The Other Man Who Fell to Earth

Street of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Street of Buenos Aires, Argentina by Martin St-Amant. My home in a parallel universe?

I have been in a contemplative mood recently. I am another year older, and it might be tempting to wonder whether I could have made different choices in my working life which would have resulted in my being in a different place both literally and figuratively.

I am not tempted, though. I wouldn’t be anywhere but where I am now.

It would be so easy to dwell on past mistakes. Easy to wonder whether I had chosen the right career. Should I have started work with an insurance broker or a merchant bank? I wouldn’t have worked in tax then, and I could have made loads of money. On the other hand I might not have done. Actually I didn’t have the right and posh enough background to get a nice job like that in the first place coming from a family of bank clerks. Education was less important than ancestry. It’s no use worrying about that.

Should I have taken a junior role with an institution that might have sent me to Hong Kong or Buenos Aires?

Should I not have taken the job which led to my final exit from employment when they got rid of me after thirteen months? Last in, first out, an expression which used to matter in tax as well as employment, or rather in unemployment. That was a very hard fall to Earth.

Well, in some terms the financial losses as a result of certain decisions, or not being aware of what were the right decisions, have been costly. I am not sorry I have my business independence and of owning three businesses and helping in another.

I might as well say that maybe I should have married that girl I was in love with when I was twenty-one. I think she would have married me. Perhaps I let her down. Well, maybe I should have married her, but that would have meant I wouldn’t have been married to the lovely woman who is my wife now. I like what I have. In fact that’s rather understating it.

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!”

I think that is a good philosophy for having no regrets. That doesn’t mean any of us should be without ambition in our business lives . Of course we should want more in terms of business and to be more successful. We should plan to the best of our ability what we believe can control.

We should always think of the future. Accidents will happen but the more our destiny is in our own hand the safer we are, because employment makes so many hostages to fortune.

Do you have regrets? Is there any point?

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The tools of our business – choice, discretion and honour

Back in January when visiting the local branch of my bank, I was whisked in by the customer relations manager and offered their premium service at a discounted rate. I weighed up the benefits and agreed to sign up. It looked like a good deal.

A couple of weeks ago I had a standard impersonal printed letter from the bank’s mass mail saying that the bank had looked at my banking practices and decided that I no longer qualify for their discounted rate because I do not satisfy the conditions, which they listed. Guess what? My account charges would be going up 43%.

Now, it is important to note that the bank’s customer manager told me that I qualified for the special rate. I examined the criteria set out in the impersonal letter I had received. I have to say that I never qualified for the discounted rate in their terms because the accounts I run for three different business entities and several income streams are not managed in a way that could satisfy the requirements.

I am not pleased. Because of the benefits I thought I was getting I cancelled some insurance I had elsewhere and my existing car breakdown cover amongst other things.

I called the bank and was told there was “nothing they could do” other than apologise and register my complaint. They cannot offer the service at a discounted rate.

Now, this is not supposed to be a whinge about large organisations in general. Of course, once upon a time, bank managers had discretion to change things and fit services and charges to individual customers.

It so happens that my first job was with a bank. I accepted a job offer at a salary which turned out to be higher than the amount normally offered to someone of my then age. My new employer, or at least the personnel manager, realised the mistake but told me the bank would honour their offer, and this was all before I started the job.

As small business owners we are in a different position. We have a choice as to what services to offer at what price, and to cement our relationship with our customer thereby. Our customers still have a choice to use us or not, but as long as we can offer a valued service at a valued price we should be able to keep them.

Should something go wrong we can use our discretion to put it right. We should keep our word, our self respect and our honour by honouring our commitments. We can even get a nice warm feeling in doing so. If we stick to our ethics we can grow our small business into a big one and instill our honourable approach into our staff by allowing them discretion.

Large organisations such as banks have lost all connection with customer service through becoming remote from us in ivory towers known as call centres. They may say they need to be competitive in terms of cost, but I would not mind paying for a proper service from a bank which honoured its commitments. They should note that supermarket chains generally take customer complaints seriously and try to put things right. It is not about being too big: it is about having real customer-facing staff with discretion to act on their own initiative. Banks and mobile phone companies haven’t a clue about this.

As a small business owner I am happy that choice, discretion and honour liberate me from becoming like the banks, including mine which has just been voted the worst in the UK for customer service. Are you not pleased, but not complacent, that you are not as they are?

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