The pain of running a small business

Selina Rashid May 12, 2010

I usually work very long days — not that I mind the work. In fact, I really enjoy my profession but like many other people I do take umbrage at the many that make it rather unprofessional. From Wapda’s dependably consistent breakdowns to PTCL’s archaic phone lines, working within this erratic maze can sometimes really take a toll on ones quality of work, and mental health. Quite aside from the political and security turmoil we face as a nation, our professionals are fighting another war entirely — the lack of consistency and stability within the basic service economy. From the outset, I would like to state that despite impressions to the contrary, this is neither a rant nor a column propounding pessimism. I am writing to highlight some of the basics the service industry needs to provide, so that the rest of us can get on with our work and deliver a more efficient service in our respective businesses. Indeed, among many other upright denizens, Pakistan’s professionals, and I speak as one of them, are endeavouring to contribute as positively to the country as possible. In order to do so, there are some basic tools of business that one expects.

A steady and uninterrupted internet connection appears a tad much to ask for. The essential problem here is that unless you can pay ridiculously high fees for a custom internet connection from a boutique net service provider, too bad. As the nature of work has become increasingly digital, reliable and affordable internet services and solutions are key to company development.

Tele-marketers and, even worse, telebankers are also an obstruction to one’s work. My phone for instance is the victim of at least ten bogus calls on average in the very midst of my work day, feeding off time that could be given to clients. I give you my example of the RBS credit card team — despite being well away from the designated payment due date, new tele-bankers ring daily to harass me on my office, home and mobile phone.

Other than the fact that this type of behaviour is obstructive to developing secure relationships between businesses and consumers, the lack of trained and courteous staff in our service industry is actually turning people away from availing new services instead of encouraging a new generation to engage with their respective firms and banks. Furthermore, there is not much point in changing banks. As long as banking remains an officially sanctioned cartel, with a spread rate that would make others blush in any developed economy, they have no incentive to provide an efficient and caring service.

Basic consumer communication is generally considered an unnecessary luxury. The other day, I was visiting Karachi when all Blackberry services collapsed. After calling the telecom company’s helpline for two hours on a Sunday morning I was told there were unscheduled maintenance work underway. Is it too much to ask telecom companies to invest in their customer communication, perhaps an SMS before services are withheld or during the breakdown if unplanned, giving their users a basic heads up? So much money is spent turning ordinary phone users into smart phone addicts and not enough in maintaining loyalty and trust in their services.

Even if the internet boffins, the banking gnomes and the mobile linesmen all get their act together, all of it is brought to nought if there is no power. Young entrepreneurs and smaller businesses cannot afford to pay over Rs5,000 a day to keep generators running. With overheads so high and basic infrastructure so lacking, it’s no wonder that fewer young people in Pakistan seek to establish new professional outfits.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.

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