Technology supported enterprise (or how to turn customer delight into disdain)

Jedi Mind Trick
Jedi Mind Trick's picture

This week I’m going to tell a story. It’s a story where I am cast as an innocent everyman at odds with the uncaring and unyielding bureaucracy of a large, multinational package shipping organization.

The story begins with early in the morning with me ordering some stuff from a large online only store that ships things through said package shipping company. While out later that day I received confirmation of shipment. After the initial excitement of receiving notice that my order had shipped earlier than originally committed wore off – I checked noticed the address…and found that it was incorrect.

Having ordered some items from this store just days prior…and having updated the address for the order…I didn’t check the address again during checkout. This would prove to be a frustrating error on my part. Here’s why –

Realizing that there was an error and that the notice said the package had just shipped, I quickly found a way to get the online company’s customer service on the line to discuss my problem. Surely this company…a company that has shipped things to me on many dozens of occasions…not only could realize this gaffe…but fix it in time for it not to be an issue of any real concern. I would soon realize that this was just the beginning of silly, uninformed assumptions that I would make over the next 36 hours.

On the phone with the customer service rep I explained my situation and he sprung into action (initially giving me a smug sense that I was correct in assuming it would be no issue and would be corrected with a single call). There were three items in the shipment. Two had been released early and one was still being processed. The shipping address of the remaining one was quickly updated and it would definitely ship to the correct address after just a few more days of processing and handling. One down, two to go.

The rep worked furiously to fix the problem. I was on hold a few times and he checked back with me every two minutes or so to ensure that I knew he was working furiously to correct the error. After about seven such check backs he broke through a muzak version of what must have been Enter Sandman to inform me that he wouldn’t be able to make the correction very quickly. What he had to do, he shared, was get some extra authority. That’s right – he had to talk to his manager and they, together, would tackle this issue on my behalf. The suggestion that he offered was that I go back to eating dinner with my family and in less than an hour’s time, he’d call me back to confirm that everything was in order.

So I did exactly that, pretty certain that in the not to distant future I’d be satisfied that all of this was behind me and my order was rapidly on its way to my doorstep. 

I enjoyed the remainder of dinner and in around 47 minutes the phone rang. It was the customer service rep.

“Sir”, he stated in a wavering voice that betrayed the news ahead, “I’m really sorry, Sir. We were not able to get [the behemoth multinational shipping company] to reroute the packages that have already shipped.” He paused, probably thinking it wise to choose his words carefully, “They wouldn’t let us make the correction. You just need to call them and have them reroute the package to you.”

“Ok”, I said, “Not a problem. I’ll call them when I get home.”

“Perfect, sir. That should get this taken care of for you. Apologies again that we couldn’t do it here. Something with our system. Its locked from making changes to packages once they leave our warehouse.”

“No worries. I’ll give them a call and sort it out. Thank you.”

“Thank you, sir. We appreciate your patience.”

“Cool. Have a good one.”

And so it that call ended. In not too long, I was home and on the phone with [behemoth, multinational shipping company]. That first call went something like this:

“Hello, how can I help you?”

“Hey. How’s it going? I’m calling to get a package rerouted.”

“Tracking number?”

“[Number Number Letter Number Letter Number Number Number Number Number Number]”

“A label has been printed for that package but it hasn’t been taken into our possession.”

“What does that mean?”

“We haven’t received it.”

“It was picked up from [Online store] at 3:27PM this afternoon”

“That might be, but we haven’t received it.”

“Help me with that, please. If it was picked up at [online store] this afternoon, how have you not received it?”

“Its not in our tracking system.”

“How was it logged that it was picked up at 3:27?”

“Not sure….is there something else that you needed?”

“I just needed that package rerouted.”

“I understand. We can’t do that until we receive the package.”

“Ok. No worries. I can give you the address to reroute it when you receive it.”

“No, sir. That isn’t how it works. We have to have the package to reroute it.”

“Oh. Ok. How will I know when you have the package? The tracking system says you have it now.”

“We don’t have the package, sir.”

“Got it. How can I get the package rerouted to the right address?”

“Sir, you really should have checked the address before shipping it.”

“Thank you. I have realized that at this point. I’m not able to go back and correct that at this point. What can I do now to get the package to the right address?”

