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New Technology but Old Methods

eBusiness is THE game blares the latest IBM advertisement on the television in front of me. My wife wonders why I laugh.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM). We all know about it and many companies spend a fortune on the software that goes with it but why, I ask, do those who need it most, never seem to use it?

Let’s take Parcel Force or should I call it ‘Parcel Farce’. We all suspect, I’m sure, that a First Class letter is only marginally quicker than a message in a bottle and that second class mail is sorted in Kabul before being lost in Reading but you would at least expect the Post Office or Consignia, as it’s now called, to recognise a valid London postcode.

There must be a deep personal experience at the heart of this column you might be thinking and you’d be right.

Somewhere between California and Mitcham there is a £1000 package on its way to me. I know it’s on its way, because the American supplier “Cutting Edge Technology”, has told me, because it’s their second attempt to send it to me. First time around, two weeks ago, the package reached Mitcham and although it had my name, address, postcode and telephone number on the package in large letters, it was returned to California, much the worse for wear as an unknown London address.

Now my address is the only street of its name in London, which is quite remarkable. In fact, if you type in my full SW19 postcode into Streetmap.co.uk, you can even see an aerial picture of my patio roof and whether my car is in its drive.

Parcel Force has a 0800 service number with a recorded message that insists its agents are looking after other customers and that you should please use the Web site or call later. It then disconnects the call to reinforce the point.

The www.parcelforce.co.uk website offers a rudimentary tracking agent, which yes, tells you that the package - if you happen to have the consignment reference from the obligingly friendly American side of the exercise – is on the UK system and en route. But you knew that already and it’s hardly up to Fedex global positioning standards.

To be really awkward, what you might want to know as a customer is whether it’s en route to you or en route back to the States for a second time because our sad excuse for a postal system is unable to put in place anything that even remotely resembles an efficient business process or useful CRM system.

I did manage to find out a week ago, that the package was on a guaranteed four day delivery, so my best guess for its whereabouts remains the black hole of Mitcham but how, I wonder, do I actually find out where it is and even why they chose to turn it right around to California on the first attempt?

Oh, and by the way, when I do receive a letter telling me that they have the package, it's cash only for the duty, so I have to drive across Mitcham to London to retrieve it, during working hours of course.

Isn’t this what .Net and the Internet revolution is all about? Are so many of our older and larger companies and institutions, like the Post Office, the railways and the Inland Revenue so bogged down by bureaucracy and mediocrity that they are unable to build useful customer interfaces and services from the vast sums they spend on new technology?

We have this collective vision of a ‘Wired Society’. Joined-up government, UK-Online, e-this and e-that. The problem is that the bad old ways of doing business are still alive and well and all the money in the world spent on customer relationship training and software makes very little difference to our lives when we have to deal with the everyday companies like BT and Consignia. it strikes me, that companies of this size and reputations are likely to take Microsoft’s ‘One Degree of Separation’ slogan literally where their customers are concerned. Perhaps it should be “One More Excuse for Separation” instead.

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