The Bigger They Are The Worse It Gets

Twice in the last few days, at informal networking events, the customer service from large businesses compared to SMEs has been discussed and this then moved onto the attitude and perception of the large businesses compared to that of the small business …

when SMEs make up such a large part of the economy why do corporates wield so much power?

when SMEs make up such a large part of the economy why do corporates wield so much power?

I have two historical clients who I support for their payroll compliance as strategic payroll, employment taxes, expenses and benefits consultancy was my first business. My corporate background being Group Compensation Manager at WHS nearly 10 years ago and a non-executive Director and past Chair of the CIPP. And as both clients are close friends I’ve retained that small piece of work knowing that the implementation of RTI (Real Time Information) will be a natural conclusion to that process.

The treatment from the providers that each of these clients use being a great demonstration of large business v the SME. An indicator within the system for client A was incorrectly set and as a consequence filing their returns as been tortuous to say the least, compounded by incorrect and incomplete information being given by the provider (what’s normally a few hours work will have been more than 2 days when finally completed).

And what has made the whole situation harder is that the provider has effectively called the client a liar on two occasions and won’t entertain there’s a problem that‘s not of their own making. Even though I’ve discussed at length the supplier’s logic with the client, have worked with them for more than 20 years and, since she is my sister, I know her very well. To compound this, the provider’s systems for RTI is not overly user friendly for a small business and I can foresee future problems because steps are forgotten.

The system used by client B is a different experience. The problem with the totals on a report was a known issue so they guided me through downloading the next version, apologised, assured the client that HMRC had the correct information and demonstrate they want to do everything they can to ensure the client has a good customer experience. Their product has been built in a way that takes away as much of the risk as possible, to ensure that users file the correct reports, at the correct point in the payroll cycle and so are compliant.

And this experience is very much reflected in the conversations that I’ve had over the last few days. The customer service and attitude towards customers from the large businesses is very different from the experiences from those who deal with SMEs including the east of being passed to a second tier person who can go off script (because most of them work with scripts and can’t/won’t deviate).

We all understand that processes make businesses more efficient and also ensure that things aren’t missed – which is also important to the customer on the receiving end – however the phrase from The Prisoner (an old 60s TV series) does come to mind:

“I am not a number”

Yes, I’m a real person who has an issue and who needs support; depending on the issues and the pain its caused me. I may not be as cool, calm and collected as you’d like me to be and I may not hear what you are telling me in full the fist time around because I’m so intent on you hearing what I have to say and understanding my issue: its entirely possible that I’ve already had this conversation with you in my head several times and the script proves that you don’t listen and aren’t being helpful!

There’s a great scene in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where Judy Dench’s character is training the Indian based telephone support team for an internet provider and she reminds them that they are dealing with a real person and to have a conversation with caller as a real person. To really understand that people are calling because they don’t understand, don’t like calling people they don’t know and would benefit from a few pleasantries before the real business of the call is discussed.

And that service is the same for business to business as well as business to consumer. Am I likely to recommend the package that client A is using to other SME clients? Not in the slightest and I’m talking to SMEs on a regular basis about their business as a whole.

One of my other conversations was how about large corporates change terms with SMEs on an almost “take it or leave it” basis, insisting on reductions in price, or changing payment terms that puts the SMEs under severe pressure.

All of which goes against being authentic in business and values in the businesses. But unless the SME is in the position of being the only supplier they will usually comply and that’s often because they can’t see a way of walking away from that business and finding other customers elsewhere to make up the shortfall. The reality of that situation is a discussion for another time.

What’s perhaps even more interesting is the impact on the economy of SMEs compared to corporates. The European Commission website has some interesting statistics.

To summarise: “More than 99% of all European businesses are in fact SMEs with less than 250 employees and a turnover of less than £45m. They provide two out of three of the private sector jobs and contribute to more than half of the total value-add created by businesses in the EU. Moreover, SMEs are the true back-bone of the European economy, being primarily responsible for wealth and economic growth, next to their key role in innovation and R&D.

What is even more intriguing is that nine out of ten SMEs are actually micro enterprises with less than 10 employees. Hence, the mainstays of Europe’s economy are micro firms, each providing work for two persons, on average.”

So why is it that the large corporates can wield the weight that they do?

Given these facts, it truly makes no sense at all. Perhaps now is the time for the SMEs to take more of a stand and truly own the space they have and the impact they make on the economy. What we do know is that B2B and B2C needs to change and people are now seeking that change.

If you would like to discuss anything I’ve mentioned here, please call me on +44 (0) 1296 681 094 or click here to ping over an email and I’ll get straight back to you. 

Until next time …

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