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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Saving Tears at Christmas...!

The fate of the USPS and print are largely tied together.

No one writes personal letters these days which leaves the USPS for delivering marketing and other kinds of promotional and advertising material (catalogs, etc.)

With print declining and/or being replaced by electronic media the USPS has sought other markets.  You can see this on TV:  "If it fits it ships" - the new promotional program describes a series of standardized shipping boxes which you can use to ship anything up to 70 pounds so long as it fits in the box.  The big advantage is that the USPS, as part of their regular service, will simply take the boxes - no scheduling, paper work or other nonsense.  And, best of all, the cost is a "low, flat rate" according to the ads.

This campaign is a direct shot at Fedex and UPS - both of whom require you to perform the complex dance of completing paperwork, weighing boxes, and/or navigating on-line forms or phone menus in order to ship a package.

True to form the USPS has gotten most of it right - but not quite.

Every year someone in my house orders a Christmas present that ends up being shipped by Fedex.  Fedex, like UPS, being a union shop, always hires "temps" for the busy Christmas season.  And UPS tends to hire people that are integrated with their work force (see this WSJ article). 

Non-union Fedex hires "contractors".

In the busy Christmas season our Fedex delivery route is always manned by a contractor.  We live in a rural area and apparently there isn't much call for Fedex on a regular basis.  How do I know he's a contractor?  He drives a "Penske" truck...

None-the-less as usual the Fedex-shipped packages hadn't shown up by Dec. 23.  My better half, who monitors this sort of thing, altered me to the fact that a series of gifts showed up in an email from Amazon indicating that Fedex had just "failed on the third delivery attempt".

For on-line shoppers "failed on the third delivery attempt" is the deathknell.  The package goes back to the originator (Amazon) on the third failed attempt.  (And once this attempt fails Fedex will not hold it for "will call" at the local Fedex facility.)

The only problem as she saw it was that we had no notification of any previous delivery attempts.  Usually this involves a little sticky note indicating that the delivery was tried and failed - but no such slips appeared.

Now from experience I know this is how the Fedex contractors work:  Long rural driveway + snow = hit the button on the computer that says delivery attempt failed to due "bad weather" and move on.

But not so fast this time.   The sky lit up with boiling furry as a cell phone call went out to Fedex.

"What do you mean delivery attempt failed - I haven't received any notices!"

"I'm sorry ma'am, would you like to speak to a supervisor?"

A few minutes later, supervisors personal cell phone number in hand, my better half said "let's see what happens..."

And, very surprisingly, few more minutes pass and her cell phone rings - its the Fedex driver - he's at the top of the driveway leaving the packages.  I am discharged to pick them up.

Christmas is saved!

Thanks to some wild and woolly fast talking the Fedex driver came back to the house.

Now, try that with the USPS and see where it gets you.  Or, for that matter, UPS.

And that's my point.  Fedex is a business.  A business that does not want to be the cause of someone's Christmas being ruined by a failed package delivery.  A business with people, like the supervisor I mentioned, who actually cares about the customers' experience and works to make things right.

Unfortunately the USPS does everything but have the necessary accountability.  Sure you can send a package via USPS, sure you can track it, but what happens when things go awry?

Call someone at the USPS?  Sure.

Ask the driver to come back with the package or retry the delivery?  Sure.

The larger and more organized companies become the more their efforts become about themselves and not the customer.  UPS is half way in between - they never come back but the are reliable about hold packages for "will call" pickup.

The point of all this is that Fedex still gets it.

The USPS is trying to get it but for a variety of reasons cannot every fully get it because of things like union work rules and rigid thinking about how things work in the world.

Though this is sad its little wonder their business is declining...

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