A fine example of customer service in France… NOT!

Written by Diane on. Posted in on life in France

A fine example of customer service in France... NOT!

The French post office is a necessary part of life if you ever want to mail anything. Sometimes it’s fun. Usually it’s pretty pain free. A long line, sticker shock, and employees who don’t know the policies are nothing to bat an eye at. I smile. I meditate with my eyes open. I am patient. But I have my limits. Silly me, trying to save a few centimes, went online to take advantage of their discount for buying postage on their website.

Long story short, I’m out 70 euros with no stamps in sight. La Poste’s customer service department was as helpful as you’d expect. I need to rant.

GO!

A fine example of customer service in France… NOT!

I’m always quick to point out that you can have both good and bad customer service experiences anywhere in the world.

There are plenty of companies in the USA that are not customer friendly just like there are many in France who go out of their way to prioritize their customers’ needs. Generally speaking, you will find more companies in the US that are aimed at providing a positive customer service experience than you will in France. US companies go out of their way to do what the customer wants — sometimes to the extreme. In France, policies tend to be more rigid (think no returns without a receipt, product must be brand new in box, so forget about returning makeup that gave you a rash, etc.). I wrote more about customer service in France here.

This sort of thing can happen anywhere, so I’m not ragging on France. I’m ragging on La Poste’s online e-commerce portal and then my subsequent customer service debacle. There are SO many things they could have done better.

Let me take you on a quick tour of my customer service encounters in France that come to mind:

Amazon.fr:

Trying to return a glass coffee pot that was damaged in transit

Grade: D — I called Amazon France after delivery and they wouldn’t take the broken carafe back, ship me a new one, or refund me. While I could have contacted the brand directly, it would have required a ton of back and forth including a trip to the post office and me paying to ship the broken carafe to them. Amazon could have just refunded me or sent me a new one and had someone on their team contact the manufacturer. But that’s not what happened.

BareEscentuals:

Called customer service about free samples I never received with my online order

Grade: A — The woman I spoke with said there was no free sample code entered online when I ordered although I swore I did, but no worries because she mailed me a bunch of samples that day. NICE!

Intermarche:

Bought the wrong flavor yogurt 5 minutes prior to speaking with someone (time stamp on receipt) and being told that once I’m in the self-checkout area, I cannot run back to the yogurt section of the store to switch my yogurt (even though I hadn’t yet purchased it).

Grade: C — Quoi? I can’t put yogurt back that I had in my cart? NOPE, apparently not. once I was in the self-checkout area, I was not allowed to leave and was forced to pay for something I didn’t want. Then I realized you cannot exchange yogurt even though the woman saw me buy it 30 seconds earlier when I realized I got the wrong flavor and wanted to exchange it BEFORE I had even started the checkout process. WTF.

I could go on with both good and bad customer service experiences in France but I’ll stop there since that’s not the focus of this post.

Let’s get to today’s story

france post office experience

I’m a reasonable person. I know people are just following policy and are just doing the best they can. But as I said, I have my limits when their resolution is so wildly out of line with what would be considered normal and fair.

This whole mess started when I purchased postage from La Poste’s website.

It’s a few cents cheaper and I assumed it would be easier than going to the post office. Well, you know what they say when you assume…

I wasn’t entirely sure if I was ordering postage online to print at home or if I was ordering postage stickers that would come to me in the mail. Either way was fine — same price and easy enough to print. I clicked what I wanted, put it in my cart, entered my CC number and the order went through.

Boom. Done. Easy.

I got a confirmation email saying I bought some online stamps (still not clear if they were to be printed at home or if they were shipped).

At this point, let me note there was no link on their site during checkout or at any point after which said anything remotely close to “CLICK HERE TO PRINT” or “DO IT WITHIN 7 DAYS OR YOU LOSE THE OPTION AND YOUR MONEY HAHAAHHA BECAUSE WE’RE EVIL.” Nothing. At. All.

So one would reasonably think that the confirmation email would include instructions, right, especially if there was a strict timeline?

Just to let the customer know how to proceed — either wait for stamps in their mailbox or attach instructions or a PDF for them to print, right? RIGHT?

