Recently that motley crew of the world’s most powerful people all met up at Davos in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. Despite its name, this Forum doesn’t confine itself to economic matters but tries to hold discussions on a wide-ranging set of issues. Of course, Uncle Tony, Prudence Brown and the boy Dave were all in attendance, strutting their stuff and hoping to further their own ambitions.
The World Economic Forum is not Davos’ only claim to fame. You see, more than 125 years ago it was in Davos that Robert Louis Stevenson completed writing Treasure Island. As a kid, Treasure Island was one of my favourite books. One of the highlights of the book for me is the delivery of The Black Spot by Blind Pew - an event that caused such terrible fear and trepidation to its recipient.
Of course, we live in a different world now. Sailing ships and one-legged pirates belong to an era as far removed from iPods as you could imagine. And even allowing for the deterioration of the Royal Mail, modern communications would render Blind Pew’s walk through the streets of Bristol redundant.
Having said that, as far as I am concerned there is still a modern-day equivalent to The Black Spot. It’s a letter that always starts off "In our continual drive to improve our performance, we are pleased to announce....". Now, receiving this communication really is bad news! What it means is that you have been dealing with a company quite happily for a while. You’ve got to know how its system works and, by and large, you’re happy with it. However, some highly paid bright spark on the other side has decided they either need to cut costs or gather more information. For whatever the original reason, you just know that the actual outcome of the ’improvements’ will be total and utter chaos!!
Let me give you an example. Once upon a day we dealt with a company which provided us with a payment terminal through which we provided electric top-ups. Nothing remarkable, but it worked. The business was then passed onto another company.
After the initial cock-up, where we couldn’t use the machines because no one had ordered the manufacture of any paper till rolls, things have worked fairly routinely. Being a top-up service we were never entirely happy as the commission was miserly but the system worked without much hassle.
then Along came a ’Blind Pew’ announcement. The terminals were to be upgraded with better, improved software. The result? It is now impossible to reconcile the weekly statement of sales and commissions with your daily takings from the till. When you spend hours trying to make sense of the figures, the commission starts to look like an insult.
Then there was another company. Its paperwork was an absolute doddle until the dreaded letter came. This time it was due to that wonderful SAP system.
Apart from extending fuel prices to three decimal places from two and reducing the print size of every document to the size of the bottom level on the optician’s chart, I could probably live with it. Except for the paperwork that reconciles your fuel card re-imbursement. Before it was easy. Now...you’ve got it - bloody hopeless!
Let’s not forget yet another company. If I wanted to speak to someone before, I simply dialled their number and spoke. Now it’s an 0870 number (which is a bloody cheek for a start) and then it’s the old press 8 different permutations before you finally end up with a voicemail!
So the Competition Commission’s ’emerging thinking’ seems to reckon that there’s not much wrong with the state of the grocery market. Unfortunately, this is no great shock. Basically, if you’re a small fish don’t complain about the sharks - they’re doing a good job and we like them!!