I was on my way home a few days ago and while surfing radio stations for something that would prevent me from feeling sleepy, I happened upon an episode of The Archers.
Now, I'm not really a fan, but if you are in the car as much as I am and if Radio 4 is one of your pre-set stations, you're bound to hear it now and again.
On this occasion the subject was - remarkably - computers. Julia, who is a rather impressionable retired lady, was trying to get to grips with a voice recognition package on a PC. The long-suffering local computer dealer was sat by her side, trying, with the patience of a saint, to get her to understand that she had to speak to it and teach the machine to understand her voice. She didn't get it.
Enter Nigel, Julia's long-suffering and despairing-sounding son, with lines like: 'What on earth are you playing at, Mummy? You know we need to save every penny we've got to pay for the repairs on Green Gables.' And so on and so on.
But Julia is insistent - she wants to write her novel or, rather, she wants the computer to do it for her.
It was only #150 for the voice recognition package and she won't have to type a word. It was a bargain, according to Julia, a waste of money as far as Nigel is concerned.
OK, it's only a soap opera on the radio, but Julia and Nigel are just like any small business. They have a preconceived idea about what the technology will do, they don't understand it and they have no patience. There are pressures from other sources as well - colleagues have different priorities and want money spent elsewhere.
Uninvited, other associates or friends offer their own advice about how to use or buy the products.
Will Julia ever teach the voice recognition software to work with her voice? No chance. She will lose patience, skip the teaching session, encounter some errors, blame the supplier and demand her money back. It will all end in tears, you just know it. Yet the dealer is expected to provide non-stop support and excellent service amidst this tangle of egos and agendas.
Managing the expectations of small business people is nigh on impossible.
But it has to be done.
If dealers don't stick up for themselves then no one else will. Julia-type businesses ought to be turned away or charged for the time spent handholding.
That, of course, might mean consigning them to the high street or to mail-order. But those suppliers won't run into them in the village shop or in church on Sunday. They sell and supply computers to make money and that's that.
At least the dealer in The Archers wasn't cast as a cowboy making a quick buck. But he will be forgotten when the plot moves on - until Julia comes calling again. When she does, this dealer may have to turn her away before he can be seen for what he really is - an experienced, level-headed businessman offering sound advice and good value.
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