Experience, common sense, and a guy who probably shouldn't be answering the phone.

I must report the following, although the protagonist wants to be left out of it. (I will allow as how the protagonist has a credit card, lives in my house, and isn't me, but I won't divulge any further identifying details.)

Anyway, it starts out as one of those FedEx horror stories -- far too common to merit a blog post -- but then turns into some sort of parable about common sense. I may, however, need your help in teasing out just what the moral of the story is.

So, our nameless protagonist ordered a piece of computer hardware from some company that offered free ground shipping. Said company is in Southern California and nameless protagonist lives in Northern California. We're talking a few days on a truck, tops.

No package.

Nameless protagonist calls FedEx. Guy on phone says, "I'll put a trace on that!"

Next day, nameless protagonist calls FedEx again. Different guy on phone say, "Hmm ... a trace should have been put on this, but there was no trace. Let's see what's going on here." After a few minutes, "Hmm ... it was scanned in Columbus, Ohio. That's not good. Looks like there was a 'misload'."

[The truck was misloaded. Possibly also the people loading the truck ...]

As a concerned consumer, nameless protagonist decides to bring this fairly significant shipping snafu to the attention of the company that decided to use FedEx for shipping. The conversation went something like this:

Nameless protagonist: I wanted to let you know that my order, which was supposed to be here last week, got shipped to Ohio.

Customer "service" rep: And?

Nameless protagonist: You're in Southern California.

Customer "service" rep: Yes.

Nameless protagonist: The package is supposed to come to Northern California.

Customer "service" rep: Uh huh.

Nameless protagonist: It got put on a truck to Ohio.

Customer "service" rep: It's FedEx Ground shipping.

Nameless protagonist: Ohio isn't between Southern California and Northern California!

Customer "service" rep: Why are you telling me this?

Nameless protagonist: I figured maybe it would be something your company would want to know. You know, if FedEx is screwing up delivery of your orders in such a major way, you might want to consider a different shipper, like UPS or the Post Office.

Customer "service" rep: Oh, UPS is much worse.

Nameless protagonist: Worse than Southern California to Northern California via Ohio?

Customer "service" rep: Oh, yeah.

What do we have here? We have a guy on the phone -- the official representative of a company that, presumably, would like not to alienate its customers -- who either:

  1. Is really bad at geography, or
  2. Thinks "takes up to a week to arrive" means FedEx should drive the package around awhile to kill time, or
  3. Thinks his bad experience with UPS (in which, I can only imagine, they routed a local delivery through Mars) negates everyone else's good-to-adequate experiences with UPS.

There has to be some lesson here about performing induction from too small a data set. Or maybe about making sure your customer service reps can at least feign a good balance of concern and common sense if you're doing business with someone who shares a household with a blogger.

More like this

While the customer service representative could use some training on how to more professionally represent their organization, I can tell you that they were correct about UPS being much much worse. I work for a company that routinely ships plasma, blood and tissue samples on a daily basis. Samples that will be analyzed and on which millions of dollars worth of research (and kajillions of dollars of potential profits for big and small pharma) depend. I've seen entire studies need to be repeated because UPS "lost" these samples. (I reckon they found them after they started stinking like rotting corpse.)

Moral-1 If they're shipping FedEx, get the tracking number before the stuff leaves the provider.

Moral-2 It could always be worse than you think.

By ms.hyphen (not verified) on 01 Jun 2006 #permalink

Even shipped ground, Fed-Ex was contractually obligated to deliver the package with in a certain time frame. Since Fed-Ex failed to do so, the company could have got their shipping charges back (I was in charge of shipping, among other things, at my last job so I speak from experience), surprising that the company didn't seem much concerned about it.

By afarensis, FCD (not verified) on 01 Jun 2006 #permalink

I've worked for a couple of companies that depend on shipping to and from. I have found that the best depends on who loads the truck. Meaning that the local office is the limiting step.

However, if you are looking for a moral to the story, the company who ships - does more business with a particular office, and in this case you receive maybe one shipment a month, but the computer company ships out several a day - should scream bloody murder at the shipping company. I've had both UPS and FedEx scrapping and bowing before my unholy wrath for days at a time because of this sort of thing. Sounds like you got a computer company or rep who had a crappy idea of customer service.

