THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Bureaucracy rules OK?

I’m beginning to understand that one of the many uses of a blog, whether business or personal, is a brain dump – not only for good ideas and interesting experiences – but also for events that drive you absolutely crazy. Let me share with you some highlights of my day so far (it’s now just before 4.00pm UK). After writing about my potential speeding workshop this morning, I left Cornwall at about 10.00am this morning. The drive to Bristol is normally less than 3 hours, so that gets me to Bristol at 1.00pm, an hour before my workshop is due to start. Punctuality is one of my core values and I have a reputation for excellent preparation. Bearing in mind I’m heading for a speeding workshop, it wouldn’t do to be late would it? As always, I enjoy catching up with folk on my hands-free mobile phone as the journey progresses, but things start to go wrong on the A30 – the only major road out of Cornwall. I’m stuck in roadworks by Newquay (it’s a well known trouble spot but my 3-hour drive time accomodates that – roll on summer 2007 when the new road will open). The traffic is much heavier then normal – quite a surprise for a Thursday – but I make steady progress and do press the pedal just a little when I emerge the other side. However, there is an unusual and unexpected road problem another 30 miles on – some sort of accident ahead- which slows me down yet again and I can sense that the “buffer” of time is beginning to slip away. After skipping lunch I find myself rushing down the M5, trying to complete the last 70 miles from Exeter. I have power – but it’s a speeding workshop and it would be the ultimate irony to get another ticket on the way there. Around 1.00pm I try to call my office and discover that my mobile phone isn’t working properly. I intuitively know what’s happened. I’ve told you that cash flow is tight and we have been shifting money around in bank accounts to make sure all the bills get paid this month. I just “know” that the bank (remember my friends at HSBC?) will have bounced the payment to the phone company. It has happened once or twice in 10 years and the usual procedure is to speak to the phone company, reassure them and get the service back on. My call is patched through to yet another call-centre – the young lady who answers the phone has an English accent so there is some hope. She begins: “before I can discuss your account I will need your name” “My name is Chris Barrow.” So far so good. “and the billling address” I reply “well I’m not sure what the billing address is – I travel extensively on business and have all my paperwork done for me.” “well unless you give me the billing address I cannot discuss the account with you.” “But I’m calling you from my mobile phone – if I were a criminal who had stolen the phone I don’t think I would have called to pay the bill?” “I’m sorry sir, I cannot discuss the account unless I have the billing address.” “OK” (stay calm) “it could be either in Trenwheal in Cornwall, Mabe in Cornwall, Rockbeare in Devon or Altrincham in Cheshire, I have bills sent to all of those addresses.” “Yes sir – it is one of those.” “OK – so which one?” “I’m not authorised to tell you that.” “OK – I’m guessing it’s Mabe in Cornwall because that’s my business manager’s address.” “Yes – that’s right sir – it is Mabe.” “Good – so can we discuss the account?” “No sir – I can’t discuss the account with you unless you give me the post code of the billing address.” “Well I don’t know the post code because I don’t live there and I visit maybe once a month.” “I’m sorry sir – without the post code I cannot discuss the account with you.” “But I know my name and I know the address for billing – I just cannot remember the post code.” “Sorry sir, I cannot discuss the account.” I try one last desperate ploy… “Well perhaps you could advise me here – I’m driving along the M5, on my own mobile phone, talking to you – I have no idea what my business manager’s post code is and I cannot power up my laptop to find out because I’m driving. I can’t call her to ask because you have discontinued my service. In my situation, what would you do?” “I’m sorry sir – I’m not authorised to answer that question.” At which point I surrender to her rule book – there’s no point in using logic or common sense – she is in a call-centre and leaves her brain in a locker on the way in. Thank you O2 for a superb customer service experience from a £3-6,000 a year customer. I take back my comments about overseas call centres – they are all the same. But stick around dear reader – because the story gets even better. My speeding workshop (remember that?). As a result