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Monday, July 23, 2007

(Hors) Service clientèle

Time to return to a hoary old chestnut for all living in France - bureaucracy! After a while you learn to give in a little and not allow the endless forms and attestations, delays and frustration to raise your blood pressure. Occasionally you need to let off steam and appropriately my latest encounter with the mediocrity which permeates the French public sector has to do with the world beating, speed record breaking TGVs of the SNCF whose customer service still runs as if steam trains chugged along the tracks. It is an excellent service and rightly the envy of many a country but I now have an image in my head of a fonctionnaire in the cab trying desperately to find where to put the coal...

I successfully booked three return tickets from Lille to Paris on the website and received confirmation of the journey, my payment in full together with the seat reservations. I made the mistake of choosing the option to print the tickets myself and there lies the rub - only the aller tickets popped up! No matter what I tried the retour tickets just weren't available to print.

A quick email to the Service Clientèle elicited a rather unexpected response. Apparently the solution is for me to buy the return tickets again - no guarantee of the promotional price I managed to book - then, having used those tickets, to send them together with the confirmation, the email I received in response from online help team, and my bank details. So, that would be my money and my time being used to resolve the problem?

Got Max on the case and several phone calls later we have a promise of a return call this afternoon. Apparently the difficulty was caused by my having chosen to come back to Lille Europe rather than Lille Flandres ie we arrive back in a different station to the one we leave from. Given that tickets in France are booked as singles this seems dubious...

Steam emitting from my ears I have fired off emails to the Prime Minister, the President and - it hasn't come back yet so it may have arrived successfully - to the top woman at SNCF. Will it change anything? Will those people ever get to personally read about my plight, I doubt it somehow. I cannot pretend for one moment that my angry - but well structured! - tirade will make any difference in itself but maybe, just maybe, with time then things will start to improve. Vive la France!!!! Vive la révolution!!!!