Friday, April 03, 2009

Customer Service in France Secret #1

Oh, who am I kidding? I have only one secret regarding customer service here in France, and it's not even a secret: avoid chain stores whenever possible and try to frequent small, family-owned businesses. It only makes sense that people who have a vested interest in customers/clients will be pleasant and helpful. Sometimes I have no choice but to frequent a big box store but when I do, I go with low expectations. Oh, wait, maybe that's secret #2 -- aim low so you can be pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, in my everyday life I am usually surrounded by nice, helpful people. Maybe it's because I'm in the countryside, maybe it's because I try to shop at smaller places, maybe it's because I'm usually with a babbling toddler who totally counterbalances my own lack of charm, I dunno. Bo Bella gets all the attention and I use that to our advantage. It's a known fact that you will get better bread if you take a baby along. (Oooooh, look, I've got a #3! I'm going to stop now and save them all up for a book).

As far as traveling goes, my husband and I discovered the hard way that chambres d'hotes are the only way to go. For a while we tried using the cheap hotels featured in the Lonely Planet guides, and all I have to say about that is OMG. They are cheap for a reason, people. Last summer we stayed in Bordeaux at a hotel that had a really good recommendation in the Michelin Guide. You had to choose between two kinds of rooms, though -- "standard" and "comfort." We chose standard, and it was the wrong choice as our room didn't come with many amenities but it did come with a mold problem. Shortly afterwards, I came down with my first ever sinus infection. Secret #4: if you ever encounter a choice similar to the one above, always go with comfort. Trust me on this one; I'm not even especially picky. Your sinuses will thank you.

Back to the hotel thing though...a chambre d'hote is a bed and breakfast and we've had great experiences so far with them. All of the owners have been very different but all were very nice and helpful. The breakfasts were all top-notch and the rooms were all clean and comfortable. No mold, no sharing a bathroom, no ducking your head when going through the front door. They're easy to find, thanks to the Gites de France website. You can search for chambres d'hotes by location and there's an option to search in English. We've met some interesting families and I always have good intentions to post a recommendation for them, but I think I've already established which road I'm walking on.

To wrap up, if you're looking for great customer service:

As if on cue, Bo Bella has just woken up. I will now go enjoy my baby and the beautiful spring weather, and plan my book that will earn me millions of euros another day.


Andi said...

I totally agree with you. When I first moved to France, lack of customer service was a huge cultural shock for me - but I did exactly what you did and voila, it helps. Also, I always tell anyone visiting that when they walk into a store, they must take the time to say "bonjour". And never starting asking anyone a question without doing the same - those two things will buy you a lot!

Angela in Europe said...

You are lucky you get to shop small. It is almost impossible in Paris. And thanks for the other info!

Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas said...

Great post! I haven't had too many issues with poor service the times I have been in Paris or elsewhere in France, hehe, but I'm pretty shy and try to go unnoticed, getting my stuff without to much interaction with anyone.

Hehe, as for your recs I like the baby recommendation. It is another reason to start a family soon : ). Babies always lighten the air and have the tendency to open up lines of communication between strangers. How can supreme cuteness not do that? : )

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