“The has to make that correction.”

“The shipper was just on the phone with you for about 30 minutes and called me to say that I needed to call in to confirm the change.”

“Not sure why they’d tell you that, sir. We can’t just make changes when people call in. We have procedures to follow.”

“Fair enough. When I dialed in, I gave you a tracking number and a [Preferred Customer ID]. That should let you know who I am.”

“Yes sir. But the shipper has to make the changes to the delivery address.”

“They called in and were told that I had to contact them.”

“Sorry that they weren’t of more help to you in this situation. You need to contact them.”

“You are a real person, correct?”

“Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because you don’t seem to be hearing that I just got off of the phone with the shipper and they asked me to call you. I got this number from them, in fact.”

“I understand… Is there some way I can help you tonight?”

“You really aren’t a real person, are you?”

“Yes. I am.”

“Wow. The accent and the flawed enunciation…nice touches. You sound like a contact center agent…but you’re not really real, are you?”

“Sir. Is there something I can do to help you tonight?”

“You can reroute my package”

“The shipper has to make those adjustments for you. We can’t do that.”

“Amazing”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s a great program. You even selectively leave out ‘sir’ to mimic realistic conversational speech”

“Sir, I am a real person. You just have to speak to the shipper to make this correction.”

“Got it. Thank you. Good night”

“Sir?”

“Yes?”

“Is there any other way I could help you tonight?”

“You are kidding, aren’t you?”

“No…sir.”

“This call hasn’t been very helpful at all. Not a single thing that I called in to resolve has been addressed. Asking me if there is anything else that can be done seems a little odd.”

“I have to ask”

“Its in the script?”

“Yes.”

“You know, if you were really human, you could decide to skip that part.”

“Sir?”

“Nevermind. Good night.” 

Ok. So the first call didn’t get me anywhere. I’d run into ROBOAGENT and just needed to gather my thoughts and try again. I went to get a coffee and came back to the scene of the crime ready to go.

“Good evening, sir. How can I help you tonight?”

“I need to reroute a package.”

“No problem. I see that its being delivered to [OLD INCORRECT ADDRESS].”

“That’s where it is headed…and that’s what I need to fix.”

“Ok, not a problem sir. Let me get that taken care of for you.”

[MUZAK PLAYS MOMENTARILY] (and I’m silently congratulating my wisdom for just getting a breath and calling back in.)

“Sir?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“A label has been printed for this shipment, but we haven’t received it.”

“Oh?” [I was quickly working to think of ways to figure out if the agent that answered the phone had been murdered and replaced with ROBOAGENT. Most body snatcher tests don’t work over the phone, so my mind was racing to think of one.]

“Yes. I’m sorry, sir, but we aren’t able to make any changes until we have the package.”

“Ok. I understand. What can I do to get it rerouted to the right address?”

“Can you go to the location where it is being delivered?”

“I could. Its about 15 minutes from my house. What time?”

“Between 10 and 8”

“10 AM and 8PM?”

“Yes sir.”

“How will I know when to be there?”

“It will be delivered sometime in that window.”

“So…so this suggestion is to go and wait for 10 hours?”

“If that is how you want to get the package.”

“That really isn’t what I had in mind when I asked for options. Really isn’t. Are there others?”

“Do you know the person that lives at that address?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Hmm. You could ask them to take the package and let you know they have it.”

“I don’t know them.”

“You could go and ask them.”

“Go ask them…like knock on their door and tell them that there is a package coming to their house for me…and its important to me…and I’d like for them to give me a call when it arrives? So I can come back again to pick it up?”

“That’s another option.”

“Not really a good one. Any other ideas?”

“We could hold the package at the distribution center.”

“Ok. That sounds cool. Where is that?”

[Address that is 1.5 hours away, one way, not including traffic.]

“That’s not a good one either.”

“I’m sorry sir.”

 “So, its probably what, 8 hours before the package arrives where the driver will pick it up tomorrow. There’s not really any practical thing we can do now to stop it there and reroute it…either with a note or something that sends it where it needs to go?”

“We have to follow our procedure”

“I’ve heard. And that’s true even when you know you’re sending something to the wrong place? You’ll do it on purpose?”

“We have to deliver the package to the location the shipper provides.”

