In a mad world dominated by giant corporate organisations and cartels that have evolved to become brand names so powerful they are immediately recognised in every corner of the globe with a single fleeting glance, one would be forgiven for asking the question, what chance can a small emerging new business have?

Small new businesses may have more chance than one would first think. Have these corporate monsters not lost the plot years ago, and become so huge and arrogant they fail to even care any more about their very source of life blood, the actual customer? Is there not opportunity there for small business to step in and fill this vast vacuum? Is the time not ripe for some of these huge uncaring organisations to become extinct? Is it not time to replace all their exaggerated claims made in advertisements to be replaced by honesty integrity and truth?

Take a modern day irritation in all our lives, the customer call centre. As I understand it the customer call centre was originally designed to help customers with queries and complaints in a more efficient manner. In reality they have become a brilliantly disguised way that effectively ensures the exact opposite happens. While promising you how important your call is to them, most times you can never actually get to speak to anything other than a machine while running up your telephone account while waiting. If your call really was so important to them, surely they would pick it up an answer you. The truth is they have become so big, so powerful and so rich they think they have the right to call the shots and the customer must now lump it, or like it and dance to their tune. “Your call is important to us; however, all our consultants are currently busy. Please hold for the first available consultant”, which could be next week if you are lucky. Or another favourite, “we are experiencing a larger than normal call volume”. Give me a break, when this message is there month in and month out, trust me, it is their standard brush off. What they should say is, “we are not interested in your call and do not wish to be bothered with you as it will interrupt our work. We are too busy working in our ivory tower to have time to take to you”.

Clearly the companies that employ the use of complicated telephone
technology with, with irritating voice recordings with long menu options to supposedly navigate you to a required destination and an eventual “warm body”, are in effect really trying to cut down on staff and save money. Let us be honest which one of us finds this system more efficient than the good old days when a receptionist picked up the phone asked if she could help you before putting you through to the person you wanted to speak to? This was so simple. It took seconds to do and seldom ended in any frustration and it worked. So why fix something that was not broken in the first place? Well the answer is to save them money on employing enough people as clearly one receptionist is no longer enough in a very large company. Now the frustration has reached epidemic proportions and it is a well know and documented fact that working in a call centre can be one of the most stressful jobs on earth. The reason for this is that by the time you do eventually get to speak to human being, (if you are so lucky), you are at boiling point and take out your anger on the poor person at the other end who is after all just doing what they have been told to do by management. The other reason for popularity of call centres is obvious; it protects management and prevents you from ever being able to reach them while making it sound like they are really sincere and care. Management can now sit safely in their ivory towers protected from the customer, do little work and play Golf three times a week while you sit on the phone like an idiot waiting for their pleasure. And you are the customer.

We all go shopping at a shopping mall from time to time. Generally speaking the more up market the shopping mall, the higher are their parking charges. Surely as we are actually customers already going to the mall to spend our hard earned money, this should be enough, but no, greed has to rear its ugly head again. Not even satisfied with this the customer is further inconvenienced now with automatic pay stations as they have discovered it costs money to pay people to take the money off you. So what happens now is their problem once again becomes your problem as you not only have to make sure you have the correct change but also wait in a queue while other people fumble to find the right change when all you want to do is pay and get out.
Many times the machine will not even accept your money, for whatever reason, just adding to the frustration of the whole experience.

The examples I have listed above are just two classic cases where big business has become so big that they actually make the rules and get you to jump through their hoops when in fact it should be the other way around. What ever happened to the saying, “the customer is always right or the customer is King”? Not anymore it seems, “the customer is the scum bag”, would be far more appropriate.

What is so impossible?

I can already here the large corporate businesses jumping to defend their pathetic actions. They will tell you they are trying to make life easier for you, the customer by having a structured call centre designed to assist you with your every need. They will tell you how they have invested millions in technology in setting up the call centre, which they have and how well trained their consultants are. They will explain to you how there is a front office and a back office, and, and. However, the technology is to keep their customers from pestering them while making it sound like they want your call. The actual concept of the call centre would be fine if the company then invested in the necessary human resources needed to back it up and man the call centre properly, which very few of them if any, ever seem to do.

