Sunday, 7 September 2008

The future is Orange - or so they would have us believe

How many of us in this modern world rely on our mobile 'phones? A fair number I bet. They have surely become an addiction, a must-be, a can"t-be-without. I couldn't be without mine - or so I thought until recently, when I was - for one whole week.

The thing didn't work. I couldn't make or receive either calls or messages, which I'll freely admit was something of a pleasure. A real holiday break away from that little electronic device that has so successfully wheedled its way into our everyday lives.

But all good things have to come to an end, and I knew I wouldn't be able to remain happily "out of touch" for too much longer. So I resorted to the good old-fashioned landline to put in that call to "get it sorted."

A little bit of background before I proceed any further. Here in France there are basically three main mobile operators, SFR, Bouygues and the biggest of the lot Orange - the all-powerful, customer-loving arm of the former state-owned but now private telecommunications company France Telecom.

I, along with millions of others, have the "pleasure" of being a subscriber to the last one.

In Ye Olden Days, the chances were that you when you wanted to get something done (about a 'phone) you would hang on the end of someone else's line for hours on end waiting to talk to someone, and the company might or might not send a man round to "fix it".

At the very least there was a fair chance of talking to a real live human being (eventually) and even perhaps being able to put a face to the company.

Nowadays of course we have the one click computerised online solution (well maybe one click is a little bit of an exaggeration especially for those of us who are lifelong members of Technophobes Anonymous) which allows you at least here in France to "handle' your own account.

Or the multi-buttoned digital 'phone service which initially offers you tinny muzak followed by that belov├ęd computerised voice telling you to do something resembling the following:

"Press one for customer services, two for technical issues, three for billing, four for queries regarding the internet, five for mobile 'phones and six for other inquiries.

" If you would like to speak to one of our agents, please press nine."

Whatever happened to seven and eight you might well ask. Presumably they're still in the planning phase.

Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself.....

So of course I put in that call to Orange customer services, listened to the lovely muzak, pressed what I thought were all the right buttons and eventually got through to a human voice to explain my "plight".

After asking me innumerable questions and checking through my records, I was informed that in fact my problem (or that of the 'phone) was a technical one and I would have to talk to someone from that department.

"Please hold the line and I'll transfer you," followed by some more muzak.

Moments later up pops another person, to whom I relate my story, same questions but different record. Apparently they had no trace of my having changed my 'phone or forfait the previous year and as far as they were concerned I still had my old Motorola.

Before proceeding with my problem I would "have to contact customer services for them to update my details."

Ah yes privatisation and modern technology have certainly been compounded by French bureaucracy and simple human error - a lethal cocktail at the best of times. As far as Orange is concerned it would appear that it's up to the customer to check that the records the company has are up-to-date and not the other way around.

C'est la vie.

So another call, more number pressing and of course a different person back at customer services to whom I can tell my story for the third time.

There then followed an interlude - no muzak this time around just that eery silence that is the prelude to the creeping realisation that even in this modern era it is still possible to be "cut off" in one's prime.

The fourth attempt to an inevitably new voice actually yielded some results. Yes their records said I currently had a Nokia and they would ensure that the technical department was informed. Moreover if I had a problem with the 'phone they (customer services) could send me a replacement and would I like them to do that?

Well yes, that might be the solution I thought, and hastily agreed.

"But in the meantime you might want to check your SIM card in another 'phone (as if I had access to multiple mobiles) just to test whether that's where the problem lies. In which case you would need to contact the technical services to have them issue another one - SIM card that is."

Ah that little devil, the delightfully tripping-off-the-tongue named Subscriber Identity Module aka SIM card was perhaps at the root of my problems.

I thanked voice #4 for her assistance, hung up and called on the generosity of a friend to allow me to try my SIM card in his 'phone. It didn't work, which meant that the problem lay not with my soon-to-be-replaced, in-perfect-working-order 'phone but with my SIM card.

Call number five, a by now automatic explanation which I pretty much had off pat and within minutes a new SIM card ordered which "Would be with me by the end of the week sir."

"So as I don't need the new 'phone, how can I cancel its delivery?" I asked.

"That's no problem sir, we'll do it for you," was the cheerful and helpful response.

Perhaps I should have known better, as this was after all from the same department that had absolutely no record of my having changed my 'phone a year ago. But still having faith in the spoken word leading to the deed, and that everything would be resolved by others, I waited for my new SIM card.

Next day "You have a new message" pops up on my computer and there's an email telling me that my new 'phone and SIM card are ready for collection at the nearest tobacconist (don't ask) on presentation of proof of identity and in exchange for my old 'phone.

Did I miss some vital aspect along the way? Did I not make myself clear enough during my five calls I wondered?

Did I have the strength, patience and fortitude to make yet another round of calls and explain the situation all over again.

Did I heck as like. Better not to tempt fate, I thought.

So now, I'm the proud owner of a new mobile 'phone - same model - complete with new SIM card, which also means of course that I have to reprogramme all my old numbers.

And the moral in this story.

Well there isn't one I suppose, apart from revelling in the glory of how a formerly public enterprise is so obviously on top of things since privatisation.

Of course this is probably just the modern day grumble of a communications problem that has existed for a long time - especially of all things for the telecommunications industry.

Somewhat ironic n'est ce pas?

Hang on, I think I have "call waiting."

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