September 25, 2015

C’est la France!

I didn’t get much of any importance done yesterday because I spent most of the day wrestling with French systems. First some background. As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve just acquired a smartphone. This was also the incentive for me to make a change in home phone and internet provider, as by moving from Orange to Free, I could make a saving on the cost of my home phone/internet package and in addition get a mobile package with unlimited calls and SMS messages plus 50GB of data for only 5€/month more in total than I was paying for just the former. So a bit of a no-brainer, really.

Due to the change-over, I’ve had no home phone since the weekend, but strangely, after initially losing it for about a day, I’ve still had internet. Weird or what? But anyway, the Free box arrived on Wednesday so I decided to take the plunge and connect it all up yesterday. It went surprisingly well, despite the fact that the instructions that came with the box referred to links on the Free web site that you have to click on to complete the process, that don’t actually exist 🙂

That put me back by an hour or so due to having to find my way around the web site by clicking on all of the links that appeared relevant until I happened upon the right ones. But eventually all was up and running as it should be, although at the time of writing I still have absolutely no idea how to create my own voice-mail message, which although not a disaster is rather frustrating. There also appear to be no instructions on how to pick up any voice messages, so still a bit more fiddling around to do. Presumably the person writing the instructions had to break for lunch, which, of course, is essential on the dot of 12.30pm in France, and just forgot when they got back and returned to writing them.

But more was to come. When I ordered my Free contract, I also wanted to order the sim card for my new smartphone. Except that it was impossible. To get the discounted mobile rate, you have to provide your Free ‘Identifiant’ and ‘Mot de passe’, which at the time of ordering, you don’t know! It seems that it hadn’t occurred to whoever designed the web site that if you are ordering a Free home phone contract that you are automatically entitled to the discounted mobile rate, so you should just be allowed to go ahead and do so. No, you have to wait until your Free box arrives, after which you get an email that contains your ‘Identifiant’ and ‘Mot de passe’ and only then after, they believe, promoting it to you on their web site, will they ‘sell’ you a mobile contract that you wanted to buy in the beginning anyway. Utter madness.

But even more was to come! When you sign up for Free mobile, you have to provide them with your bank details for the monthly direct debit, and also pay for a month’s line rental in advance by debit card. This is when the fun really started. Unlike people like Barclaycard who have managed to devise a secure on line system in which, for any transaction, all of the data required to complete the transaction appears on the computer screen, here in France Credit Agricole, my bank, have a pedantic system that when you click on-screen to complete the transaction, they send you an approval code by SMS to your mobile phone.

Now it just so happened that by coincidence, my old mobile phone number that had continued receiving calls without allowing me to top it up and make any, was cut off yesterday, so when Credit Agricole tried to send me the approval code for my Free line purchase, I couldn’t receive it. The result was that my transaction timed out and I was referred back to the Free boutique. I can remember in the past receiving approval codes via email, but when I checked, no message had been received in my Inbox.

So I thought that maybe I’d missed a link on the approval screen and put the transaction through again. Sure enough, there was no link as far as I could see to request an email and the transaction timed out again. So time to call The Credit Agricole English service.

The sweet sounding young lady assured me that there was definitely a box on the approval screen to be ticked to request an emailed approval code and that if I put the transaction through again, this time I would surely see it. So I did, but no box, so I rang one of the numbers displayed to see if I could get a verbal approval. No luck. Before the rambling voice at the other end could get through all of the options and for me to try to listen to them all again, the transaction timed out yet again. So nothing for it but to try once more, but this time when I clicked to make my purchase the system told me that for security purposes, I was totally barred from making any purchases using my debit card on the Free web site. Unbelievable!

So I called the CA English service yet again. This time I got a young male voice who I told in no uncertain terms that their systems were unfit for purpose and that in all the years that I’ve been using cards to make online purchases, I’d never experienced such difficulties before. He told me that he would get my English adviser to call me – what was my mobile number please? Grrrrr!!!! Luckily, as my new dual sim smartphone also contains my UK sim card she was able to do so, but what on earth was wrong with using my home phone?

After a few moments she did and was full of apologies. She said that she’d made a change to the settings on my account and that if I put the transaction through yet again, this time it would work and there would be a link to request an emailed approval code. Except when I did, there wasn’t. There was a link labelled ‘I haven’t received an approval code’, however, which is something completely different and when I clicked it it took me to a pop-up screen with lots of information on it followed by another link that I didn’t bother to read before clicking it as by then I was losing the will to live.

Some moments later, luckily before the transaction timed out yet again, an email dropped into my Inbox with the required code, which I was able to use to complete the purchase of my Free mobile contract. Unbelievably, the whole process had taken something like two hours! A sign yet again that France has so much to do to truly get to grips with the internet and drag itself into the hard commercial world of the 21st century. If I’d had the choice, there’s no way as a free agent that I’d have persisted with wrestling with such a pathetic and useless system. I’d just have gone elsewhere.