We’re used to waiting for trains. But waiting for the right kind of communication from the train company could test the patience of the hardiest commuter.
The pronouncements of on-board train-operating company personnel, are a pleasure for any student of language. Obviously not if that student is actually on the train listening to them. Then they’re the verbal equivalent of fingernails down the blackboard.
Almost as bad are the station announcements. But at least there you have the (theoretical) choice to walk away from the platform. On the train itself, more often than not, you’re going nowhere.
Those in our office who suffer the misfortune of commuting by train touch on this subject almost daily. Vince has blogged here before on the empty feeling you get from being subjected to the onslaught of passive, insincere nonsense.
Machines sometimes use more sincere words, though this comes at a cost. If you have a hard time believing that a station announcer is genuinely sorry for the delay, you won’t be impressed by a computer, however contrite it is. One particular system is known for being “very sorry” for any delay up to 30 minutes, switching over to “extremely sorry” at the 31 minute mark.
This morning I was greeted with “First Capital Connect apologises for the delay to this service, and the inconvenience caused.” This doesn’t make anyone feel loved, but why not?
Well, for starters, the announcement refers to itself in the third person. No doubt the announcer actually works for the station operator rather than the train operator, but the passengers don’t care about that. So “we apologise” or even “I apologise” might be better. But as Vince argued in his post, “I’m sorry” has a lot more resonance than “I apologise”.
Describing a train as a “service” is in-house jargon. No passenger would ever ask “when’s the next service to Bradford?” Use the words your listener uses. Use “train”.
“The inconvenience caused” is better than what they used to say – “the inconvenience this may cause to your journey”. At least it implies the inconvenience is caused to me, rather than to my journey. But it still only implies it. They’ve still left out “me”.
The announcer should be trying to build a relationship here, and that means communicating as if they were one person talking to another person.
When you think of it like that, it becomes obvious where they’re going wrong. You hear this: “This is a customer announcement. Would customers please be aware that smoking is not allowed in the station.” And you wonder, why don’t they just say “Please don’t smoke in the station”?