Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Mittelstand

749 words

Medium sized companies are going by the name of mittelständische Unternehmen in Germany. And they seem to be very important economically. At least politicians scramble over themselves to make sure that the Mittelstand gets a good deal and not left behind. I suppose the idea behind this is that they are supposedly small and helpless companies without the lobbying powers of big industries.

While that may be true, I still have an overwhelmingly negative impression of the mittelständische Unternehmen I dealt with. They seem to make profits that are healthy enough for them not needing to provide good service to people. The first sign that you enter such a company is usually that their interiors look ever-so-slightly last-decade and that they’ll have staff/secretaries to welcome people. These are conservatively dressed middle aged women who will happily go on sorting a stack of papers and chatting when a customer enters and needs their help. When they then ‘discover’ that someone is waiting at the counter a metre away from them they may try to do as they are told. But it’s best if you spell out every single step you need them to do because there’ll likely be no initiative of their own.

Once that hurdle is passed you may get to speak to the Sachbearbeiter who may be able to help you. Those again don’t suffer from caring too much or being willing to move without being pushed. The only way to make things worse is when the IT infrastructure is involved. Quite possibly these companies have specialised software for just their line of business. As business software goes it’s ugly, inefficient and quite possibly horridly expensive.

An nice example for all these points was the Autohaus where I got the new battery for the car. After letting me wait for a few minutes at the reception for nothing I quickly told them I wanted to return the old one and I wanted my radio unlocked again. They then let me carry in the battery and finally decided they couldn’t give me the deposit back because I didn’t bring the receipt for the new battery. It turns out that this deposit isn’t like the one of bottles but it’s just an arbitrary amount they charge you when selling a battery. And apparently – even within the same shop – they don’t know how much they charged me the day before.

I then – foolishly – suggested that they could just look it up in their computer. Which one of the guys refused outright but his colleague then tried. Apparently the only way to search for my receipt was to do a search query for the part number of the battery. There seem to be several batteries of the same type, which mean they had to do a number of search queries. As such ‘business’ systems go, each of these queries takes ages to return any results. And after a handful of them, they managed to display a list of all batteries they sold since 2002 but mine wasn’t in there. Then one of them remembered that possibly the last day’s bills ‘weren’t in the system yet’. Um, yeah, whatever. I’ll now have to go there again with my printed receipt to get my money back. Let’s hope that works because I left the battery with them.

That took the better part of ten minutes. And by then I had to wait yet more for the other guy who could do the radio trick to turn up. When he eventually did turn up, he told me that, sorry, he needs to enter some serial number into a Volkswagen computer system to get the unlock code for the radio. But that system only works on weekdays and he can’t do anything for me on a Saturday. I was left baffled and wondering whether I really needed to wait that long just to get this bit of information which the receptionists should just know. (Just as with the bank computers that only work during daytime hours I probably don’t even want to know why you can’t do the unlocking at any time.)

On the up-side this means that I don’t have to go there for one thing only next week.

But dealing with this whole bit of service attitude really makes me appreciate greedy bastard multinational companies. At least their witless management consultants will make sure that the staff dealing with customers and threatened and underpaid enough to make an effort.

April 13, 2008, 17:40

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