Orange France TelecomMy home ADSL line started to become unreliable a 6 weeks ago, just at the time when Wanadoo became Orange Broadband. I think this is just a co-incidence, but being constantly connected and disconnected yesterday prompted me to call the Orange callcentre to find out what’s going on. Instead of the Newcastle accents on the line when I had called Wanadoo to establish the account, I was greeted by an Indian call centre. There are 2 issues with this: the quality of the service, and the political issue.

First of all, the service was utterly lousy. I started by explaining that I thought there was a problem on the line, and the call centre person started to ask me questions about the modem I was using, and started to instruct me about what changes I needed to make on my PC. I told him I had an Apple computer and not a PC and he started to get extremely grumpy and told me I had the wrong number. NO! I wanted to check the line, not the modem! He eventually gave me another number to call to check the line, and wished me a nice day when I was calling at 23:00 BST. I do wonder whether the barriers to getting a call centre to work when it’s based half way around the globe are just simply too great.

Secondly, the very idea that Orange should be contracting out its call centres is quite an interesting issue. Orange is owned by the France Telecom Group, the private firm that has grown out of the French state monopoly telephone company. The very idea that France Telecom would out-source its call centres in France strikes me as impossible. Imagine calling Tangier and having a Moroccan-accented person replying to your queries. The French would scream delocalisation and France Telecom would have a problem on its hands. I’m glad we’re not so opposed to such things in Britain, but it does annoy me when we get lousy customer service as a result.


  1. The comments are absolutely correct. When I lived in Tunisia I had a number of friends who worked for … Wanadoo aka France Telecom. Apparently they picked Tunisia because the accent was less marked (people only speak French in work or study contexts and therefore don’t have the accent or slang that Algerians or even Moroccans might, or at least that was the theory). Mostly they were in customer service. One friend – also a qualified barrister, working for Wanadoo in order to raise the money to set up in chambers – often regaled me with stories about the stupidity of his callers (drinks can in the CD holder, that kind of thing). All the Tunisians worked under false names they chose themselves – so Adnen became Arnaud, Salah, Benoit I think. The lack of publicity in France about outsourcing meant that they were rarely rumbled. Indeed most of my friends used to delight in pulling the wool over their callers’ eyes. They all watched French TV and hence were highly adept at chatting about the weather or even last night’s soaps. If pushed they were instructed to say they were based ‘near Rouen’ (who knows why) and were allowed to admit they were ‘of North African origin’. Arabic was outlawed at work, in case a caller overheard background noise that might give the game away. Relative to some other jobs they were well paid and a lot of students were prepared to work the more anti-social hours. But above all they almost all delighted in getting their own back on the former colonial power and nothing amused them more than to think they might be engaging an oblivious FN voter in cheerful banter. I’m sure the service was excellent; one former Wanadoo shift manager certainly fixed my computer with admirable skill, not to mention somehow setting up a free internet connection… The question, as you say, is how France Telecom in particular has got away with it politically in France.

  2. Fascinating! Many thanks for these excellent comments…

    All I can say is that France Telecom has not managed to get it right with the Indian call centres yet – the service was absolutely lousy! Not that the old UK call centre was much better though…

  3. I confirm. France Telecom and orange already have call centers in Maghreb and Sub-Sahara Africa (Senegal) mainly where the workers have a very long training on how to hide your african accent and imitate a perfect old-style french accent..
    The real question behind this is the working conditions in the developing countries where these multinationals decided to delocalize. On this point, a stronger solidarity between trade unions in the North and workers in the south is more than needed.

  4. VXL – yes, I agree. Further, you’ve also given me an excellent idea to add into a speech I am giving on Friday in Norway on EU welfare states and welfare policies! 🙂

  5. BTW French actually have morrocans answering when an hotline is called. I don’t know for France Telecom but I don’t see what would stop them.

  6. this is precisely why many French people voted against the European Constitution : when a company that was built with the citizen’s taxes starts to behave like a private company (its purpose switching from providing a service to making money) tehn something is going very wrong… and Europe is an available scapegoat although this also the fault of the Frech governements : you can open a service to competition without selling it out to private interests.

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