Auschwitz for wallets, phones and MP3 players, waiting to be "processed".  My poor little cards, even that Boots gift card I still had seven quid left on, being cut up by some awful jobsworth who talks like a farmer.  I explained that this "solution" would be far less convenient for everybody involved than my suggestion.  Even tried to appeal to her lazy nature by pointing out that my way also meant no paperwork.  But she was having none of it.  It was only after this lengthy exchange that she noticed that the train I had said I was on was not even operated by her company.

It seems two companies run up and down that route, and the one I was on was a First Great Western train.  Well, silly me for not fucking noticing the branding on the fucking train.  If only I had read the fucking safety poster or the free magazine with Stone-fucking-henge on the cover, then I would have realised I was on a First Great Western train, not a Southern train.  It's not as if it's all the fucking same or anything.  It's not as if I don't give a flying fuck about your fucking branding, I am just trying to get from the town I live in to the town I fucking work in and a train is just a fucking train...  At this point I began to feel I could method act the Michael Douglas character in a remake of Falling Down.

So I called First Great Western.  They were even less helpful, and the guy I spoke to seemed to have been in India.  I had said I had literally just left my wallet on one of their trains.  He asked me, when I said the time the train left from my station, if that was "in the morning or at night".  He didn't seem to have ever heard of Reading.  He told me to phone Network Rail and ask to speak to the station at which my train terminated.

Feeling a bit futile, I did that.  They put me through to a man who I think was called Craig (if he was, and you're ever at Gatwick Airport station and you see him, tell him I hate him) who was supposedly the Duty Manager.  This man was a wanksmith, and a master of the trade.  He said the train didn't get cleaned out at his station, it would go all the way back to Reading before that happened.  "Very well," said I, "transfer me to your counterpart at Reading".  I think I actually said something slightly angrier than that, but I didn't call him a cunt or anything so I was reining it in.  He said that he couldn't do that.  "Never mind," said I, "if you would be so kind as to give me his number I will call him myself".  

He said he didn't have it.  He only had an internal number.  Which, as we have established, he couldn't transfer me on. I asked if it would be on the internet.  He said he didn't have the internet.  I said that I did have the internet, I just wanted to know if the number would actually be on their site, or whether it would just be the number for customer bastarding services, who were the ones who had put me through to his worthless self in the first bastarding place, because evidently they didn't know where the train got cleaned, or that he was neither use nor ornament (three days in a row I've used that - there are just so many people for whom it is appropriate), or in fact anything that a customer might find fucking helpful.  He said he didn't know, but he reckoned it probably wasn't on there.  At this point I had gotten a bit sarcastic, much to the amusement of guys who sit near me at work.  But I still hadn't called him a cunt or anything.  He suggested that actually, what I should really do, is call the train company.  Normally I would have had a few suggestions for him about what he should really do, maybe something involving getting dragged behind one of his stupid fucking trains until he either dies or himself gets to fucking Reading, where the fucking train gets cleaned, whichever comes fucking first, but I was too shocked that he had even said such a thing.  "Are you trying to make me have some kind of stroke?" I asked him.  Then I hung up.

I gave up on getting my wallet back.  I cancelled my cards (had to speak to Santander - no article about bad customer service would be complete without a mention of good old Banco Bastardos! "I've lost my card". "OK, what is your card number?"), grieved for my lost seven pounds of Boots credit (now i will have to spend real money on boring old razors, damnit), and felt hungry because I couldn't buy any lunch, but it wasn't the end of the world.  

This is when it hit me.  It would have been better to have just done that in the first place - just written it off.  I would be in exactly the same position, but I would still be at my normal, manageable level of rage and frustration.  I wouldn't have wasted time, meaning I would have been further along with whatever thing it was I was doing at work (I'm not saying that that, in and of itself, would not have also been a waste of time, but you know what I mean).  

And this is the point of today's rant: it shouldn't be that way.  Even if they aren't able to give you any practical help, customer service people should make you feel like they are at least trying to help you, so even though you come away no better off you at least feel like everything that could reasonably be done to help you has been done and that someone out there cared just a little bit about your predicament.  You deserve that - you fund their company's continued existence (in the case of the train companies, because you have to, like some kind of uncapped "getting to the office" tax that they can arbitrarily make to be as much as they fucking like).

Honestly, look at any job advert for customer service representatives, or any other customer facing job come to think about it, and it will be asking for people with "good people skills", or even "a passion for excellent customer service". These qualities in humans must be as rare as rocking horse shit, because instead, these jobs seem to go almost exclusively to surly, arsey, lazy people who will not make themselves responsible for anything at all, or people who are just plain stupid.  When you deal with a good one, someone who actually seems to enjoy helping solve problems and is genuinely sorry when they can't, it feels great, whatever the outcome.  And I can guarantee that the people like that, the ones who are in the right fucking job, never go home and whine about how they get shouted at and called names all day.  Because no matter how much of a bastard you are, or how much the company has pissed you off, you don't call people like that names.  It would be like kicking a Guide Dog.


  1. While I am truly sorry about your wallet being posted missing, I still have to thank you for a great bit of writing. Your story has a Kafkaesque quality we can all relate to!

    Seattle Bob

  2. Ah, thanks Bob. If I ever get my book deal I am going to ask you to write the testimonials for the cover ;)