The year has hardly begun and I have had two clients contact me with telephone problems, which, unfortunately, are not uncommon.
I will tell the tales as they unfolded for me and let you draw your own conclusions.
This client had their line rental with France Telecom and a dial up internet connection (all that was available at the time), but their calls via Primus.
Their phone stopped working. They borrowed a friends’ handset to make sure it was not simply a faulty handset, it was not. They contacted France Telecom who checked the line, said there was no problem with it and it must be the call provider, i.e. Primus. Primus said it was not them, it must be France Telecom. After 3 days of no phone and what appeared to be a complete stalemate she contacted me.
I explained that this was not the first time I had come across this scenario, and it is for this reason, and this alone, I recommend clients use France Telecom – with whatever “best deal” they are promoting at the time. Line problems become a black hole with no one taking responsibility. Not helped by having to deal with multiple choice phone systems in French, followed by (if you are lucky and actually connect with someone), a French speaker, who has difficulty understanding the English accent.
I said I would talk to France Telecom, and if it could not be resolved suggested we find out what France Telecom could offer as a complete package to get her back ‘on line.’
I phoned the France Telecom English Speaking number:
Write that number down and keep it somewhere safe – it is gold-dust. You may have to wait a while to get connected, but hang on - put up with the awful American recorded announcement - you will eventually managed to speak to one of their advisers who are the most helpful bunch I have ever come across.
I spoke with Sophia and there followed a complete Kafkaesque conversation: -
I explained I was telephoning for an English speaking client, who, because she had no telephone had asked me to ring on her behalf (no mobile either). I explained the problem, but that the client did believe it was a France Telecom problem as she could not get an internet connection either using the dial up contract she has with FT.
Sophia checked her computer system, found the phone number and the FT line rental, but had no record of the dial up contract! She then checked the line and said it was OK. Before we went down the road of talk to the other company, I said,
“OK, lets accept that the line is fine, what deal can you offer my client so that they have cheaper phone calls”.
She suggested “an iphone (via the broadband/livebox connection) which would give free calls”.
“But”, I said, “this client is on dial up because broadband is not available at their house”.
“Oh yes it is”, she says.
“Great”, say I – “so what would this cost” – “39.90 Euros per month” she says.
I asked if it were possible for her to send this information to the client–
“I can do better than that, I’ll telephone them” is her response.
“You are a miracle worker - the phone is not working”, say I.
“I’ll try she says”, and puts me on hold. She comes back, “there was no answer”.
“Of course not”, I said, “the phone is not working”.
“I’ll arrange an engineer visit”, she responds – “is there any way the engineer can contact her”, “no”, I explain, “her phone is not working and they do not have a mobile”.
This all happened on Tuesday; today I had a call from the engineer about the problem with my telephone – not mine I explained, but my clients. When I gave the name he said, yes that is the one, can I contact them to see if they are at home. No, I explain their phone is not working and they do not have a mobile. Do you think they will be at their house? I do not know, but I image so as they are retired.
I await their phone call.
The other is less amusing and more worrying. Like most of us ex-pats with UK derived income from pensions and/or investments, this client was looking at the best way to cut costs, and had looked at their telephone /internet charges.
Currently they have a line rental with France Telecom, and calls and broadband internet connection via Free.
On surfing the net – www.Angloinfo.fr, in fact, they came across an offer from Alice, cheaper than any other, and excluding the need to pay FT for the line rental. Alice state they will take over the line from FT, you keep the same number and the cost is simply 29.95 Euros per month and you do not have to pay FT their 16+ Euros for the line rental. This looked like a great deal.
Why cannot Free offer the same thing they thought – so they tried to contact Free to ask the question. They have good French – but no one could/would give them a straight answer.
Eventually they contacted Alice and said they wanted the offer they were advertising. Alice took their details, failing to tell them that this particular offer only applied to phone numbers in zones “degroupeés” (basically the large towns), elsewhere it was not possible.
On further investigation on the Alice web site, they realised their error and tried to contact Alice to cancel any contract that may have been made, but were not too worried as they had not, as yet, signed anything. Each time they contacted Alice and fought their way through the computer generated number sequence to get to an adviser, they found they were not understood and were simply put back into the queue waiting system until they gave up.
They waited the confirmation contract by post. When the “Alicebox” arrived, they immediately sent it back with a covering letter stating they did not want the service.
It was only when their telephone line was cut off by France Telecom did they come to me.
Again, I contacted the English speaking France Telecom line, and again had an extremely helpful young man on the other end. He explained that France Telecom have an agreement with the other service providers and will disconnect a line on instruction from the third party, without reference to their client. How can that be legal I asked – that is the way it is done, I was told.
So what can be done now? I asked, the client do not want, never wanted to go with Alice once they found out the truth, but cannot be without the telephone. I can have their France Telecom line reconnected he says, but it will cost them 55.00 Euros. They will have to try to recover this from Alice if they believe they were miss-sold a package.
The clients reluctantly accepted this and fortunately, because we had acted so quickly were able to get the same number reconnected. What had started as a cost cutting exercise had become very expensive.
Next, they asked me to speak to Alice for them and ensure any contract was cancelled. Again I went through the * press 1 etc. etc. until I spoke to someone who understood my French well enough not to want to understand it and put be back into the call waiting system – 4 times that happened, but I once worked for a MD who had a sign on his wall “Nothing Succeeds Like Persistence” and it is true. Eventually I got through to a helpful young man who accepted that this client did not want what had been sold, and gave me the address for a formal letter of cancelation to be sent – of course – by Recorded Delivery.
Their line has been reconnected, but what the fallout from Alice will be we wait to see. However, the internet connection via. Free has also been disconnected, so the grief continues.
Footnote: After two days of living with Free saying it is the fault of France Telecom and she will have to contact FT to have the internet revalidated and France Telecom saying it is down to Free she gave in and signed up with FT for a monthly package which gave her free calls via her livebox. She was able to register on line with Free to terminate her contract with them.
My thoughts on both the above stories are two fold
1. There is not, and never has been, such a thing as a free lunch.
France Telecom, over the years have invested, and still are, in an excellent telephone/broadband system and so I can understand their wanting to receive something for providing the means for other service providers to undercut their call charges. But this does mean that they control the lines and to a great extent what happens.
There are good deals to be had out there, although how France Telecom keep track of the different packages they offer on what appears to be a daily basis I do not know.
If you can get broadband then the iphone ‘free calls’ works, but do remember to plug your phone into the base of your Livebox, and not expect those free calls to be available via the landline and France Telecom wall socket.
Some of the providers do offer an English speaking telephone line and this is worth money unless you have excellent French – it certainly helps keep your blood pressure down.
2. And it is back to the standard advice regarding the net, be cautious, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
One final story from my neighbour about friends of theirs – they ordered, via the net, replica watches; fully aware they were not the “real thing” but quite happy to accept them for what they were. The parcel was impounded by French Customs – imitations such as these are not legal in France - if they want to receive them they must pay a fine!
What was it I said about a free lunch?
Susan Dixon, January 2009
Footnote: In the office I have an account with France Telecom for the phone and Orange for the broadband internet connection. I use the iphone and it has reduced our costs considerably (so has the downturn in business!).
For our domestic telephone we have our line rental with France Telecom and our calls are paid for via. Tele2 at a good reduction. This has been the way for several years with no problems, but we have not yet experienced line problems.
Papillon Properties sarl
Tel: 00 33 (0)5 49 87 07 14
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