My question is simple. What is so impossible about employing enough people to pick up your phones when they ring especially if you are a large multinational company and clearly have the budget to be able to employ enough people to do this? We all hear the huge declared profits of some of them on television and in the papers.

If customers want and expect someone to answer the phone when it rings, then answer it, not with a machine but a person. When I first started my small business I was amazed at how many customers I enticed away from the very large and well established companies but I made sure I was available 90% of the time to speak to them. Even if I was out my landline gave a cell phone number where I could be contacted. Customers could call at my offices, which was then also my home, without paying for parking. Can you imagine a customer coming to me to do business and being told they had to pay R7 to park in my driveway? The funny thing is some of my customers were the very people charging for parking at their shopping centres. Imagine if I had used the same logic on them that they use on us, I would have got my marching orders. Their favourite excuse is of course related to security. Most will tell you they have to charge for parking as they provide security but we all know this to be untrue as you still get pestered by car guards who incidentally never seem to have any single item in their possession that could assist them in protecting your car. They have no radio, no hand cuffs, no baton, certainly no firearm and what clearly appears to be no training.

To get back to call centres for a moment let us just look at how bad it really has become. I cannot phone my bank, my insurance company, the telephone company, my internet service provider, my car HP company, the manufacturers of the two vehicles I drive, the tax department, the City Council, my local hospital, my investment broker, my lawyer, my holiday club or even the service centre for my printer, without going through a totally inefficient call centre system. Sometimes I can be waiting on the phone 20 minutes before getting to speak to a “warm body”. Many times this warm body quickly advises you that you are through to the wrong department and before giving you a chance to speak puts you back into the automated queue again to start all over from scratch. You have all been there and know what I am talking about.

It goes something like this. “Good morning, you are through to XYZ Corporation. Your call is important to us. In order to help you to reach the extension you need as quickly as possible please listen to the menu carefully and select an option. For quality purposes this call may be recorded. Please have your account number ready to assist out consultant. You now spend five minutes listening to the eight or nine options and not one of them quite fits what you require so you take a chance anyway and press a number. You are now through to the accounts department, please listen carefully to the options available and select one. Press 1 for accounts payable, press 2 for accounts receivable, press 3 for debtors, press 4 for creditors, press 5 for new accounts, press 6 for existing accounts. Again you make a selection. All our operators are currently busy please stay on the line”. Now they play their latest advert just too really get you steamed up and in case you are one of those patient people who do not lose your cool too easily. You see they actually want you to lose your cool and slam the phone down, that way they do not have to answer it at all and do any work.

So what am I saying here? If you are starting a small business and you can offer your customers a warm body on the other end of a telephone line, you could have a major advantage already over big corporate. I try to stay on my cell phone at least for 90% of normal working hours. There will of course be times where in a meeting it is rude to take calls but then a simple message, “ leave your contact details I will phone you back”, will do the trick as long as you do just that when you finish your meeting.

The other thing that never ceases to amaze me is how some of these large cartels can be expert in so many things. You find there will be a company that does clothing, travel, banking, building, shipping, fast food and car dealerships. Now the result of all this is to hike up prices to the consumer as these giants is all into price fixing and price manipulation. When I first started my business I called on a car dealer to sell an accessory. They told my product was not only superior to theirs but half the price. However, they were not permitted to buy my product as the cartel that controlled them had a supplier already and they were forced to use them. Now this is not some isolated incident, this is the norm out there. Hence not only do cartels add to inflation they also destroy small enterprise while limiting job creation.

So at the end of the day I honestly believe the small man has an ideal opportunity. All he really needs to do is offer his clients something good and reliable in terms of a service or product and then back it up with good customer support. Answer the phone and actually speaking to the customer will already come as a huge surprise. It is this type of action that leads to customer retention and call centres and the like that destroy customer retention.

3 thoughts on “TAKING ON THE BIG GUYS

  1. Gregory

    It’s a goddamned rat race out there. I feel so sorry for small businesses, but what does it take to become a massive Multinational Corporation?? Exploiting the poor I would say!

  2. collette

    Excellent Dad! Agree with all you said and the logic behind it all! So true! Very interesting what you wrote!

  3. Melanie van den Berg

    A good read too and enjoy the humour. I also prefer talking to a person rather than listening and responding to recorded voicemail instructions.

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