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Among Bonjour Paris readers, there are relatively few who see France through rose-tinted glasses more than I. Perhaps it may be the Pollyanna in me. But even I have days when I want to pack my bags and get out of Dodge.
A large hairy wart on the face of France is customer service. There is none, and the phrase, service clientèle in French, may accurately be translated as “hang up on the customer.” A sense of humor and patience help a lot, even though I am a bit short of the latter. Another solution—a very good glass of wine from my favorite wine bar, Ô Chateau.
When someone says, “Ce n’est pas possible,” I break into a minor sweat. Those words are not in my vocabulary. Everything is possible except bringing someone back from the dead—and some people would argue over that. To French companies, bringing people back from the dead is more likely than actually having your package delivered.
Why, for example, would anyone be willing to pay to buy something? Beats me, but in France, c’est normal. Case in point, I ordered four chairs from La Redoute because the online retailer has good designs, modest prices and (supposedly) delivers directly to your home.
Placing the order was no problem. The confirmation was immediate. What I didn’t notice was the chairs were to be picked up at a depot around the corner from Au Bon Marché. When I called to find out what was going on, I had to pay for the phone call. Upon arriving at La Maison Propre, which is really a vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies store, two very unhappy women were less than gracious. They knew nothing about the order except that if I didn’t take it that day, the box containing two chairs would be returned to La Redoute the following day. I wanted all or nothing, which was beyond their comprehension.
OK, I had my cell phone with me and decided to call the store’s “customer service” department. The 08 number answered and I was told there would be a 34 centime per minute charge plus what I was paying Orange (formerly France Telecom, and the new name has made nothing better) to have this lovely discussion. So, I am paying again for the same information. This is making sense to you?
But, problem one: I was not calling from my home phone, so would I return there so the “consultant” would know she was speaking to the correct person? God protect us from scammers who wander into vaccuum cleaner stores, pretend to be the real customer—and demand to have their order actually filled. Horreurs! No, I think not, merci. By this time my voice was reaching a feverish pitch and in my less-than-eloquent French, I made my point and said there was no way I was taking those chairs unless there she could guarantee I’d receive the remainder of the order chez moi and I meant fast. Pas de problème, madame and she promised they would be delivered by the post office within 24-48 hours.
As we were wrapping up the conversation, the store’s representative suggested that because I was such a good client of the store, wouldn’t I love a Carte de Fidélité? My blood pressure rose and (expletive deleted) and… then the absurdity saved the day or at least kept me from dying of apoplexy. The company has charged me twice for phone calls, messed up my order, and generally screwed me over—and they want me to sign up for the loyalty program. You really can’t make this stuff up.
Fast forward. I immediately received an email informing me the chairs would be delivered as promised. Three days later, no chairs and no email, so I decided to call the “customer service” department again. Received the same runaround after paying to speak to someone who said that the box was at the French post office’s warehouse waiting to be picked up for Colissimo delivery and it wasn’t La Redoute’s fault. If anyone heard a scream (OK, it was in my head), I plead guilty. Of course ordering anything from them may be an implicit admission of guilt. Where is the French Kafka when we need him?
When I asked to speak to her supervisor, the phone went dead. Calling back would be akin to beating a dead horse and there was no way the store was going to give me a 5 euro rebate for my time and energy, not to mention the phone costs I’d incurred trying to make a purchase.
In the U.S., when you call customer service, you may come away with no satisfaction and you never know where the call center is located unless you ask because it’s probably outsourced to the world of cheap labor. (Hint: very few offshore operators are actually named Isaac, nor are their supervisors usually named Mickey.)
But, at least you don’t have to pay to speak to a representative. I suggested to a French friend that he could have an incredible business teaching French companies Marketing 101. He howled with laughter, said, “Ce n’est pas possible,” and we had another glass of wine.
Sometimes it’s simpler that way… and we’re all making bets as to when the chairs will arrive. We’re offering long odds.
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