Lexie (polyhymnia) wrote,

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How much more time does it take to just answer the question?

As a follow-up to my previous post(s) about Caltrain, I've just had probably my second-worst customer service experience with them, after the obnoxious letter I received last year about bikes on Caltrain. And it's only better because they haven't managed to indirectly insult me yet.

Sometime in July, I submitted an inquiry about the removal of the bike rack at the north end of the southbound platform in Menlo Park using their web form: namely, will it be replaced, if so, when, and why was it removed? It took quite a while for me to get a response at all, and when I did, the response named the wrong station and did not address either of the other issues. I wrote back to ask if in fact there was a bike rack in the works for the station I inquired about and was told that there was and the original response had been a typo and yes, there was a bike rack in the works at Menlo Park.

In September, not having seen any bike rack in evidence, I wrote to ask about when the rack might appear. I should observe that the email responses do come with a note that for new and unrelated inquiries, you should re-file with the web system, and that email inquiries may not get an immediate response. But this wasn't unrelated and I didn't expect an immediate response; also, I had received a previous response. I just don't think it should take six weeks to install a bike rack that was originally removed to make car parking nicer, and I wanted to know when the rack would be installed. I also don't think it should take four months to install it, as it has at this point.

I wrote several times and got no response. Two days ago, a month after my last request, I got a longish response informing me that I should file a new inquiry because that was somehow the correct thing to do, and I should not write to the person because I wouldn't get a response. Except that I did just get a response telling me I couldn't get a response.

I would presume that the person is question is busy, but it takes a fair bit of time to write such a response. Why not just answer my question? Surely it isn't that hard to contact whatever the appropriate department is, ask the question, get an answer, and write it in a very short email. Unless, perhaps, there is no such bike rack. With no concrete objective to hold them to, I have no way of knowing that they're not lying to me. Alternatively, the person in question is essentially being deliberately lazy, obnoxious, and unhelpful.

I responded again to point out that it would have been easier to just answer my question, and got, get this, yet ANOTHER letter saying the exact same thing in different words, still not answering my question. This kind of behavior would have been not only unacceptable, but virtually unthinkable, when I worked in a customer service job. You answered the question, or you called someone who could, or helped the person find someone who could. Regardless of whether it was your problem or your customer or related to your area or not. You certainly did not repeatedly tell someone (at length!) "Sorry, I can't help you" unless you actually couldn't because they were asking for something that was impossible to provide. Clearly I'm not asking for something that's impossible to provide, because if I refile, the request will go to someone with the exactly equivalent job description to this person's.

If I thought this was a problem with the particular person I'm interacting with, I would certainly be happy to 'name and shame', but it's clearly an institutional problem and that attitude must be either tacitly or actively encouraged, because it runs through every single response I've ever received, even the ones that nominally address the question I wrote to them about.

If there were a contest for "how unhelpful can we be by pretending to be helpful", or "most politely hostile customer service reps", Caltrain customer service would definitely win the platinum trophy.

I'll have to see if I can get better responses by calling (it's harder to stall someone who can say immediately 'Excuse me, I think you're not really addressing my question'), or else if it's to do with bikes on Caltrain, I'm going to start going directly to the SVBC (now including the PBPC), because otherwise I'm clearly getting nowhere.

And I certainly no longer have any presumption of good faith on Caltrain's part. Individuals within Caltrain, maybe. Caltrain as a whole? No.
Tags: bad business, caltrain

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