For the record, I've found UPS to be more reliable domesticly, plus, I can promise you that UPS ground is guarenteed to be there (south CA to north CA) next day. FedEx has a slightly better track record overnight nationally. Other intricacies involved.


A friend of mine (who works for Fed-Ex, no less), told me that Fed-Ex and UPS were going to merge. Then he said the combined company was to named (wait for it...) Fed-Up!!! At which point I realized he was joking. So you see, things could always get worse, as my "friend" soon discovered....

By Roadtripper (not verified) on 02 Jun 2006 #permalink

ms.hyphen, if I were shipping such important material, my shipper would have lost the package only once before I changed shippers. If I found all shippers to be that bad, I would hire a courier. You know the old saw: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

By Mark Paris (not verified) on 02 Jun 2006 #permalink

UPS is pretty bad, though in my experience usually on the delivery end rather than the shipping itself.

That said, the logical fallacies being employed here are probably dicto simpliciter (ignoring reasonable exceptions) and hasty generalization. That's one deductive and one inductive fallacy, meaning that the customer service guy went 2 for 2. Good job, guy!

Umm...I must have missed something in the story, so if someone could point it out, I'd appreciate it. FedEx ships one package incorrectly, so the protagonist calls the company sending the product, explains the situation, and ... expects them to change their entire shipping strategy because of one mistake? Now, obviously the customer service rep didn't handle the complaint well (though, having been in his position, I will say that what the rep could do and what the customer expects him/her to do are most often two entirely separate things). But why would they go so far as to make such a drastic change on the basis of one data point?

If you were trying to claim that UPS is *on average* better at shipping parcels correctly than FedEx, that's one thing - though some data certainly would help your case. But either I missed something in that story, or I would have to side with the company; accidents happen all the time, and it's only if a pattern emerges that action on that scale could be justified.

In response to Winawer's point (which is well taken), I should note that in the nameless protagonist's experience (and in mine), the incident described here is paradigmatic for FedEx Ground, not a rare occurrence at all.

And, the hope was not that the company would immediately, on the basis of one mistake, switch shippers, but that they would take this data into account as part of a sensible strategy of not treating their customers like crap. The guy on the phone had no interest in treating this mishap as possibly relevant data. That, to my mind, constitutes possibly relevant data about the company in question.

Ah, that actually makes things clearer. Thanks!

As a note, FedEx Ground is a completely different organization than FedEx express service - it was a different company that they acquired, and it has not been fully integrated into their processes. FedEx Ground does, indeed, routinely suck.

A few weeks ago I bought a couple of items from PC Connection via their website. (Over the years, I've bought from them several times, and never had trouble.) I noticed a few interesting points about their delivery options:

1) I got to *separately* choose timeframe ("regular Ground", Second-day, Overnight) and provider. The default for the provider was "Best choice", which I accepted. (That is, they pick the shipper.) I also chose the regular delivery, figuring I could wait the few days they cited.

2) When I checked back late the next day, I found they had shipped the two items separately, by different companies. PCC gave me the shipping IDs for each package, plus links to both shippers' tracking pages.

3) Checking the shipper pages, I found... they'd already been delivered! (Yay!) I went downstairs and claimed my stuff from the building doorman.

What do you wanna bet, that "Best shipper" option can be centrally controlled, to *instantly* divert business away from a shipper who screws up, or toward whoever gets stuff there faster? Perhaps even, to cut out a given branch or depot that's running slow? Of course, PC Connection must be a *major* account for any shipper who can meet their standards!

By David Harmon (not verified) on 02 Jun 2006 #permalink

It could be worse. The other household protagonist of my similar story had a package with a shipping number sent on 5/9. After not showing up USPS's local office was called. I was to deliver the complaint form the next day, but in the mail that day was the package in question, on 5/30. Perfect competition in the suckiness market for package delivery I'd say.

But at least they shipped it, unlike someone's b-day present.

By Uncle Fishy (not verified) on 02 Jun 2006 #permalink

Hey, I can understand that a small winery and portworks might have the occasional difficulty with fulfiling an order (due to "misloading", if you will)! And I'm trying to cut back on birthdays anyway.