We all know about customer relationship management. 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?
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.
And then there's Parcelforce - or should I call it Parcelfarce?.
Somewhere between California and Mitcham there is a £1,000 package on its way to me. I know it's on its way, because the American supplier, Cutting Edge Technology, has told me, and this is the second attempt to send it to me.
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 postcode into Streetmap.co.uk, you can even see an aerial picture of my patio roof and whether my car is in its drive.
Parcelforce has an 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 find out where it is and even why they chose to turn it right around to California on the first attempt?
Isn't this what .net and the Internet revolution is all about? Are so many of our older and larger companies and institutions are 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?
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 likes of BT and Consignia.
It strikes me that companies of this size and reputation 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.
Is old-style bureaucracy clogging up new-business strategy? >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your response is not for publication.
Zentelligence: Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and ramblings of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.
This was first published in May 2002