Sometimes automated customer service is so bad that it becomes a kind of modern art. Today, arriving at Paris’s Gare de l’Est to pick up my pre-booked electronic TGV ticket, I discovered that the machines for this purpose didn’t like my credit card, so I was told there was no choice but to wait in the general ticketing queue of the SNCF (the French national railway), which took about an hour.
The queue gave me plenty of time to study the row of ticket windows, mostly unstaffed, and the convenient electronic signs above each one. As often happens at airports, these signs were mostly saying irrelevant things. One sign, for example, specified international sales, and another domestic sales, even though we were clearly all in one queue and they were just taking whoever was next. The faux-order conveyed by these signs is harmless enough, as long as nobody takes them seriously.
But the SNCF has added a new twist. Periodically, certain signs display something like this:
Translation: ‘This ticket window will close in 5 minutes.’
So if I’m one of 200 people who would like to give you my money but are instead being kept waiting for an hour, with lots of time to think about this sign … what am I supposed to think? Why are you telling me this? How does this announcement improve either my situation or yours?
Do the ticket agents’ labor contracts require these signs, as some kind of verifiable proof that the agents will get their required break time even if the queue stretches to the moon?
If so, what does it mean when the agent sitting under that sign has already closed her window (by raising a glass barrier) and is now busy with her files?
Be assured that I encounter poor customer service all the time, and most of it isn’t newsworthy. But this one seemed so wrong as to have a kind of beauty. Or perhaps I had just been waiting too long.