Wednesday, October 27, 2004

customer service a la francais
I guess it is another stereotype of the French that they are rude and surly when serving you. As usual there's some truth in this, but it's not entirely true. I think it greatly depends on the type of business.

In most shops and restaurants, the service here is maybe a bit slow, but not usually rude. If you go into any French bureaucracy though... oo la la! Ask any person living in France for a story about a visit to Le Prefecture and you will see any pleasant atmosphere in the room dive straight out the nearest window as they start spitting expletives out as if they had filled their mouth with rotting nastiness.

I would say that there seem to be certain characteristics of French administrative organisations that are quite pernacious. The main one I can think of is a focus on the requirements of their processes, as opposed to the requirements of their customers. The customers are expected to fit inside the process and like it.

I suppose that this is quite typical of most bureaucracies, but the problem is that the bureaucratic mentality does seem to spill out a bit. The strangest example I can think of is when I went to a popular and busy restaurant with my family, Le Entrecote.

We were standing in a queue waiting to be seated to tuck in to our portions of steak and chips french style, and had reached the front when the busy head waitress whirled across my path and commanded me to 'avancez-vous', meaning move forward. I stepped forward a few paces, thinking she wanted me to make room for more people behind.

Suddenly one of the girls (never men) cutting up the steak informs me that I have to get back because I am bothering her chopping. So I move backwards again, a little confused, only to be harrangued by the head waitress again for not having moved forward.

"But I did..", I said, "..and your waitress told me to move because I was in her way"

"No no no monsieur. Advance over THERE!", she informed me, pointing to a little gathering space hidden behind a wall.

Clearly she had assumed I knew about her special customer organising system, and was quite annoyed that as an object to be processed in it, I didn't know my place.

The funny thing is that I work in Customer Services myself, and originally came over here with English attitudes which are generally more [insert your own annoying business jargon to describe an appropriate attitude, I refuse to put it on my blog].

I am ashamed to say that in the two years since I have been here, the bureaucratic French attitudes have slowly crept into my psyche and I sometimes find myself saying things like, "c'est pas moi ca" ("that's not me, that").

I guess it is inevitable that a person picks up different cultural methods. I think I shall call this 'culture creep' - the subconcious and unintended change from one attitude to another as a result of prolonged stay in a different culture.

Some of these things will be good changes I suppose, but in terms of customer service, I think these lazy and deceitful attitudes really would be best avoided. So I have decided from now on that my customers will get only the best service.

And I will stop my car for anybody waiting to cross a pedestrian crossing.

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