SNCF: France in a nutshell

To enable the SNCF to investigate your application please send a letter to:

Service relation clients SNCF
62 973 ARRAS Cedex 9

We hope this information will answer all your questions and that TGV-europe keeps your trust, wishing you a pleasant day.

Best Regards
Samuel TOPET

After forming a complaint letter, and managing to send it through the labyrinth of a web page SNCF keeps, this is what I got as a response. One thing is that SNCF is so hopelessly stuck in the past that they do not even accept e-mail inquiries on the service level. Another thing is that they would rather have you send snail mail into the black hole they call their service department than forward your complaint to the right person. Somehow I sense that even if I should be able to get hold of the right department (eventually), my complaint would never be read, because it is not in the right language (which would be French, of course).

This response just about sums about my whole original complaint to them (below): the French railroad enterprise SNCF’s attitude is simply not aligned with giving foreign tourists a sense of service. The whole organization is saturated in the all to typical French attitude of «we are doing you a favor», instead of doing their best at giving each customer the best experience possible.

My tips to SNCF

  • Do create a tourist friendly homepage
  • All inquiries should be possible to send by email
  • There should be no need for snail mail anywhere
  • There should be company guidelines for keeping up a service level
  • Try to use a «Mystery Shopper» to check the service level at regular intervals at ALL public service stations

My original complaint to the SNCF, July 2012

«I have a complaint regarding the service (or rather lack of one) given from the information office at Nice Ville train station at noon today. I have never experienced ruder service in my life, and the person in the booth should never have been placed in a public service position.

The dialogue was more or less the following:

  • Me: Good day! Do you speak English?
  • Her: BONJOUR! Me: Would you …
  • Her: BONJOUR!!
  • Me: … Ehh… (thinking the reply was negative and trying my best to speak something resembling French): c’est possible de chercher ..
  • Her (cutting me off again): BONJOUR!!
  • Me (finally getting it!): Bonjour, Madame!

(Now, I hoped, I could finally try to ask her something). Unfortunately she kept on being arrogant and quite unwilling to help us with our inquiry on whether we could buy tickets on the train or if we had to do it at the station. We had no choice but leaving without any information at all, wasting ten minutes waiting to get shouted at. The next tourists in line seemed even more frightened than us, at least.

This experience was very new to us, having traveled in various countries on four continents, without any similar experience. If there had just been a language barrier, that would have been OK,  and we could probably worked something out using my extremely poor French and some sign language. But she did understand (some) English, and was simply refusing to serve unless we followed her rules of dialogue.

For someone being payed to serve the customers – national or international – this behavior is simply unacceptable! She might have had a bad day, but that does  not mean she is entitled to yell at the customers when they are not native to the culture.  Shortly after we left another non-French customer was given the same treatment. That her colleague did not react at all was just as bad.

I think this shows the need for some cultural guidelines or training to be given to the service staff. The world is not French. But a smile and helpful service is always welcome in all cultures. Public rail in France already has a lousy reputation when it comes to service (google «bad service sncf») and this just further strengthens the impression of a sector where job security is so good that you can do your worst and still keep your job.

I do not want or need a refund. But there should be someone that informs the staff at Nice train station about how to give service to tourists in dire need of some information.»


2 Responses to SNCF: France in a nutshell

  1. Shimeng sier:

    I just saw this 4 years after you had a bad experience. It is a very good article. As we had the same experience at the information station. We did communicate in French but the lady was simply too rude. When we finally couldn’t stand her very rude attitude anymore and told her at least she could be nice and polite. She gave me a very despiseful look and started taking the next customer despite we was still in need of information. Yes, she ignored us even when we were still standing at the service center. I had to ask from another counter the manager at the day, he was able to help us solve the train pass problem. But I was really mad at the lady before and wanted as least to know why she would treat customers like that. The manager told us we cannot complain to them as they have to protect their employees. He redirected us to send a letter to customer service which will probably go to a black hole as well. Their employees are very well protected that customers cannot even complain to them or the complaint will never arrive to them. That’s why they can act so rude and don’t care about customer at all. I think it’s really bad for the company future development.

    • Carl-Erik sier:

      Thanks for posting! Just reading your experience makes my heart throb as I get infuriated at how they are allowed to act towards their customers. It is true that it is close to impossible to fire someone in France; you almost need to kill someone to be allowed to not pay you money. But I think that should not prevent anyone from having bad attitudes addressed and corrected.

      As you might realise my letter to the SNCF was never answered. They really try their best to hide. And they can, as there is absolutely no competition. Terrible stuff.

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