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A lesson in poor customer service – shame on

A lesson in poor customer service – shame on

By on Jan 15, 2015 in Tech Tips, Travel planning, Travel tips, Traveling Office | 18 comments


Before arriving in any country we spend considerable time looking at the mobile data situation to make sure we get the best value for money and best coverage. Part of the process is reading reviews on sites like ours, wikipedia and TripAdvisor. Arriving in a country we head out to find the closest best deal for one, two or even five mobile sims.

We run our business on data. Using the data email, Facetime, Skype, Viber, hangout and most importantly publish images and video on the move. Between the five of us we have many mobile data devices and occasionally purchase 7 or more sims data and connection charges are suitable. We only use phone credit to call or SMS each other within the country for safety and day to day communication. We don’t care much for phone credit its data bandwidth were after.

After reading the reviews we decided on Orange or SFR to be our carrier in France. Since Orange had a store closer to us in Toulouse we brought two prepaid sims from them. We initially talked to a lady in the store who spoke some english and found out the pricing and requirements needed to purchase a sim. We returned later with passports and purchased 2 sims at 9.99 EUR each and added a data pack of 30 EUR to each giving us a total of 4Gb of data between the two sims. The gentleman in Toulouse who served us was friendly, professional and spoke enough English to make the transaction pain free.

Although we weren’t expecting pain free.  Numerous reviews referred to as being the largest mobile carrier in France with a system that was overly complicated and very poor customer service. So finding our experience in Toulouse to be pleasant and efficient was a positive sign.  We looked forward to similar experience dealing with Orange during our stay in France.

But the trouble started early. One regular operation we perform is checking data usage. All carriers we’ve used so far have simple SMS or call back system to inform us of the data used and the amount remaining. Not so with, we did an extensive web search and even translated numerous pages on the website looking for the solution. Finally deciding to visit another orange store and ask one of their sales and tech staff that very question. How do we find out how much data we’ve used? Seemed like an easy enough question just walk into a store and ask, use google translate if needed.

The first chance we had to talk to someone about this was in Moissac where I found an Orange reseller who spoke a little English. She didn’t seem to know how to recall our data usage and after playing with the #123# dialup interface for a while said she was sorry but it didn’t seem to be an option to display our usage. So not knowing when our data might run out we brought a data recharge. She suggested a Let’s Go recharge as it provided 2GB of data for only 20 EUR which seemed like a reasonable price for phone data. Later we tried to recharge using the pin number supplied but received and error message.

Thinking we would have more luck in a larger city. We waited until arriving in Paris to find a large Orange shop front similar to the one in Toulouse. Confident that the secret to monitoring data usage could be gleaned from Orange directly and assuming we had purchased the wrong recharge pack in Moissac, believed that this could be remedied in Paris also. Perhaps either a refund or exchange for the correct recharge product minus a few EUR to purchase an equivalent recharge.

But how wrong were we. Not only did we get either of these issue attended to I left the store in the 4 Temp Mall, Le Defense feeling totally belittled and rudely palmed off by the staff. Initially the conversation started well. Admittedly the gentleman at the door didn’t speak any english and our communication was slightly difficult but he appeared to understand my desire to determine data usage on my phone and showed me several steps in the #123# utility that appeared to show data usage. Great so I proceeded to the next question about the Let’s Go Recharge purchased in Moissac. Straight way he indicated that this credit was for modems and tabLet’s.  He tried to recharge my phone using the pin and received the same error message. So I asked if I could use the credit on my tablet or convert it to a recharge suitable for my phone.  He responded by booking me in to see a customer services rep.

Shortly an attractive dark lady arrived who spoke reasonable English and we proceeded to talk about the options. Since the data on my phone is more important we discussed phone data and she indicated that a 2GB phone recharge would be 30 EUR but for 20 EUR a 1GB recharge was available. So I asked if we could check my current data usage to see if getting 2GB would be advisable or would 1GB suffice for the remained of our time in France.

orange france facetime is possible

Facetime test on our walk home. Yes it does work

Initially we looked at phone credit and I explained how phone credit wasn’t important as we both have sims. So calls between our phones are free.  We don’t ring outside of France or make calls to other numbers so our phone credit hardly changes. Instead we use Facetime, Skype etc. She then informed me that I couldn’t use Facetime or Skype with prepaid but sometimes Viber worked. I was surprised by this as only two days previously we had had a long conversation with a family member in Australia on Facetime whilst driving in country France. But it wasn’t my aim to educate this woman so I proceeded to run through the steps the previous gentleman had showed me to retrieve the data remaining on the phone.

