Everything About Your Customer Service Is Wrong

It’s the morning of Monday May 19th and it’s been a long weekend. My girlfriend and I are waiting for a train to take us on a six-hour journey back home. We’re coming back from a festival and there are many other people like us waiting on the platform with suitcases and rucksacks. I’ve booked the train even though it’s more expensive than a plane because of a vague concern for the environment. In truth, I have no idea if the difference is substantial.

We don’t know it yet, but about half an hour ago a train was cancelled. And instead of putting on another train, or adding more carriages to an existing service, the train company has unloaded all those passengers onto our train. I’ve reserved tickets for this train about three months in advance, but it no longer matters because you see, in these circumstances, all reservations are cancelled. That’s right. It’s time for a double disappointment: no reservations for the people on the cancelled train and no reservations for us either.

I’m reminded of Seinfeld: you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation.

So how do we find out? We find out from the passengers on our train. Somehow the infrastructure of tannoys and station staff have been rendered ineffective. In fact, this is a lie. I have already assumed that my reservations are cancelled because this is not the first time this has happened to me. (A rough estimate would be that out of 20 reserved rail journeys in the last three years, I have lost my reservation 6 times.)

The train is full when we board. This means standing room only. In fact, there are already people standing in the aisles so I can only get as far as the automatic doorway between carriages. This doorway has been designed to close every ten seconds or so but open again if it encounters an obstacle. Now I know what you’re thinking, that would mean that someone standing there would be struck by the door every ten seconds or so, and standing there for three solid hours would be akin to some kind of water torture.

An old woman tries to get past us on her way to the buffet car. She harasses us for taking up room in the passageway. We’re all in this thing together, but some of us are more in it than others.

Standing outside the toilet is not as bad as it sounds, over the years I’ve grown used to the terrible smell of train carriages. Certainly it’s faeces and urine, maybe vomit; my girlfriend says sauerkraut. I am convinced this is what hell smells like: mediocre, like someone who couldn’t be bothered.

Later, when we manage to get a seat, I head along to the buffet car for a hot drink. I know these places are expensive and I understand the economics behind it: you’re paying in part for convenience. My girlfriend has her own teabags – she doesn’t take caffeine – so I ask the cashier for hot water only. But I can’t have this unless I pay £3 for a full cup of tea. So what else can I do?

In her defence, she lets me have the teabag for nothing.

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