NOPE. Nothing like that.

Here’s the only email I got from them below:

la poste is terrible

So I waited several days and got a little suspicious to see if maybe I missed a shipping confirmation email or something. I flicked through my inbox and nothing. I confirmed that the charge hit my card and that I did indeed receive a confirmation email that I had placed an order (above).

Again, nowhere on that email — the only one I received from them — does it say to click to print nor is there an PDF attachment with my file. I will note that they had me enter my shipping address (not just billing) at checkout.

At this point, I email customer service to help clarify what I bought and access the postage. I had a feeling I bought stamps I was supposed to print at home but I couldn’t figure out how to access them.

They take their sweet time replying and tell me very matter of factly that nothing will be arriving in the mail because I was supposed to click some link to generate a file to print at home during checkout (must have been tiny because I saw nothing)

BUT, and here’s the fun part, because it wasn’t done within 7 days from the date of order (remember they took several days to reply to my inquiry email), that the function to print is no longer available, and they can’t refund me.

They admitted that they see I never downloaded my stamps.

SAY WHAT NOW???

Are you kidding me? This has to be a joke.

Does that make any sense at all?

I bought something that is valid for whenever (not for use on a specific date like concert tickets or anything like that), paid 73 euros for it, and because I didn’t print the file online within 7 days (not clearly stated anywhere), I no longer can?

And they can’t refund me???

A refund had to be done within 9 days.

I was fuming. I wrote back and asked to have the case escalated. I’d like a refund, I said, if I’m not able to print my stamps at this point. But if it’s easier I’d still like access to my stamps.

Nope to both.

Four days later I get a reply basically saying sorry, ce n’est pas possible. Of course it isn’t.

Here’s what La Poste could have done better:

  • In the confirmation email they sent after I ordered, they could have included a link or PDF doc or something explaining how I should redeem my purchase. In my opinion, it’s better to give more info than needed instead of too little. If they wanted to be extra generous, maybe put in bold that it should be done within 7 days or else. There was nothing like that. The only correspondence I got was an email showing what I ordered and the price, as I showed you above.

  • On the 7 or 8th day, if their system shows nothing has been redeemed, send a reminder email to the client to take action before their brilliant 7-day deadline. They never sent anything.

  • If the client emails them confused, reply in a timely manner and try to work with them. Reset the download link so they can print what they ordered. These weren’t custom stamps or anything that couldn’t be replicated on their end.

  • If their system is so ancient that they can’t regenerate a link due to technical limitations, refund the customer. It’s not like I bought concert tickets and then forgot to go on the night of the show. These are STAMPS!

Moral of the story? Just go to the dang post office in person. 😉

***

Ever had a frustrating customer service experience like this?

 

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Comments (21)

  • John Nelson

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    This sort of thing sounds so familiar – I’ve been living in France nearly 20 years and have got used to nothing being straightforward. It is annoying and frustrating – but you sort of expect it.
    It even annoys my French partner.

    In fact we try to avoid going to our local La Poste as the staff there are so argumentative. If you want to see a decent barney in French then that is the place to go to.
    We ended up using the office in another town simply because the people were so reasonable.

    Then our nearest office had a refit and following that the people were quite nice. All had been replaced except one staff member. That was a few years ago and then last December I had to go and get a cheque de banque so we could buy our new car.
    A customer pushed in front of me and the service assistant let them, dealt with them first and didn’t even excuse themselves for someone else having taken my place. Then went on to be rude when issuing the cheque.

    I think I’ll avoid that office again in future. I now get my other half to do any postal operations at the La Poste near her office.

    Grrrr

    John.
    John Nelson recently posted…PARLONS ROSBIF – VACANCES DE NOEL…My Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi John, straightforward and French processes do not go hand in hand and sorry to say you’ve had similar struggles over the years. It really does annoy French people too, so I don’t get why they all don’t band together and demand companies to change. Strikes are a tool the French use often so why not fix what’s broken with customer service.