A little uncertain of the french instructions I asked her to translate several menu items for me. After the second translation she abruptly logged out of the terminal and left to talk to the gentleman I’d spoken to earlier.  Not knowing why she left I continued to navigate the unintuitive #123# menu system eventually landing on the page I’d been shown earlier. It showed a number of 1.11 Gb.

When she returned I attempted to ask whether this number was actual data used or data remaining.  Her response was that she could “spend all night giving me training on the system.  But could I tell her what product I want to purchase?”  I tried to explain that I wanted to exchange the Let’s Go voucher for a suitable phone recharge either the 1 GB or 2 GB recharge depending on the amount of data left on the phone.  Her response was that their were only the options on her screen.  So I asked if she could exchange the Let’s Go recharge or refund it.  She very off handedly said she could do both either.

Wanting to get out of the store and away from this obnoxious woman as quickly as possible I asked for a refund. She abruptly logged out again walk to the previous gentleman said something to him and pointed me in his direction telling me he would make the refund and left.

I proffered the ticket to him.  He in return indicated that he couldn’t refund the ticket and that I’d have to purchase a new data sim and use the recharge with that sim.  I put the ticket back in my wallet and walked away. Realising I’d just I’ve been given the deliberate run around by an employee who’s job description probably includes customer service representative or représentant du service à la clientèle. A phrase synonymous with helping clients and customers not fobbing them off.

In the past seven months we have dealt with telcos all over Asia but this is the first time an employee or agent has looked down their nose at me as if dealing with an inferior species. It seems the reviews online had been correct about Orange’s Customer service. I don’t believe I’ll be suggesting to anyone traveling in France or the readers of this blog.

Looking back over the conversation I realise even simple common courtesy like saying “excuse me I’m just going to talk to my college” or “I won’t be a moment” were missing from our exchange. I’m sure Oranges customer service training must have highlighted the need to be respectful and courteous in all dealing with customers. Why risk customer good will.  You never know who that customer may be or how they will act. Why risk the businesses reputation all for the sake of a few polite words and gestures. Who knows what effect an interaction could have on the business long term. Or how may people will read this post over the next 10 years.

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Up Sticks N Go father of the crew. Works as a Social Media Manager and Website Optimiser with Michon International. Helps business develop automated systems to manage their social media, content creation and long term SEO strategies. This includes optimising websites to convert visitors into customers and track the value of a business website. Follow Simon on Twitter @becauseihadto , connect with him on LinkedIn Simon Frost and stay in touch.


  1. avatar

    The saga continues. I know it might seem like I have it in for but the poor customer service continue to be an issue.

    For the last week I’ve been walking around Paris with the 20 EUR recharge receipt burning a hole in my pocket. I’m just not good at throwing away money.

    Walking up the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe we came across another shop front. So I made another attempt to acquire a refund or transfer of the credit to something I could use on my iPhone. The store looked quite large and being on the Champs-Élysées there was a good chance that within an employees would speak enough english to sort out my problem.

    I entered and asked the attendant at the front of the store if she new what I could do. She spoke good english and we established that, yes I had brought the wrong credit for my phone plan. However like all the other Orange employees I’ve spoken to she also tried to redeem the credit on my phone with the same resulting error message. She informed me that it was possible to exchange the credit for something suitable for my phone and directed me to the cash desk.

    Arriving at the cash desk I established that ahead of me was an Arabic man speaking english discussing the features of a two week tourist sim card and a young dutch or danish woman holding a rather beaten up iPhone5. She also spoke excellent english but very little French.

