Sunday, November 16, 2008

Don't break down abroad!

A friend told me of a great welcome he received recently when on holiday in Spain.

Due to the excellent road networks in most of Europe, it’s not unusual to find people that drive down to the sun each year rather than catch a plane. Given our dismal summer, my friend decided to do just that.

After a long and uneventful drive, as they crossed from France into Spain the rainy weather immediately cleared and out came the sun.

Feeling immediately that life was getting better as the temperatures rose, they drove south to near Valencia. As they approached their exit junction of the motorway, only 5 kilometres from their rented apartment, suddenly the clouds rolled in and a terrific storm erupted – all within less than 5 minutes. The rain was so heavy they had to pull off the road, as visibility was just about zero.

After 15 minutes the rain was still falling heavily but at least they could now see some distance so he pulled away. As he did so his exhaust fell off.

Driving through still torrential rain, they limped to their apartment only a short distance away arriving in a cloud of smoke and sparks all much to the amusement of other holidaymakers on their balconies.

The following morning they called their Europe-wide breakdown company and for reasons that were entirely unclear, found themselves routed to a call centre in Paris who spoke perfect if slightly accented English. After several to-and-fro calls, the call centre called back to say that the local breakdown driver couldn’t find the apartments.

Giving more details of where they were located, my friend asked the call centre where the driver was. Their response was “we’re not sure, we’re speaking to our agency in Madrid”. Trying again, he was told that the agency in Madrid was speaking to their local office in the nearest town to the apartments, and it was they who were speaking to the driver.

Feeling he must have misunderstood something, somewhere, but just desperate to get the vehicle fixed, he awaited the arrival of the breakdown truck.

Eventually after further confusion, numerous telephone calls and a 45 minute delay, the driver arrived. He was clearly exasperated and said in excellent English that he just could not understand why he had not been allowed to call my friend directly. He’d asked for his phone number but was told it was now not policy to give that directly to drivers.

After moaning for some time, and examining the car, the driver said he could not take it to the local town as it was closed for Fiesta, but one around 40 kilometres away would be a better bet. To do that he’d need special permission – so he called his boss and waited.

Several minutes later my friend’s mobile rang. It was the call centre from Paris again telling him the car needed be towed away and asking him for permission to shift it.

Over the next couple of minutes or so, he and the driver stood side-by-side in the street and conducted their conversation through third parties across a telephone link that went from their street, to the local garage, to Madrid, from Madrid to Paris, and from Paris back to the same street.

As the driver hung up his phone, he shook his head sadly and said simply, “Lunatics!”

My friend couldn’t help but agree and before hanging up asked his contact in Paris what the logic was behind this system where everyone ends up phoning everybody else.

“It’s a Europe-wide system that uses the latest technology to improve customer service” came the obviously scripted reply.

My friend advised me to go out and buy shares in mobile phone companies. He may well be right!

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