      It’s really hit or miss with the post. You can find kind, patient employees who know what they’re talking about and unfortunately the exact opposite as well!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

      • John Nelson

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        Thanks for the reply Diane and you are right. It is hit and miss. Also, I agree about what French people think (as I live with one! LOL) also I have a few French friends who fall victim to bad customer service and often rudeness from people in general.
        I am often fascinated as sometimes I feel that I experience rudeness because I’m not French, especially on the school run. Then my French MIL blows that theory out of the water, when she does the school run, by saying : “A parent at on the school run was rude to me too – so don’t think it is because you are English, because I get treated the same way sometimes”.

        Wishing you an excellent Bonne Année from this corner of the Essonne region.

        John.
        John Nelson recently posted…HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017 FROM PARLONS ROSBIF !My Profile

        Reply

        • Diane

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          John, your line about wondering if you fall victim to certain treatment because you’re a foreigner is something I’ve pondered over the years. I feel like it can go both ways. And I never would have thought about this as an American in America. Sometimes French people think Americans are inherently “cool” so they’ll go out of their way to be nice or take interest or show you the good sides of things here. I guess I’d be the same way if I met a French woman in a fitness class in the US. I’d think they were cool and want to learn more.

          But on the flip side, sometimes we get crappy treatment and IS it because we’re foreigners? I’d like to think no, but we all have biases and prejudices, sometimes buried deep, so who can say for sure? Are we being paranoid? Same goes for our gender or race or sexual orientation or hair style or whatever. Do any of these things factor in? We’ll never know.

          Reply

  • Jess

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    I think customer service was one of the hardest culture shocks I experienced, and at the time, I was totally blindsided when the customer wasn’t always right. I was at the Galleries Lafayette, and I bought a bottle of perfume. When I returned to my apartment, and tried to spritz a little on myself, I noticed that the pump was not working. It wasn’t noticeably broken. No biggy. I returned the next day with my receipt fully thinking that I’d exchange it for another. Heck, I didn’t even want my money back- I just wanted the perfume. I explained the situation to the salesperson and showed her my receipt. She laughed, told me ‘no’, and walked away. That was nearly twelve years ago. I still have the bottle. It still doesn’t work.
    Jess recently posted…2016 Francophile Holiday Gift GuideMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh man, that’s terrible about the perfume. You’d think a store that has so many tourist customers would have fair customer service policies, but nope! I understand that the customer is not always right. If you dropped the perfume and broke it. If you buy concert tickets and then miss the show or something like that, I get not bending over backwards but something like a defective pump or in my case postage that I wasn’t able to redeem? NUTS I TELL YA!

      Reply

  • David

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    Your experience makes me furious and I think you have every right to be angry, cultural differences aside. It’s not a matter of customer “service” to me so much as a matter of contract. You didn’t get what you had paid for because of their failure to reasonably communicate the terms of the deal. That aside, two things. I have found that French websites are particularly poor with the “human factors” side of design: asking and answering “what would a customer likely want to do from here and how can we make it easy (possible!) for them to do that?” The other thing is happier: I couldn’t believe that the customer service in our local La Poste branch in La Doutre, Angers, was actually really good and pleasant. Amazing!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, it’s not about the French way. It’s about paying for something I was not able to receive and then not being offered a refund or any solution at all. It’s crazy.
      I agree with your assessment about French websites and even French people (like Tom) agree that web design isn’t great here or user friendly at all. Yup, sometimes you’ll find great employees who know their stuff and are pleasant. Some of the ladies at my local post office are great! Hope you guys had a nice Christmas!

      Reply

    • Claire

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      Hi, Diane! Your story made me furious as well!!! Soooooo maddening!

      Reply

  • cynthia

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    Ugh ! Not just in France ! On the average I’ve had pretty good luck with exchanges in the US. But lately I’ve experienced bad customer service with several US based on-line companies. I had ordered two items from one company. When the order conformation arrived via e-mail I found I’d been charged double postage but was receiving only one item. When I called customer service the woman was rude and said it was my fault, that I’d only ordered 1 item or that maybe they didn’t have the other in stock. She wouldn’t even talk to me about the double postage. Another company gave me the wrong size and the wrong color, again my fault. It’s getting terrible. I’ve never treated a customer that way. I’m so sorry for what you guys are going through in France, Especially with the yogurt and the woman with the perfume. So stupid. But on a lighter note: Congratulations on the business ! The Tees are beautiful and it will be a very big success !