    There was only one gentleman serving at the cash desk but he spoke fluent english with the arabic man and the purchase of the tourist sim card seemed to be progressing rapidly. The two of them were even sharing a bit of banter in a rather jovial manner. Great, here was a happy Orange employee who spoke good english and I only had to wait for him to service the two people ahead of me and I’d be able to exchange my recharge and catch up with the rest of the UpSticksNGo crew at the Arc de Triomphe. This store front was looking encouraging.

    The sale of the tourist sim progressed and shortly the gentleman ahead of me had a new tourist sim installed in this phone and was leaving the store. The queue at the cash desk had grown during the 10 minutes the sale took. It now included a french couple and a tall black french man who were talking animatedly amongst themselves. This is were things started to turn sour. The Sale person behind the counter suddenly left the desk and headed to the back of the store without saying anything to any of the five waiting customers. We all watched him intently to see where he was going but he disappeared from view. We stood there waiting patiently and he reappeared 5 minutes later holding photocopies but walked straight past the desk and entered a room in the side of the store, access controlled by a security lock.

    The queue had grown to seven people waiting at the cash desk and we were taking up a considerable amount of room in the centre of the store. Some time later the lady directing people to the cash desk could see the queue growing and stepped up to the desk looking concerned. She looked around for the sales person but couldn’t locate him. She then asked another gentle man standing with a group of employees nearby to serve at the cash desk. He didn’t look particularly happy about being asked to leave the conversation but did eventually enter the kiosk and started serving the lady ahead of me.

    The poor lady ahead of me who had been waiting just as long as myself wanted to know what sim card she could purchase and use while she was in France. She didn’t look like a tourist, more likely a student or person transferring to work in Paris. They spoke some French then reverted to English after he established her French wasn’t as fluent as her English. He reached into a draw to retrieve a Tourist SIM pack. The draw was empty so he slammed it closed and left the kiosk without a word. Again everyone in the queue watched as the second sales person disappeared to the back of the store. Five minute passed before he returned to the kiosk holding a bunch of SIM packs and replenished the draw.

    He proffered the tourist pack to her and said she needed to purchase that SIM. She questioned him about the longevity of the SIM and its credit. I think she was after a prepaid card with 30 day of credit and different options to the tourist SIM. He rather aggressively told here it had 14 days of credit and that the number lasted for 6 months. For some reason he didn’t offer to discuss other options except the tourist SIM. Options she had probably researched online before heading into the store to purchase the SIM. She looked like she might try and discuss the other options with him but seeing his aggressive stance and the way he was impatiently looking down at her. She picked up her phone and bags and just left. Having wasted twenty minute of her life to make a decision to purchase her SIM from another carrier.

    Now it was my turn to talk to this less than helpful sales person. Realising he would have very little sympathy for my predicament I considered walked out with the previous customer. But the lady at the front of the store had assured me that the recharge could be exchanged so I waited for him to acknowledge my existence. However before we could talk and Orange staff remember rather gruffly ushered everyone in the now sizeable queue to line up against the wall. The queue at the cash desk had become so large that we totally blocked the middle of the store.

    Finally I was able to explain my predicament. The gentle man took one look at the receipt I held and said he couldn’t exchange or refund the credit. I asked why it wasn’t possible when I’d been told it could be exchanged. He then said something in french which I struggled to understand. I’m not certain why he suddenly changed from english to french but while I stood trying to translate the words he left the kiosk and brought the lady I’d first talked with back to the kiosk. The one who had originally told me the credit could be exchanged. She now explained that they couldn’t exchange the credit here because it wasn’t brought at this store. If I wanted to exchange it I’d have to go back to Moissac, 100km away.

    This is the first time I’d been told that the credit couldn’t be exchanged at just any store that it had to be exchanged at the same store it was brought. Which sounds like total bollocks and that once again I’ve been given the run around by staff.

    Surely the credit is total vapour ware until actually used. The service part of the contract is owned by not the original vendor. is responsible for providing the customer service not the original vendor. Even if there is a commission paid to the original vendor, that part of the transaction shouldn’t have to be refunded and then reissued to make the books balance. If a shop front isn’t a representative of where do you go to get true customer service??

