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Why I don’t ship with UPS.

Real artists ship.” – Steve Jobs

Yesterday, I received a shipment of 10 photographic prints on canvas, each of which is 24″ by 36″. Unfortunately, during shipping (by UPS) from my supplier, one of the two boxes was crushed, damaging the top canvas print of the image shown above, of Pacific Grove, California.

Soooo… I called the 800 number for UPS to report the incident. None of the roughly 4 menu items in the phone tree was related to my problem. I called the local UPS store to report the problem, and they told me to dial the 800 number and to press “zero” after the introduction. So I did. After pressing “zero” as instructed, the phone recording told me that I would be connected to a real person, but first to listen to the four irrelevant choices, again! 😉

In frustration, I pressed “zero” again, and was connected to a customer service rep, who was both courteous and competent.

The customer service staffer took all of the relevant details, and she told me that I would be contacted by an investigator very soon, who may have someone come to my house to claim the original packaging and the damaged article. In any case, I should keep the packaging and the article for at least five days, for the investigator, after which I could discard them.

Then, I went to my supplier and ordered a replacement photographic print on canvas.

After which, I spoke over the phone with a customer service rep of my supplier, just to let them know that UPS had allowed one of my prints from them to be damaged. The male representative was both courteous and competent, took my shipment number (for the large dollar-amount shipment :-) ), and told me that they would credit my account with the cost of the single damaged print (minus the shipping), which I had just reordered, but that it might take up to five days to show up in my bank account.

(Electronic funds transactions can leap continents in milliseconds, but banks like to hold onto your money for all the interest that they can glean before they give it back to you! :-) Tenacious behavior from such a generally incompetent industry….)

I thanked the customer service rep for my supplier. The company did “the right thing” “the right way.”

So today, since I had not heard from anyone at UPS, I decided to give them a call, since I had learned the “secret code” for dialing a real human being. I spoke with a nice woman named Grace. I told Grace that nobody from UPS had contacted me, even though they promised that I would be contacted “right away.” After I gave Grace the tracking number, she asked me if I could be put “on hold” for a few minutes. Of course, I agreed.

When Grace came back, she told me that it had been decided at UPS that they would contact “the shipper” (my supplier) to resolve the issue. I asked her whether they had also decided not to tell me. 😉

I asked her what the next step should be. (I love to use the “next step” question that all of the linear thinkers that I had as bosses tended to use. :-) ) She told me that I should contact “the shipper” (my supplier). I did not tell her that I already had, yesterday.

In a very controlled voice, I told Grace that I had worked in customer service roles for about 20 years in high tech, for a number of Fortune 50 to 500 customers. I told her that I did not view her as responsible (“nice” people like Grace [and I] serve/d as interfaces between customers and corporate management who generally lack “people skills,” as the “friendly masks” on some generally “ugly” corporations).

I suggested that Grace take notes on three points that I wanted to make:

  1. A phone tree that has a “secret code” to report problems to real people is BROKEN. By the time that the customer with the problem gets through to a real person, they are already frustrated and angry. Making a customer angry should NOT be the goal of setting up a phone tree. Fix the phone tree.
  2. UPS had promised me that an investigator would contact me shortly after my initial phone contact, reporting the damaged item. Some 24 hours later, I had not heard from them. UPS had gone off to speak with “the shipper” and decided not to close the loop with the end customer (me). (I thought about this, and UPS probably viewed “the shipper” [my supplier] as the “customer,” but I view myself as “the customer,” since, ultimately, I PAID FOR THE SHIPPING! [Sorry to “shout.”]) I told Grace that, even though none of this was her fault, UPS should honor its promises to its customers and “close the loop.”
  3. I told Grace that I am the owner of a “small business,” (a group that UPS is seeking as customers on their Web page) and that I do not ship with UPS, and could she guess why? :-) I told her that I ship with FEDEX, because FEDEX does not treat its customers this way. I suggested that UPS might want to review its business processes if it wishes to attract and retain small business owners like me.

I was not too rough with Grace, because she is just another competent person doing a thankless job. Years of being in her place, listening to some ABUSIVE customers, made me sensitive to her situation. It is probably thick-headed and insensitive management who needs to learn from the incident, but my experience is that they seldom do.

Thanks, Grace, for listening and taking notes, and thanks, customer service rep at my supplier, who did the right thing, the right way. Of course, my supplier will continue to get my business.

I just wish that they would choose a different company for shipping.

I have.

-Bill at

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