On my way to work, early this morning, I read a newspaper article that made me very angry. I suppose it’s a culmination of pent-up frustration with what I feel is an increasingly openly xenophobic and racist climate dominating Dutch public discourse. This article was the last straw that made me decide to devote a post to it.
Now, the situation described in the article is in itself obviously not the worst thing that has happened recently. What with a nation-wide discussion of the folkloric blackface character Black Pete, and the recent aquittal of the police officer who killed the unarmed and innocent 17-year old Rishi Chandrikasing, racism and racial profiling has been at the forefront of public discussion in the Netherlands recently. Perhaps needless to say, in today’s society where ‘freedom of speech’ seems to be the highest moral ideal we can think of, racist sentiments were aired by a significant segment of white Dutch people. Concretely, the situation described below pales in comparison to those two examples, but for some reason the attitude expressed in it, and the neutral tone in which it is presented by the newspaper took me completely by surprise.
A brief bit of background: the article in the free newspaper Metro—which I translate in its entirety below—is part of a recurring series on customer service and ways in which it can be improved. In it, a spotlight is shone on particular companies that responded ‘constructively’ to costumer feedback. You’ll find out why those scare quotes are there soon enough. The company in question, Veolia, is one of a number of private companies that organises public transport on the Dutch railway system.
Here is the translation in full—with style errors intact; a scan of the original Dutch article is presented at the end of this post.
[A pluim is a Dutch expression meaning ‘decoration/reward for good behaviour’. It’s also the brand name of the gift certificate that sponsors this column.]
Veolia uses complaint to better itself
In Metro’s consumer column ‘Van Klacht Naar Pluim?‘companies or organisations that process a complaint in a manner satisfactory to the consumer, are decorated by Metro with a ‘Pluim’.
After Richard M and his girlfriend got on the train to Maastricht in Cuijk, they were quickly checked for tickets (without incident) by two Veolia stewards. It transpired that another passenger did not have a valid train ticket. This young man tells the stewards that he is residing in the Netherlands illegally. And is on the run from the Ministry of Justice. When one of the stewards asks the man for his name and address, Richard hears him sum up the information. The other steward checks the information on his cellphone and confirms Richard’s suspicion: the information is faulty. To Richard’s astonishment, the ‘stowaway’ is let off with a fine. Says Richard: “In the Netherlands, when you can’t show a valid ID, you should be apprehended until your identity can be confirmed. But this young man was let off the train without incident.”
Handling of the complaint
Because Richard had not received a reply to his complaint from Veolia, he contacted this column. Quickly we established a hotline with Rob G, the Customer Interface Manager at Veolia. Apparently the complaint has never reached Veolia. So Veolia starts processing the complaint the second time around. This quickly yields results. De passenger’s personal information was verified with the railway police. The stewards in question, however, failed to have this information checked by the police in the first place, preventing the opportunity of apprehending the man.
Richard’s complaint will take center stage at the next stewards’ day organised by Veolia. The stewards in question will be confronted with their behaviour. In addition, Veolia offers Richard two free all-day train tickets.
Statement from Veolia
“The past year, customer service from our staff has been central again. More than ever our customers expect good and fast answers to their questions. We immediately translated Richard’s report into measures that benefit our customers. A win-win situation.”
Veolia transforms the complaint into a positive result: the professionality of the stewards will be honed further. That is surely worth a big fat Pluim!
Spotlight on your complaint?
Do you want to have a spotlight on your satisfactorily handled complaint? Mail [the author].
(The reward for this week’s Pluim (a gift certificare for a day out worth 35 euros) goes to Richard M)
To me, this whole article feels like something from a dystopian novel. Do I even need to point it all out? I have severe moral objections to the concept of an ‘illegal immigrant’ in the first place, but even so, the complete matter-of-factness of the way this whole thing is written astounds me. Note that the ‘illegal’ young man was not violent, uncooperative, or anything of the sort. If he was, the stewards surely would have handed him over to the police, especially in today’s political climate. They decided to let him off the hook with a fine—which is not even really off the hook, but still. For some reason, the hero of our story, Richard M bravely took it upon himself to uphold Dutch law and decency, and felt that the two train stewards had severly failed in their duties by not clapping an illegal immigrant in irons immediately, and putting him on the first airplane to wherever is not Holland (who cares anyway).
And what does the company think? Sure, brave sir Richard is right! They’ll be more attentive in the future. Maybe they will make it official policy to aid in the speedy deportation of any and all illegal—and let’s face it: coloured—people. They’ll be sure to mention it on their next customer service improvement training day. And rightly so: what the customers apparently value most is that their trains are cleansed of icky foreigners.
And Metro? Well, obviously this is a good story, Richard. Here, have a gift certificate for your trouble! While we’re at it, let’s sugercoat it all in bullshit business lingo so it looks like a victory for homo economicus.
I’m really at a loss for more words. Feel free to disagree, but we probably wouldn’t see eye-to-eye in daily life, and I’m not ashamed of that. And that Richard? I hope he enjoys his 35 pieces of silver. Almost exactly 30. Maybe post-hoc honorary membership of the NSB entitles you to five extra silvers above the usual fee for being a dirty snitch?