CX Portugal 2: Take a ticket – the customer nemesis

As it’s been 4+ months since I started my new life in Portugal, I thought it would be fun to write a short series of posts to share how, as a foreigner, it feels to experience Portuguese service and culture. In the first of this series,“Process before customer”, I focused on some of the actual barriers a customer faces and in next week’s post, I’ll explain “Which businesses are driving CX success in Portugal?” This week’s post is all about “Take a ticket – the customer nemesis”, which is something that I thought we had banished from the civilised world many years ago!  As always, this is my personal perspective, and would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Portuguese bureaucracy is legendary.  There is a form for everything, and they all need printing out, signing, stamping by one or more officials and filing.  The sheer volume of paperwork required to achieve even simple tasks is mind blowing, and you get quite used to seeing people walking round with thick folders of papers.  Far from being self-important busy-bodies, these poor souls are probably just trying to renew their insurance policy, open a bank account or, gulp, apply for a citizen’s card.  The Portuguese government has fallen far behind the rest of Europe in terms of embracing technology and reducing the ridiculous administrative burden, and continues to force its citizen to waste hours and days of their life queueing to achieve simple tasks.  Of course, this also keeps a lot of bureaucrats in employment, which might explain the reticence to adopt modern technique and technology.

But amongst the queues, paperwork, photocopies of documents and forms, there is one particularly galling aspect of Portuguese life.  Whether in the supermarket, the doctor’s surgery, a mobile phone store or a government office, EVERYWHERE you go, before you can speak to ANYONE, you have to go to the machine and select the right option to join the queue by taking a ticket.

In Portugal, these machines are an art form. The machines are usually all connected up within a building (at my local hospital, you take a ticket on the ground floor, then head up to the 9th floor to watch the displays and wait for your number to appear for your doctor’s appointment, despite booking and confirming that appointment.)  They can also be very complicated – in my local Ikea store, the customer service machine has 7 or 8 options to press to join the right queue. Even locals become frustrated with these “electronic cockroaches” – the staff on the fishmonger’s counter at my local Pingo Doce supermarket spend more time calling out the numbers of tickets, waiting, then moving on to call the next, than actually serving customers.

It’s important to understand the various options available before taking a ticket.  At a local mobile phone store, I chose existing rather than new customer and got told off for choosing the wrong option.  And what happens if the ticket machine is not working?  I witnessed this chaos at the customer service centre for Lisbon metro, where anarchy was about to break out as one single file queue had to be formed snake halfway down the corridor outside the offices (only one of the four customer service people was actually serving.)

Also, as I found out at the local municipal office, if you can’t find your ticket (having waited hours to reach the front of the queue) and can’t show it, you are sent to the back of the queue to take another ticket!  Some might consider it a good thing that despite the horrific customer experience, the “Bossy Barbaras” are keen to police any queue jumping….  So not only are these enervating machines unavoidable, they further taint already clunky processes and de-humanise even more the customer experience.

So why does Portugal “love” these machines? To be frank, I neither understand nor care why these machines are everywhere.  It’s particularly incomprehensible for private businesses and newer industry sectors continue to impose this archaic practice on customers.  Whilst the customer behaviour may stem back to relatively recent Portuguese history, times have changed, and so have customer expectations.  If you have a row of desks, staffed by real people, the extra layer of a machine to select an option to direct you to a person is downright daft – it’s just a physical barrier.  If it’s that complicated to work out who the customer needs to speak to, invest some time in simplifying your customer journey, move it online, or even better, remove the need for the customer to have to contact you.

And whilst I’m having a rant, why is it that having purchased a Portuguese mobile phone, the ONLY way I can get voicemail enabled is to go back to the shop, take a ticket and wait for the employee to enable my voicemail!  

The machines for me are a good proxy for the stubborn and fickle attitudes held by some in senior position in Portugal – change is bad, something to be feared and something to be tightly controlled.  The good news is that these crusty men with their crusty ideas are getting swept away by a progressive majority.  There’s a dramatic change happening in Portugal, and it’s for the betterment of the customer experience.  In next week’s post I’ll explain more, focusing especially on “Why call centres are flocking to Portugal.”


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