It can range from the truly ridiculous, to the ordinary. I know that with the exception of the good ol’ U S of A most people complain about the customer service they receive in their own countries, but I would advise them all to spend a year in France. Then they’d know.
Much earlier on this blog I recounted a tale of wonder in a Porsche garage in Holland, my experience in the French equivalent was nothing less than abysmal.
The Gallic Shrug is the answer to most complaints.
The French customer service culture doesnt exist. I’m convinced that a lot of this is due to the employment situation here, once you have a proper job its almost impossible to be sacked, and so the people behave accordingly. The other reason for a lot of it, certainly in the countryside, is that the person who is behind the counter is also the owner and there is no competition in the village. I boycotted a tabac in my local village for 12 years, I simply refused to go there as the owner was so rude, preferring to drive to the next village to buy what I needed, but I’m a foreigner. The French are generally so used to poor, in fact non existent, customer service that they just accept it as the norm.
There are, of course, notable exceptions. Friends of mine recently had to replace one of their white goods and a large chain store delivered and removed broken one on the same day and of course there will be others who can relate tales of wonder, but be assured they are the exception.
My favourite recent tale of excellent French customer service goes as follows:
I flew back into Charles de Gaulle airport very late at night, having missed my connection for my final flight back home, so had to stay in an airport hotel. Getting to bed at just gone 2am I then had to be up at 5am to catch my flight home. On arrival in the terminal in the morning I needed to get to 2F. Looking around I could see two signs for 2F, one going left and one going straight on. Being a touch short for time I thought, I know, I’ll ask at the big desk with the word “INFORMATION” written above it. Upon arrival there were two young lady’s being very diligent. Diligently talking on their phones to friends about what they’d done the night before. I appreciate such things are important so I waited for one of them to put their phones down for a second but after three minutes I realised this wasn’t going to happen so I rather rudely interrupted.
“I’m sorry to disturb you but could you possibly help me?”
The face, suddenly filled with anger and rage, looked at me, continued speaking for at least another minute before realising I wasn’t going away, sighed very loudly, said to the person on the other end of the phone “hang on, I’ve got some ***** who wants something” and said
Taken aback slightly by her politesse I foolishly asked for assistance. “I need to get to 2F but I can see two ways. I’m a bit short for time, so which is the quickest please?”
She gave a long, deep sigh. “Sir, there is a blue line down by your feet. Follow it. That will take you to 2F.”
“Great, thank you very much. So the other route is longer?” Big mistake. I then received the full French invective.
“How the **** do I know? You asked me for 2F, I’ve just ******* told you how to get to 2F. Now if you’ve got a plane to catch I suggest you do as I ******* told you and get a ******* move on, following the blue ******* line as I said a minute ago. Anything else?”
Shaking my head, both in answer to her question and in disbelief I followed the blue line to 2F, laughing, not even to myself, at the wonderful customer service in my adopted country.