Customer service the French way

Norma Thiessen - 26.04.2013
The French have a reputation; all cultures do. However, I am specifically intrigued with theirs as I feel most of their bad reputation is completely contrary to what I have experienced. I believe they are misunderstood.

A recent shopping excursion down Rue du Bac, visiting every single shop right down to the Bon Marché and the glorious Grande Épicerie de Paris, was enjoyable and pleasant. That evening, while relaxing in the lounge at the lovely Hotel Daniel, I sat back and thought of how visitors are treated – about how I’ve been treated during years of Paris visits.

Norma Thiessen - 26.04.2013 (2)Yes, I have been scoffed at, “pffffed” at, and even tickled under my chin while attempting to communicate with my horribly embarrassing French. I have also been plowed right into because I didn’t move out of someone’s way. Or someone has butted right in front of me, pretending as though they didn’t realize there was a line.

But, aside from these exceptions, I do believe the customer service is excellent!

Here’s why: I just need service and a little assistance, perhaps a café crème or a croissant, nothing more – and this is what the French are good at. For those who prefer the typical restaurant chain welcome of “Hi, my name is Melissa and I will be your server today” or typical shop greeter saying “Hi, welcome to… can I help you find anything?” then perhaps you many find their aloofness off-putting. I find it freeing. It puts me at ease.

Norma Thiessen - 26.04.2013 (3)
And although they have no interest in becoming friends or striking up conversation, shopkeepers and waiters do expect respect and acknowledgement.

A Parisian shop worker appreciates a friendly « bonjour » when you enter and a « merci » as you exit.

Remember, you are in their boutique, their café, their boulangerie – their territory. You will experience their zero tolerance if you are a demanding customer with an ugly, holier-than-thou attitude. It would make anyone cringe, non?

Norma Thiessen - 26.04.2013 (4)
When it comes to hotels, the individuals positioned at a front desk require a certain positive energy, along with patience and a genuine compassionate demeanour.

You will find these types in the hotels mentioned on my website. Whether the category is luxurious, elegant or inexpensive, customer service is a major deciding factor for me when considering a hotel for my site.

Because of the rumours I did warn my husband before his first trip to Paris: “Parisians can be a little aloof. Don’t misunderstand them.” Yet the taxi drivers, concierge, waiters and shop workers all seemed to take to my husband marvelously. They were proving me wrong!

Of course this is my opinion, based on my personal experience. However, I am a firm believer that you will get out of customer service what you put into it. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.

If respect is shown, respect is given.

About the Contributor

Norma Thiessen

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One Comment

  1. Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier Oct 23, 2012 at 6:35 PM - Reply

    Customer service is most of the time an unpleasant experience, in Paris mainly. After living abroad for the last 20 years, I knew that I had to downgrade my expectations, specially in restaurants. I only go if I am not too much in a hurry or hungry as it’s happened too often that I had to beg to place my order, or wait 30 minutes between 2 courses. I go for other reasons, the atmosphere, the setting, the food. I have always heard the saying ‘Le client est roi’ here, but in some places, it’s the opposite. Yet as you said, the best can happen when you expect the worst ! and I do believe that after years of arrogance, tourism and shop industries are trying to change the trend.

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