Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The one where the call centre guy tells the truth. Twice.

It's not very often that I find myself confronted with breathtaking honesty and in that moment wish that the person had said something different!  I was in that situation today.

As I arrived at the train station to travel into the city for a lunch meeting an announcement came over the public address system advising that all trains were cancelled until further notice because of an unspecified problem somewhere else on the line.  With no staff to assist or answer questions, the disembodied voice directed us to the stop for the replacement bus. We obeyed.  I was on a tight schedule today and needed more information so I could decide whether to attend the meeting or reschedule.  I called Metlink.  They provide information about travelling on public transport.  It seemed like they should be able to handle it.

I've done this before.  I should know from my experience that it is futile, but it has been a while and I have faith that the organisations serving the public improve over time.  All I wanted was a rough idea of how far away the replacement bus was...15 minutes or 50 minutes?  Fifteen minutes I could just live with; fifty required rescheduling.  Other people who were waiting were trying to get to work or the airport to catch flights, so their need was more critical than mine.  

From the beginning the man who answered the phone caused my eyes to roll.  I explained what stop I was at and where I wanted to go.  It soon became apparent that I also needed to give him information about what was happening and educate him about the stations on Melbourne's train lines.

The problem was a signal fault at Newport.  It was the second one for the day and each time it happens, transport in the south western suburbs screeches to a halt.  

The answer to my question about the bus was, "I have no information about that."  This was followed by a partial explanation about the complexity of the relationship between the train operators and the owners of the buses.  Not that I care.  while it might be an interesting subject for a hard hitting documentary or sit-com one day, it wasn't relevant to me at that time.

I tried again, asking just for an idea if the bus was even on its way.  This time I received the breathtakingly honest answer:  "I have no idea."

I asked if anyone had any idea.  He asked if he could put me on hold.  I said yes.  

He came back and said:  "No one here has any idea where the bus is or when it will arrive.  Ma'am."

After a beat of silence he added, "Would you like me to put you through to the feedback line?"

What a terrific idea!  Smooth operator.  

After sitting on hold for almost ten minutes, my call was answered.  As I was explaining the situation, a train approached the station.  People started to run from the stop where the fictional replacement bus allegedly arrives, to the train platform in the hope that they wouldn't miss the train.  The guy on the other end of the phone couldn't believe it.  "Is it going to stop?" he asked.

The next part of our conversation took place from the comfort of the almost empty train.  He said there should have been an announcement then realised that none of us were on the platform to hear it - we were all over at the replacement-bus stop.  No announcements reach that wilderness.  

I suggested circus music should be playing.  The guy on the other end of the phone hummed a few bars.  

Say no more.

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