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The customer is not king

with 5 comments

It’s a bit like flogging a dead horse to comment on the abysmal state of customer service in Germany, but once again I have experienced something here that just has to be recorded somewhere.

On April 27, I ordered a BahnCard from the Deutsche Bahn online. A BahnCard gives the bearer discounts on rail travel for a year and has been around for over ten years as a product. The card requires a photo, which I uploaded from my computer as part of the registration process. The site informed me that I would receive the physical card within nine days.

It has now been fifteen days since I ordered it, and of course I have no card. I visited their site and attempted to contact their customer service to ask about this. Alas, one must have a valid BahnCard number to use the online form to ask a question about a BahnCard. Apparently, in their infinite wisdom, the bureaucrats at the DB never considered that the question might be “where is my BahnCard” or perhaps “what should I do when I lose my BahnCard,” since in both instances one will not have the magic number.

This required me to call the DB, something any sane person here dreads. As is common here, I get to pay a not insignificant sum to call their customer service. That’s right: they screw up, and I get to pay to share this news with them. That people in Germany put up with this says a great deal about something, but I’ll back quietly away from saying more about that.

So I called and resolved the issue fairly quickly, which is the good news. The bad news is that if I hadn’t called, I would likely never have received the card. I got a story about needing to put things into motion, and that it had been held up pending the photo. When I pointed out that I didn’t send it by mail (an option), but rather uploaded it at time of order, she didn’t miss a beat but came up with some technocratic explanation of what had gone wrong (sounded a lot like watching Star Trek in German: “Kapitän, die Warpantriebsfluxinduktionsmatrix muß rekalibriert werden!”). Whatever, it’s on its way, finally.

Apparently the Deutsche Bahn has the capacity to spy on its own employees, but offering customer service is beyond them. No wonder they bleed money and lose customers, while German roads grow ever more crowded. Sad, really, since they have some good services and some of their employees really give their best effort under less-than-ideal circumstances.


Written by Dale

May 12, 2009 at 4:44 am

Posted in German, Leipzig

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. meh. Bad customer service, sure but I have a couple Amtrak stories that could top that overall.


    May 12, 2009 at 9:05 am

  2. Sänk ju for träwelling wis Deutsche Bahn! Sounds like a typical story, you will get to love AND hate them. When I applied for my BahnCard I went directly to one of their help desks and immediately got a temporary paper BahnCard that could be used immediately. They sent the real card within 10 days, I think…

    Katrin Kropf

    May 13, 2009 at 1:22 am

  3. At least you can take your ride with you in the whole MDV area and don’t pay extra… which doesn’t mean they have enough space for bicycles on weekends…

    Katrin Kropf

    May 13, 2009 at 1:26 am

  4. Bill – true, Amtrak could go toe to toe with any dysfunctional bureaucracy and likely win. Katrin – love the phonetically spelled English announcement! The bike thing is exactly one of those love/hate moments one has with the Bahn. Great that they offer it, but it’s just aggravating when they fail to provide enough rolling stock to accomodate demand.


    May 13, 2009 at 7:29 am

  5. the funny thing is, one of my best German customer service experiences was on the phone with the DB!


    May 19, 2009 at 7:45 am

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