“You have to?”

“Yes. We have to make an attempt to deliver at the address the shipper provides.”

“Ok. Then what?”

“After that, we can probably change it”

“So…if the driver attempts to deliver the package and doesn’t leave it…you can then change then reroute to right address?”

“Most likely, sir.”

“Can we tell the driver not to leave the package then?”

“We can’t communicate with the drivers”

“You have no way of reaching a driver? At all?”

“No sir.”

“So, if I was calling to tell you that there was contraband in a package you couldn’t tell the driver?”

“Excuse me?”

“Contraband. Something illegal, inappropriate or dangerous.”

“Are you saying that there this package is dangerous?”

“No. You said you couldn’t contact the driver. I’m asking if that is really true and using an example of a situation where I’d expect that you’d want to contact a driver to warn them about something.”

“We have no way to contact the drivers.”

“Wow. Ok”

“Is there any reason that a driver wouldn’t leave the package?”

“Its their discretion, sir”

“What do you mean?”

“If they think that the  package is in danger, or there’s weather, or…any reason, sir. They can not leave the package.”

“Its probably unlikely though, isn’t it?”

“Probably, sir.”

“Ok. I know the guy that owns the building. I’ll see if I can get him to tell the person that lives there to take the package. If I do that, I can at least go over there and get it.”

“Ok sir.”

“There really isn’t a good reason for them to NOT leave the package if the person there accepts it, right?”

“No sir.”

“Ok. Thank you. Good night”

At which point I pinged the guy that owned the house I rented when I first moved here to look for a house. He said he’d help me and he connected with the current resident and we were all set.

Or so I thought.

The next day I watched the tracker. I had notifications set up and every now and again I’d go look just to see where the damned thing was.

At around 2:30P I received a note that an attempt was made to deliver the package. AND IT WASN’T DELIVERED! A follow on attempt would be made the next day.

WHAT THE FN F!?!?!

I called the large, multinational shipping organization to figure it out.

“Hello. How can I help you?”

“I’ve been working to get a package rerouted. I attempted to head it off yesterday, but couldn’t. The idea was that we’d let the delivery guy drop it off at the wrong address and I’d go pick it up there. Except, he didn’t leave it.”

“It is driver’s discretion about leaving them.”

“I’ve heard.”

“How can I make sure I get the package tomorrow? I’m not able to go wait there from 10 to 8 for it.”

“He should have left a notice. If you can go over there and get the numbers off of that notice, we could probably reroute it.”

“Probably?”

“Yes. There are some instances where we couldn’t.”

“Do I want to know them?”

“Chances are, sir, that we’d be able to”

“So, if I go get this number, I MIGHT be able to reroute the package?”

“Yes sir. You can just go take a look at that number and call us on the phone when you have it. We’ll take care of it right then.”

“Any other options in case this doesn’t work?”

“Yes, sir. You could also just flip that note around and sign it.”

“That would allow the driver to leave the package regardless, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ok. That’s two options. Any others?”

“No sir. That’s about it for now.”

“Ok.”

I got off the phone thinking I was going to go over to the house and take a picture of the damned note and then sign it and post it back to the door.

Then I had a crazy idea. What if I just drove the hour and a half over to the processing station to get the package? When would it be there?  Maybe, just maybe, I could get there and beat traffic in time to make it back to pick up the monkey at school.

So…I called back.

“Hello. This is [Agent Name], can I help you with a package today?”

“Actually, I just need to know how long the processing center at [address] is open today and when my package will be there to pick up.”

“Its open until 9p tonight. Your package is still on the truck and won’t be there until later tonight.”

“Wow. This is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be.”

“Why is that, sir?”

“I’ve tried for two days to get this package routed to the right place and when I finally settled on just going to the incorrect address to pick it up from the people that live there, the driver decided not to leave it.”

“That is driver’s discretion, sir.”

“I’ve heard.”

“You know, it really shouldn’t be that hard.”

“I agree. But it has been quite and adventure.”

“We could set you up for a same day pick up.”

“What’s that?”

“Its authorization for you to  pick it up on the same day that we attempt to drop it off.”

“That’s me driving over to the processing center late tonight and waiting for the driver, isn’t it?”

