Working abroad in France undeniably has its perks. The shortest working week in Europe, an abundance of croissant potential on lunch breaks and restaurant vouchers make working here much more appealing. Combined with my need to improve my French, it’s hardly any wonder that I jumped at the opportunity to flee Ireland at the age of eighteen to work as an au pair (this ended disastrously- see here). I also worked at Disneyland Paris twice, but I still remained relatively unenthusiastic about my work experiences even after two stints of working Chez Mickey.
Bearing this in mind, I was sliiightly apprehensive about working in a call centre for the Automobile Association (AA) based in Lyon. Given that the job brief basically consisted of calming hysterical holidaymakers who had broken down (as I learnt later in the job- the breakdowns also related to the holidaymaker themselves as well as the broken down vehicle) I wasn’t exactly looking forward to starting the job. The job also consisted of finding said hysterical and stressed holidaymakers alternative accommodation and modes of transport- but more on that later.
The job itself is based on the outskirts of Lyon in an area called Limonest. As it’s on the outskirts of Lyon, the metro doesn’t run there so you’ll have to stick to buses. This was a downside of the job- some of the buses didn’t run often on bank holidays or weekends. As the AA provides 24 hours assistance to damsels (customers) in distress 365 days a year, workers can find themselves working night shifts or on Christmas day. However, this won’t affect summer workers- the latest you’ll work until is probably around 11pm.
Seasonal staff are provided with two weeks of training at the start of their contracts. Contracts begin in May, June and July. The two weeks of training are quite intense as there is quite a lot to learn- different policies obviously have different entitlements, for example. At the end of your two week training you’ll be unleashed to the phones- gulp.
The first few calls that you will answer are probably going to be quite dodgy to say the least. I think I have managed to block out the majority of my first few calls but I can recall placing the customers on hold quite a lot and asking my supervisor (also known as the salmon of all AA knowledge) for help in my despair.
Obviously the job gets easier over time- you become more familiar with policies, how to handle customers and perfect your posh phone voice. However, I can shamefully admit to crying twice on the phone due to some absolutely horrible customers (but I must admit that this didn’t really happen to anyone else- I was obviously just a weak individual).
My role within the AA was on “front office.” This involved answering calls and providing assistance or information to customers. If the customer had broken down in a country other than France- for example Spain- I would have to ring their Spanish “club” to organise assistance. Other mini teams existed within the AA in Lyon- for example “back office” (who called customers back to provide information), “reservations” (who organised accommodation and transfers) as well as some mechanical whizzes who provided information to customers on the nature of their breakdowns.
I would highly, highly recommend working for the AA in Lyon. It was an amazing summer and my favourite job so far- and I’ve worked in quite a few jobs! The team were so friendly- expect lots of team nights out. The job itself could be fun sometimes, even if some of the humour was derived from some customers’ anger- sorry!