mercredi 28 novembre 2007

"Toll Free" French style

In the States, I, like so many others came to complain about calling customer service numbers where you're made to spend ungodly amounts of time listening to recorded voices telling you to punch on keys, only to then be put on eternal hold and eventually transfered to some call center in Hyderabad where a thickly accented "Bob from Atlanta" will ask you to repeat all the information you just spent the last half hour punching in to the automated system.

But hey, at least they don't make you pay for it.

Here in France, the concept of "toll free" isn't very widespread. Most customer service numbers start with 08. 0800 numbers are free to call (but good luck finding a company that actually has one). Other 08 numbers are special rate.

A few weeks ago, our phone service was cut off. I wanted to call the company to check on the status of the line, but I can't call "special rate" numbers from my cell phone. I tried calling from a public phone on the street, but that wouldn't work, either.

Every time I call IKEA to check whether a sofa we want is in stock yet, I have to call a special rate number that starts with 08.

Virtually every customer service number in France is a special rate number starting with 08. Some of these numbers are "local rate", meaning that theoretically you will be charged the cost of a local call no matter what part of the country you're calling from. Our phone plan actually includes unlimited free calls to all land lines in France, but of course, that doesn't include 08 numbers, so we would still have to pay to call "local rate" numbers.

I can kind of understand customer service helplines making you pay for the call (as long as I get to speak to a human being promptly, I don't really mind). But the French carry this idea to lenghts which seem, well, a little absurd.

Even numbers you call to BUY stuff are special rate. Who is going to want to call one of those?

Some of the more extreme examples are pictured here:

That's right, if you want to order a pizza from Pizza Hut, you don't just call a local number, you call a special rate number that charges 0.15 Euro per minute (more expensive than most international calls! I might as well call and order my pizza fresh from Napoli!)

Even more surreal is the following: a public service ad posted on a cigarette warning label.

"Get help to quit smoking: call 0825 809 810" That's right, 0.15 Euro per minute. Hmmm, maybe I'll just keep smoking! Or I could call my mother in Miami and get her to make me stop smoking: it will cost significantly less than calling the number advertised on the cigarette package.

Oh, and phone bills in France are sent out every two if you're the sort of person who likes to call tech support, just imagine what a nice little surprise might show up in your mailbox after two months.

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