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I’ve had terrible experiences in the US as well but on a whole, the customer is treated worse in France. Most of the time, I feel like customers just want to be heard and know that a company is doing its best to find a resolution that works for both parties. It’s really that simple but companies don’t get it. I’m sorry for your online order troubles. ;-( I wish I wasn’t out 73 euros… but this story will have a happy ending.

      Thank you about the tees. Stay tuned for the totes. I think you’ll love ’em!

      Reply

    • Diane

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      Yeah, it’s enough cash to get upset about. Even still, for $5 I’d still fight it on principle alone. But 73 euros is substantial!

      Reply

  • Monsieur Win

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    Going to the La Poste office is never a good moment for everyone, even the french. So i understand why you choose to order online.

    And it’s the same for everything that is related to the administration (even if la Poste is not an administration anymore, like EDF and others). It’s often stressfull because you know you will have to wait, or you supposed to don’t find what you were looking for… But I noticed some improvements, with more “help-yourself” machine and stuff like that… But I also know that some La Poste employees are under pressure, because more work to do and less people… And this transformation from a public service to a commercial company is painful for more of the employee (like Orange for an another example).

    On the fun side of this, you can check out Palmashow videos that make good fun of the visit the Poste office “cliché”, very funny.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odW_xHTDWGw

    (I hope my english is not too bad ! I like your point of view on us and our country, interesting and funny 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks so much for your comment and glad to know the French find it a pain in the butt too. I’ll be sure to check out the video you linked. And your English is great! PS: Updating my comment after watching the video. PURE GOLD! LOVE THE CHANNEL. MERCI

      Reply

  • Alison

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    Incroyable! Really, that is so awful. A faulty system which they are obviously in no hurry to fix. When I lived in France several years ago I sort of made friends with the La Poste Man, as I regularly posted boxes of things back to New Zealand. He bent over backwards to be helpful. I do have plenty of stories about the women at the Prefecture, however! I think they saw me coming each time and made plans on how to make things difficult for me! So sorry again about your experience – is there a ‘higher power ‘ you can contact?

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks for commiserating with me! Like you, I find my local mail carriers (guys and gals out on bikes) to be great but the people in the post office can be hit or miss. There might be a happy ending to my story but not on La Poste’s end. I used my American Capital One card to pay and have filed a dispute that I’m 99% sure I won. I am still thinking about this nonsense and another solution La Poste could have come up with (yet didn’t) would be to let me place a NEW order for the same postage (again, not custom, no expiration date) and then let me use a gift card code or coupon code to zero out the total. A little thinking outside the box wouldn’t hurt anyone, right? Thanks for your comment. 😉

      Reply

    • John Nelson

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      Hi Alison,

      A couple of years ago our old Postie retired – who was friendly enough to wave to. The new bloke really is nice – compared to the private delivery blokes who turn up. Took the trouble to walk up to the house last week with something that needed signing and wished us joyeuses fêtes.

      Larger parcels are usually delivered by a variety of different La Poste delivery people. The last one I had in the run up to Christmas was a bit rude. Moaning at me about having to come up to the house – even asked for our phone number, so he could ring to save himself the trouble of having to come up to the house.

      Anyone would think he had a 2km walk… our drive is only about 6 car lengths from the road !

      Bonne année,

      John (in the Essonne).
      John Nelson recently posted…HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017 FROM PARLONS ROSBIF !My Profile

      Reply

  • Alison

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    No, it was the man in the La Poste shop who was kind – I don’t think I ever met the postie delivering the mail! So just a good word there for suburban Poitiers. 🙂 And l do hope you get your stuff sorted – fingers crossed, and a happy new year to you.

    Reply

  • Alison

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    Hi John, Posties are almost a dying breed in New Zealand! Not many letters being written these days. But it was the man in the post office who was so kind to me, not the local postie. I’m going back to France this year – I might pop in and see if he is still there!

    Reply

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