“No. We can contact the driver and have him meet you somewhere on his route.”

“Really?!”

“Yes.”

“I’m liking that. How do we do that?”

“I’ll just call right now and set it up. Someone will call you back to confirm.”

“You’re not kidding?”

“No sir. This should get you taken care of today.”

“That would be great. Thank you.”

I hung up the phone and did a few more meetings for work. In about an hour and a half, the phone rang.

“Hello, Mr. Mind Trick, I’m [Processing Center Guy]. I’m calling to confirm that you can pick up your package at [address that is 1.5 hours distant, one way, not including traffic]. At 8p tonight.”

“[Processing Center Guy], I was told I could meet the driver while he’s still in this area.”

“He’s not in that area anymore.”

“Dude. Really? I was told earlier that I could meet the driver and get my package.”

“Mr. Mind Trick, that is not even remotely within policy. I have no idea why someone would tell you that.”

“Ok. So, my only option is to come out there to get my package tonight at 8p? There is no way to get in touch with the driver while he’s over on this side of town?”

“No, sir. I’m the processing guy and I’m calling to tell you that your package will be in the processing center. The agent you spoke to before…she’s at a 1 800 number and has no idea what we’re doing down here. She just calls and asks me to confirm when your package will be in. That’s what I’m calling to tell you.”

“So she called you to call me to tell me that I can come out there near closing time and get my package?”

“Yes, that’s what it appears to be, Mr. Mind Trick.”

“Why would she do that? I mean…calling you to call me when she could have told me that in the first place? That seems so odd.”

“It does”

“Do you think she really believes that she’d call you and you’d talk to the driver to meet me?”

“I bet she does. Every time you dial that 800 number you get a different person. Not a one of them has any damned sense.”

[Laugh from both of us]

“[Processing Center Guy], I get it. Can you pull my package? I’ll see if I can head out there tonight.”

“Mr. Mind Trick. Can you let me call you right back?”

“Sure. Can I ask why?”

“I’m going to see where [Driver] is right now and see if he can meet you.”

“You’re joking? You can contact him?”

“Yeah, man.”

“That would be cool. Thank you.”

“You got it. Those fools don’t know nothin’, but we’ll see if we can save you a trip out here.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll call you right back.”

[I dropped and really didn’t expect a call back. However, like many instances in the immediately preceding 24 hours, I was completely and absolutely incorrect.]

“Hello, Mr. Mind Trick?”

“Hey, [Processing Guy], whats the good word?”

“[Driver] is still out there in your area. Here is his number. Give him a call and he’ll meet you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Stuff shouldn’t be this hard, Mr. Mind Trick.”

“Dude. Thank you.”

“You bet, Mr. Mind Trick. Lets get you that package.”

I dropped again and called [Driver]

“Hello, Mr. Mind Trick. How are you, buddy?!”

“[Driver], I appreciate this. Where and when can I meet you?”

“You know where [such and such] is by your old house?”

“Absolutely”

“I’ll meet you there in 2”

“I’m probably 15 mins away”

“Oh. Dang. I need to keep the wheels moving. Can you just drive there and let me know when you get there?”

“I can”

“Talk to you in a bit then, Mr. Mind Trick.”

“[Driver], you want something to drink? Can I get you anything for helping me out here?”

“Yes.  There is one thing I could use.”

“Shoot.”

“A cold water. Its really hot out here and I haven’t had a chance to stop for a while.”

“I can definitely handle that, [Driver].”

“Awesome, see you in about 15.”

I got off the phone and found the biggest, coldest water I could find and headed out to met the driver. 30 mins later, I had my package. [Driver] was happy with his water. 

This was a great experience for me. Why? I’m the guy that builds the centers and fills them with agents that provide the service I just received. I learned a lot.

I also learned that a potential opportunity to do something simple and delight a customer can be turned into utter crap by a person that just doesn’t engage their brain. Conversely, a guy…a random guy in a processing center returning phone calls take steps to collaborate with a driver in the field to turn an utterly dismal experience into one that is not only memorable, but will probably be thought of as improbable.

Thank you, Processing Guy and Driver. Until I connected with you two, I really had decided that I would go out of my way to AVOID using your organization in the future.  And, I was going to make some examples in some contact centers in the process. 

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