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A train conductor committed suicide at SNCF after being badly "rated" by a mystery customer

Publié le 19 mars 2024 à 15:42 par Magazine En-Contact
A train conductor committed suicide at SNCF after being badly "rated" by a mystery customer

What killed or caused the suicide of the train conductor ? Medallia (a rating software) ? A poor assessment during mystery shopping ? Or a non-compliant process in the posture and customer journey ? For the moment, we don't know much more about the circumstances that led Mr Ravier, a ticket inspector who had previously been well rated and assessed, to wear shoes with crepe soles and inappropriate clothing. And then to commit suicide. In Bordeaux, the service provider PMGT launched an investigation. Who was the mystery shopper, the investigator who ...

At Le Bon Marché, the SNCF, McDonald's or Center Parcs, mystery shopping is a long-standing and strategic practice, and sometimes a high-risk one. For a long time now (1930), the American government has been sending black and white mystery shoppers into shops to identify discriminatory practices. But until now, no train conductor had ever committed suicide because of a bad evaluation posted on an app. The reason was that his crepe-soled shoes did not conform to the dress code set out in the Bible.

This is what happens to F. Ravier in 2022, a sales agent on board a high-speed train, a train conductor, and fortunately not in real life, but in an astonishing first novel: Client Mystère. It's more exciting than Ivan du Roy's Orange Stressé, in which poor management practices, particularly on telephone switchboards, were well described. On the interest and dangers of Mystery Shopping, on good first novels published by Gallimard and elsewhere, on measuring the traveller experience.

Night train -  © E. Pothier

Measuring processes, sales compliance and reception has become vital in all customer experience departments, but also in public services and administrations. Customer reviews, Retail Execution, specialist SaaS software, speech analytics tools and practices (for what is said and heard in call centres) all help in this respect and can :

- avoid fines or spending too much money on pointless marketing research: what's the point of developing new products or devising seamless customer journeys if you don't monitor their implementation?

- Improve operational performance and identify weak links?

This exciting new novel, published by Gallimard, takes the reader into the world of mystery shopping and the start-ups and scale-ups that help the SNCF, McDonald's and Burger King to rate their staff, check that the digital kiosk is working properly, and check that their clothes and smile are in order. I wanted to work on the language but also set my story in a very modern world," explains its author, Mathieu Lauverjat. I did a lot of research into this world and the applications that assign work to these mystery investigators". Not at all Manichean, Client Mystère manages to remain on the borderline between documentary, thriller and very well-crafted railway station novel. "I wrote the book on trains, in SNCF stations, in a world where passengers expect a certain level of service, and are free to question the announcements made on board, the steward's ability to make an additional sale, at the car bar". It should come as no surprise, without giving anything away, that the drama revolves around an imagined or real-life situation: a train conductor, whom the hero has given a bad mark because he wears shoes with inadequate crepe soles, is going to kill himself. How not to lose Martha, the beloved woman who sets out to control her own destiny by creating a restaurant specialising in octopus? 235 pages worth of Netflix series, in a language inspired by Radiguet and George Perec. How far can we take note, what contradictory injunctions are being proposed to us by the times and by companies, which are expected to deliver, to enchant, to measure the level of enchantment? We travel from the north of France, where the hero started out as a courier, to Toulouse and other provincial towns where the mystery-shopper compares the quality of kebabs, and we end up in Tangiers, in the click farms. And we are reminded that at Orange, management and quality assessment practices have not always been benevolent, according to the new motto.

The Orient Express, luxury rail travel

nb: in the novel, apart from McDonald's, no major brand is mentioned, but we can, without too much insight, think of some of the major transport, tourism and other companies that practice mystery shopping.

Worth knowing :
The SNCF works with a number of service providers, including BVA and others, to measure the welcome given at stations, the accuracy of voice messages and the posture of on-board staff. A team of researchers specialising in semiology and anthropology is also observing passenger behaviour to analyse their satisfaction and what compromises it (a team led by Simone Morgagni and Paola Sierra). It's a pity that, as in so many companies, there are so many silos at the SNCF that fragment the overall vision of the passenger experience. But progress is being made: Benjamin Huteau's team has made it possible to unify and centralise information from the various stations, so that passengers can be notified of delays and strikes.)
In Portugal, from 23 to 25 May, in the Algarve, representatives of the MSPA, a European association of mystery shoppers, will be meeting for their annual Forum.
Since 1930, the US government has been using mystery shopping to assess a wide range of issues, including discriminatory practices. Find out more in the following podcast: Manuel Jacquinet recounts the life of the MSPA's 30,000 mystery shoppers.
Speech analytics, combined with AI, can also be used to regularly measure the practices and speech of call centre agents. The tool and the practice are considered to be the factors that most help call centre agents to progress. In 2021, Skill and You, France's leading training provider, is deploying the software and tools of Callity, one of the few French companies specialising in this area.
Medallia specialises in gathering customer and employee insights and evaluating the customer experience.
Customer mystery shopping has been used in the US retail, luxury goods and hotel industries since the 1930s.
Customer journeys and postures are increasingly charted and standardised, and are now the subject of procedural bibles in many companies.

Discover an extract from "Client Mystère" by Mathieu Lauverjat
Pages 73 - 74
It was with these words that the PMGT manager made her entrance and, immediately flattered, I sensed that I was about to move up the mystery shopping pyramid. Basically," Anne-Sophie Vitelotte told me a few minutes later, "it had no doubt not escaped my notice that we were experiencing an unprecedented economic situation and, in these exceptional circumstances, customers - quite rightly - wanted a better understanding of the use of current offers. To this end, a dealer company, whose name it will withhold for the time being, had commissioned PMGT - I remember the formula - and was looking for people who were reliable and available on the spot. Reliable and available on short notice. But she was keen to tell me all about it if I wanted to, if I was interested of course - unless I'd rather stick to juggling with Shopmetrics? And I answered something like no, but yes, of course, I'm interested, I'm listening.

It was a survey of services in stations and on board trains. So far, it wasn't much more complicated. I would position myself in such a way as to measure in real-life situations the quality of the services offered to passengers on board high-speed lines; everything had to be in line with the public's expectations. Did I understand that the service had to be the best on the market? She was talking about the agents' posture. Quality of service - by the way, the PMGT approach was exclusively a research approach, in line with the code of ethics for market and opinion research companies. Up until now, it was always clear to me? What I had to remember, roughly speaking, was that the ground staff, ticket inspectors, baristas and cleaning hostesses had to deliver an irreproachable service and ensure that the line ran as smoothly as possible. The slightest mistake, the slightest shortcoming could very quickly lead to chaos. Does the butterfly effect ring a bell? One flap of the wings and it was a hurricane. Well, the managers, unlike me, were unaware of the reality on the ground. I was going to be their eyes and ears, and they, at head office, were going to hear my voice. I would evaluate, they would report back and the conclusions would be included in a global audit by PMGT.

I nodded my head in agreement whenever I had an opening. The legal basis for this processing was the customer's legitimate interest, agreed Anne-Sophie Vitelotte, and besides, today, she swore, all companies were obliged to evaluate their own activities according to quality standards, including satisfaction surveys. In short, she wasn't going to draw me a picture, times were tough. Cost, debt, externalities - in the competitive environment there was an irreducible tension between the imperatives of rail safety and service relations.

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