I booked an appointment to have my boiler fixed by my gas supplier, then needed to reschedule because I decided to go away that weekend. When I called they said I couldn't have a weekend appointment as there were none available for two months. Okay fine.
"Well, if you're going to come in the week can I get the first appointment on any morning? That way I can just tell work I'll be in late."
"I'm afraid we can't guarantee that also, we don't have morning appointments for a few weeks, it will have to be an afternoon appointment."
I decided to risk it and book an appointment anyway with a request that the engineer call me an hour in advance of his arrival so that I could dash home from work. The date of the appointment came and did I get a call? Yes, but only when the engineer was knocking at my door. Sigh. I should just be eternally grateful that I wasn't charged for missing the appointment.
This situation is not unique. A colleague recently failed his driving test and there wasn't a slot available to retake the test for another two months. Time and time again big companies disappointment with their lack of flexibility. An inability to deliver goods on weekends and to customize services to the customers' needs is a pervasive problem in Britain. In some industries bureaucracy and high sunk costs ensure that companies can continue to be complacent in this way and that is a problem.
It's at times like this that I miss Malawi. If you need any sort of basic service like an electrician, a plumber, a painter or whomever, you can get it within a couple of hours provided the funds are available. There are many independent traders whose ability to feed their families is contingent on their volume of work and so they will happily make themselves available as and when their services are needed. The separation of ownership and management in publicly listed corporations has some unsavoury consequences and a reduction in corporate limberness is just one of them.
I was very amused by a recent story. Another colleague's father went to the US and needed to pass the American driving test. He failed the first time and asked the instructor when it would be possible to take the test again. The instructor said swipe your bank card and you can retake the test. This process was repeated four times before the man actually passed. That's what I called commercial agility and this sort of adaptability may indeed be an example of how the US keeps ahead of other developed economies.
This got me thinking about some of the factors that limit economic growth and I thought that in the absence of flexibility, productivity and revenue potential will be limited. If you cannot work around your customers you will definitely lose some customers along with the income that they would have contributed. Some companies need to wake up to this fact or face being stuck in the doldrums or worse being booted out by a new outfit that can cater better to the needs of the modern consumer.
By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I'm always thinking, debating, considering and revising my views - some of those deliberations will be shared right here.