I know, I know. I’ve blogged about this before and I will be marked down as a whingeing Brit. But I have to get it off my chest. The concept of customer service is, alas, in its infancy in France.
One of the supermarkets in Villefranche-de-Rouergue that we regularly frequent is having a makeover. I had probably better not name it. It’s doing it because its closest competitor opened a new store on a greenfield site nearly three years ago. The competitor moved from an ageing and tatty site to its present location on the outskirts of town. It’s clearly an advantage to do it like that since you don’t have to p**s off the customers in the process.
Feeling the need to respond, the other supermarket decided to upgrade its existing store and to remain open while it did so. This is causing major aggro to its customers. We went there last week for our weekly shopping. We have alternated between the two stores for some time on the basis that each of them has goods that the other doesn’t. So far, this has worked quite well.
Last week, however, was the last straw. Not only is everything being moved around so you can’t find what you’re looking for but you risk being mown down by building machinery or bashed by blokes carrying gigantic rectangles of plasterboard. Shopping in a building site is not exactly an uplifting experience. Last week, we would have left and gone to the other store except that it was bucketing down with rain and we simply couldn’t summon up the effort. I wish we had, though.
It would be slightly more acceptable if there were a sign at the entrance apologising for the inconvenience during the works. Is there one? No. Has it occurred to the management to offer their customers some discount coupons or a voucher for a consolatory cup of coffee at the café in the shopping mall? No.
Instead, we are expected to stumble about in the dark (they haven’t sorted out the lighting in much of the store so you can’t see what’s on the shelves), negotiate the radically altered geography of the store without a plan, risk being run over by rampant machinery and figure out the new vegetable weighing apparatus without instructions. I recognise that it is probably just as difficult for the staff as it is for the customers. However, this is no excuse for the appalling ‘shopping experience’ that we are subjected to.
We asked the woman at the till how long the work was going on for. “Till the end of May,” she said. Right. No contest. We are not setting foot in that store again until this nonsense has finished. Even then, it will take a long time before we have anything like the confidence in the store that we previously had – if we ever do.
Do the management give a monkey’s? Evidently not. Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the attitude to customer service in France. Of course, there are exceptions and we have experienced them ourselves. But they are normally associated with small, owner-run shops. The larger nationals really couldn’t care less. Presumably the aggro quotient is factored into their cash-flow calculations.
I haven’t lived in England for nearly 15 years so I am not qualified to say how a similar situation would pan out there. I suspect, and I know I will be corrected in case of error, that there would be at least some gesture towards mollifying the incommoded customer. Maybe in these times of economic crisis and belt-tightening it’s not felt necessary to acknowledge the customer’s needs. But I would argue that it’s exactly at times like those that a company needs to put itself out.
The difference is that in France the customer is there for the store and not the store for the customer. To those who say, “Well, why don’t you push off back to England if you don’t like it, then?” I say that I love France and I like living here. I recognise that no place on earth is perfect or ideal but I reserve the right to criticise the things I find less than perfect in the place I have chosen as my home.
What do you think?
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