Monday, 27 April 2009

The future still isn't Orange - but here's hoping

In August last year I went through the rigmarole of trying to replace a defunct mobile telephone, after just six months of use.

And what do you know, I've just been through the same experience all over again, and the customer service offered to me by my provider Orange, served as a reminder that the company might be trying but they still haven't managed to live up to the advertising that the future is....Orange.

Let me take you back to Summer 2008 for a moment.

Back then I spent a holiday away from the beck and call of my mobile because it gave up the ghost.

It was bliss - only temporary mind you - but it reminded me of those halcyon days when I had a valid excuse for not being obtainable.

I couldn't make or receive calls or messages, which I'll freely admit a real pleasure.

But all good things must 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."

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 there's the multi-buttoned digital 'phone hotline which initially offers you tinny muzak followed by that belovéd 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.

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 predicament.

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 popped another person, to whom I related my story, same questions but different record. Apparently they had no trace of my having changed my 'phone 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 had certainly been compounded by French bureaucracy and simple human error - a lethal cocktail at the best of times.

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

There then followed an interlude - no muzak this time around, just that eery silence that was the prelude to the creeping realisation that even in this modern era it was 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 in the first place.

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.

Well that was then, and this is now. Roll the clock forward six months to April 2009, and I'm on a business-pleasure trip for a longish weekend across the Pond when what do you know?

My phone's screen flickers its last breath and disappears entirely.

I could still make calls if I knew the numbers (which because I have that sort of memory I do) but I couldn't access my address book, incoming calls were just not to be recognised (I always have the phone on vibrate and silent, so that wasn't working either) and messages - forget 'em.

Déjà vu in capital letters.

Arriving back in France I hotfooted it down to the nearest Orange shop - once bitten twice shy in terms of using the helpline.

I explained and demonstrated my problem - although how exactly you can show that something isn't there still perplexes me - and guess what!

They told me to ring the customer helpline (free from the shop) and describe what was wrong.

Now that's service for you!

Anyway, that's of course exactly what I did, managing to change my subscription and order a new 'phone, which arrived at that very same tobacconist a few days later, and I'm now the proud owner of an Apple iphone.

Even though I don't really have much of a clue as to how it works or how all the special bells and whistles it seems to have function, all I'm hoping is that it'll last longer than six months.

And should that turn out not to be the case for whatever reason, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my next encounter with my provider will prove that the future is just a little more Orange than it currently appears to be.

Excuse me one moment, I have a "call waiting".

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