Friday, July 30, 2010

What we stand to lose

In the interest of providing more efficient service, large corporations are making more use of online services and phasing out having actual representatives that you can contact by phone. The new form of online commerce is the B-to-B need for a phone at all-it's all done on the computer: Ordering, inventory check, shipping name it ,you'll be able to access it right from your laptop, I-phone or whatever. I have recently been using these systems and when they work, it's pretty easy and quick.
Here's the problem for me : While the online system is really easy and nobody has to be there to answer your call ( Handy for orders that happen after work hours, particularly from companies hours ahead in time zones ) I have spent much of my work life building up relationships with the folks on the other end of the phone that B-to-B systems are replacing. I consider many of these people to be my friends-they let me know what is going on in their world.....this is what I consider the real thing that makes a life-long job more than a job -the community in the field we call home most of our waking lives.
The computer, while being a great tool could effectively take away our ability to talk to people at a great many companies-not because they don't have good's because their good people are being spread too thin. The corporate board of directors mentality only sees profit numbers and efficiency ratios......there's no way they can quantify customer loyalty-nor do they seem to want to take the time. I'm profoundly worried about this trend as it means that the folks that run these companies are truly out of touch with the other 98 % of the human race that surrounds them. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I really appreciate people who answer the phone, call back and take their clients and their jobs seriously. I also appreciate companies who value good employees and find ways to utilize and reward their best skills.
As a person in the bike business, I feel that as builders, suppliers , manufacturers , sales reps , warehouse workers , we are all in this thing together and we are the ones that give it life.....we and the customers . After many of these large corporations have gone through buyouts and re-organizations , the folks at the top might not have any idea how their company came to be and what personal relationships made that possible. This is the big dis-connect ( to use an all-too-popular catchword) between the top and everyone below.
In the food supply and restaurant world there's a movement to make everything 'sustainable and local' from farming to running an eating establishment. I feel there is something to learn here for every line of work, in particular the bicycle business. Are we 'sustainable and local' going the direction we are- at least according to the corporate model-where person-to-person sales and domestic manufacturing is being phased out ? Will our business and craft improve with the trends that are set by the people at the top of these leading companies ? Are we really on the brink of losing what holds us together just so that a few folks can be proud of the profits they have secured and the jobs they have eliminated ?
Maybe I'm not the one to speak here.....I'm so primitive that i don't even take credit cards at my shop. I don't have or want paypal.....the way I see it, there's no life-or-death need for a custom bike-you either plan for it and save up the cash or you just live without it. I'm not saying that if you don't have the money, you don't deserve a custom bike..............just be thoughtful about it and realize that good things take time-time that corporate America doesn't seem to have for working folks right now.


  1. Hey Paul,
    There is a model for these new-fangled, B-to-B companies, that still allows for the human connection. For example: Zappos (online shoestore), has made it a huge part of their business model that there be personable, helpful people answering phones. Supposedly it's been a big part of their success. Fingers crossed it'll start catching on?

  2. The cycle in the picture is very nice. As a person I am also from cycle business. And my company is going well.

  3. Staying away from PayPal is a good plan. A arbitrarily frozen account (e.g. moving too much money through the balance on a custom "suspicious activity") can ruin your day and dealing with such an automated company can ruin your soul. Ask me how I know.

  4. I'll second the Pay Pal comment!

  5. That's why I like dealing with Henry James and Bringheli. Joe isn't too talkative (at least not to me) but if you call HJ, you'd better be ready to tell Monika how the weather is and what's going on where you live:)