A lost mobile phone pits Advantage Business Angels' managing director Neil Mackay against bad business practices
Do you ever get the feeling what you are doing is unsustainable?
I lost my mobile phone over the weekend - not my fault, I was visiting friends on Saturday night for a barbecue where I was kept up till after 2am and compelled to drink copious quantities of beer.
Somehow my phone got lost in the taxi home.
Anyway I rang up the airtime provider the next day (I am not going to say who it is because I don't believe they are different) to put a bar on the phone.
It took five failed calls over a 30-minute period to get the phone barred. I suffered the usual ridiculous messages like "your call is important to us and we pride ourselves on good customer service". Oh yes? Try staffing your call centre properly then and perhaps even training the staff and paying them well enough to stay and get some experience!
One very frustrating end to a call was a machine voice saying "we have had a technical difficulty - ring back later".
Of course the calls were being charged for at 0870 rates.
The point about this story is that the company cannot provide excellent customer service for the prices it charges me - it feels like an unsustainable service.
There are many similar examples: credit provision in the UK is another. Just how long can the major banks go on generating the sort of returns they do when effective customer service has all but died? We have been trying to get one of our accounts hitched up to the bank's internet service for over three months. The only people we can get to speak (in a call centre) simply do not have the power or training to do anything significant to resolve this service problem.
Who knows what energy prices will do over the next few years but it is difficult to see them falling back, yet further raises risk kicking off an inflationary spiral, or at the very least a series of interest rate increases.
In a rather more odious problem look at the insatiable demands being placed on the health service and the management techniques (aka bullying, no breaks) that are being used on staff to squeeze more work out of them. In a commercial business the unions would be up in arms, tribunals would be very busy and lorry drivers caught working equivalent hours would be banned from driving.
How is this to be fixed? In a word the same way it has always been resolved - by improved productivity: getting more out of less.
Where is the best source of productivity?
Early stage businesses, entrepreneurs and others trying to bring in new ideas. No surprises there, new companies have always been the key source of innovation and radical productivity improvements. In some ways the UK is getting better at exploiting innovation but there are some roadblocks as well.
One of the most pernicious is the culture of spin and deception. A new idea will usually only be adopted if it can be shown to be better than an old idea. So measurement is fundamental to the process of innovation. One of the casualties of spin is impartial measurement.
We are suffering from this at the moment and it is very frustrating. More next week.