    I stood at the desk looking at these two and said “you mean I have to drive 100km to exchange a 20 EUR electronic voucher” At which point they both nodded their heads like a pair of fools. In total disbelief I debated whether either of these two employees could see reason if I was to spend the next ten minutes explaining the stupidity of that statement. Just then Michelle appeared across the counter giving me the why is this taking so long look. So cutting my losses and deciding that the other people in the queue should have the chance to benefit from the wisdom and knowledge of these two sale personnel. I too picked up my phone, my now totally worthless receipt and walked out of the store.

    • avatar

      As a resident in SW France this seems to fit the impression I get when dealing with Orange. I am talking about just a fiwed line with DSl and a telephone. The concept of customer SERVICE is non-existent. Remember much of Orange used to be France Telecom which was a piece of the government. The “don’t care, they can’t sack me” attitude is still there, along with the reversion to french language (as the only official one) when they don’t want to communicate.
      This seems to be the local style.

      • avatar

        Its a bit sad that our story isn’t an isolated situation Alan…

      • avatar

        Well technology gets rubbish by the minute, be it orange or vodafone or at&t, etc! No genuine customer service and just the american style sell, sell, sell!

  2. avatar

    I can confirm this company is the worst I have ever encountered anywhere in the world.

    • avatar

      I totally agree! An attitude which should have already bankrupted a company in any other country!

    • avatar

      Yes Orange France is pretty bad, product is a fraud and service almost non-existent let alone the language barrier issues. I would avoid it like the plague too, but I wongmder if the competition is any better?
      The french low work ethic makes it all worse. But its symptomatic of the whole retail approach in the West based on quick sell and then thrown to the wolves…

  3. avatar

    I have the same problem. I can’t use my 20euro data top up for 2Gigs either. My experience is identical to yours.

    • avatar


      I’m actually heading back to France on Monday but its going to be Starbucks, Costa coffee and free wifi all the way this time. will never see me again. Actually I found a nice function on the outbound app today that shows the public wifi service nearby and at searchable locations so you can plan the next stop to be close to wifi. Not quite as convenient as 3G/4G but hopefully we won’t need to buy a new SIM till we reach Italy.


  4. avatar

    just for shifting of my Livebox Play from 15th Arrondissement to 16th, Orange has given me a nightmarish experience. Its been full two months and yet I don’t have the connection shifted to my new address. Innumerable long-wait calls, fumbling confusing answers to any query, diverting to an alternative way of contact- basically kicking the customer around is what they are master at! When you call on 3900, after an interminate wait you get some more confusing suggestion to go to a Boutique, when you go there they tell you to call customer care! And to top it all, after not having any connection for two long months, i am told to disconnect and cancel the whole bloody affair, I will have to pay 49 Euros! Whoa!!!

  5. avatar

    Jolly I understand your frustration. I also tried to raise them on social media via twitter. Sent them a series of tweets hoping the social media staff might at least talk to me but not a tweet to be seen. Left out in the cold customer service and are mutually exclusive.

  6. avatar

    Hi – I was about to get an orange contract for bill pay phone before reading your article however the fact that Orange blocks skype is a big issue for me – I live in France so can you recommend a French mobile carrier which supports skype (I live near Perpignan)

    cheers, Garrett

    • avatar

      We live in the South West of France and have used Skype over an Orange network using Livebox. The portable handles it reasonably well as does my PC. The wife’s PC doesn’t. Personally I think the service has deteriorated since Microsoft bought it.

  7. avatar

    They really are the worst if anything goes wrong and their customer service is non-existent. Our home phone and wifi has been down since 26th of November and they have told me on 2 days that if will be fixed on those days and has not been and no follow up whatsoever. . Appalling customer service

  8. avatar

    Use spell check.

  9. avatar

    sooo… How can I check my data balance? Seam to be having the same issues!


  10. avatar

    Referring to the sales clerk as an “attractive dark lady” has no bearing on your interaction and should be removed from your post. I came to this site for information on checking data balances, not an unnecessary description of sales staff.

    • avatar

      I find details add to the story and help convey the scene. After all I’m describing my experience and not necessarily providing a guide. But thanks for your comment Jackie.

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