of the delays I arrive at The Bristol Conference Centre and walk through the door at 12 minutes past 2.00pm – that’s for a workshop that is due to start at 2.00pm. I’m 12 minutes late. Can you guess? I walk into a classroom where about a dozen people are sat watching a lady in a funky bottle-green sweatshirt with “Speed Choice” embroidered on the breast. She is talking through a slide show which features a photograph of a police car – clearly this is the early part of the workshop. I didn’t pick up what she was saying as I entered – maybe “this is a police car – slow down when you see one.” As I enter she pauses and, in the gap, I say “Hello, sorry I’m a few minutes late.” She looks to the back of the room where “Chris” – a middle aged chap in a funky bottle-green sweatshirt with “Speed Choice” embroidered on the breast, jumps to his feet and ushers me back outside. I begin, “I’m so sorry I’m late but I’ve just driven 200 miles to get there and the roadworks on the A30 made me late.” “I’m sorry sir – in view of the fact that the workshop has already started I cannot let you enter.” Looking around for the candid camera, I reply. “Yes, I understand I’m a little late – but I’ve driven 200 miles to get here, it has taken me 4 hours and 15 minutes to complete a 3-hour journey – and I’m 12 minutes late – I think maybe common sense would indicate that your system would be a little harsh to penalise me.” Why do I have any faith in common sense any more? “I can understand how frustrating it must be for you sir,” says Chris, “but unfortunately the rules are that if you do not arrive in time we are not allowed to let you in to the workshop because of the Health and Safety regulations.” “It’s 12 minutes.” I plead – but Chris has that look of a £20,000 a year guy who watches reality-TV when he gets home every night, takes 2 weeks holiday every year, puts ships in bottles for a hobby and will expire shortly after his retirement. One last try. “Chris,” I say (try and stay calm and friendly) “Let me explain one more time. I left 4 hours ago and I’ve driven 200 miles. I have a 200 mile drive back. I am 12 minutes late. There were unforseen roadworks. I need you to help.” “I’m sorry sir – I’ll give you a “late form”, he says, handing me a sheet of A4 with some word-processing on it, “if you will fill the form in and post it to Head Office, mention the time and date of the roadworks and we will check with the police to see if there were any delays today and then decide what to do next.” So now he is calling me a liar. I take out my handgun and place one bullet right into the centre of his forehead. There is no blood, the bullet has passed through and is embedded in the wall behind him. There was a silencer fitted just for this type of situation so I have caused minimum disruption. Chris looks momentarily surprised and hands me a “murdered the organiser” form to complete before he collapses. Placing the form in my Boss jacket pocket for completion over the weekend, I step over his body and, smiling, calmly take my seat with the rest of the delegates and ask his colleague to move on to the next slide. Ok – joking. What actually happened.. My blood is boiling on the inside but I can see the lack of light in his eyes. He has a dead-end job, a low salary and no prospects. He has a rule book. If he keeps his card clean he may be advanced a grade in 15 years from now. He isn’t focusing when he looks at me. I don’t exist. He is The Borg. I take my “late form” and walk slowly back to the car park. I can’t wait to call somebody and tell them about this. Oh – but my phone service is off. Nobody loves me. I think I’ll go and eat worms. I wish I could tell you that I pulled back on to the M5 and, just for the hell of it, gunned the GTO to 100 miles an hour and raced North to my hotel. But that would have been speeding wouldn’t it? Yesterday it was HSBC. Today it’s O2 mobile phones and my new friends at Somerset County Council. Chris, of course, was only doing his job. As was the lady at O2. It reminds me of why I am self-employed and why I hang out with small business owners and their teams. Real people who can apply common sense. I’m now at my hotel rather earlier than expected – and I’ve decided that, after writing this post, I feel a lot better and I’m going for a swim and a sauna before dinner with John tonight. I especially enjoyed shooting Chris. Bless him – I bet he’s a really nice guy with a wife and kids who would be horrified to read this. Sorry Mrs. Chris and the little Chrises. I didn’t mean it – it was 200 miles you know. I was a little stressed. Big businesses and Governments just don’t get it.

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