Microsoft Senior Sales Excellence Manager - Eric Ligman

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How NOT to do customer service. The United Parcel Service (UPS) example.

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How NOT to do customer service. The United Parcel Service (UPS) example.

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First, let me quickly say that for this post, I am speaking specifically as Eric Ligman the person, not as Eric Ligman the Director of Worldwide Partner Experience at Microsoft. This is my personal experience and I am speaking from that point of view only.

For any of you that have followed me for awhile, you know that since my role focuses on helping partners around the world have the best possible experience with Microsoft, I will sometimes share personal stories here on my blog of great customer service from time to time as examples of how others have gone above and beyond to create a positive customer experience. A few examples of these in the past are:

For today’s post, unfortunately, I am going to share an example of how, in my opinion, NOT to do customer service, unless you are looking to lose your customers, courtesy of United Parcel Service (UPS).

Here’s the background info: As you know, our Worldwide Partner Conference was last week in Los Angeles. As such, we decided to make the drive down from Seattle to Los Angeles as a family and my wife and kids were going to make a vacation of the week while I was at WPC, then we’d spend Friday and Saturday at Universal Studios as a family before driving back home. To prepare for the trip, we ordered 14 day passes for Sea World and Universal Studios for my wife and kids on June 29th, a week and a half before we left for Los Angeles (July 8th).

On Friday night, July 1st, we received the shipping confirmation from the ticket company with the UPS Tracking number and an expected delivery date of Monday, July 11th. Oooops! (The 11th is after the 8th when we leave!) Upon seeing this, my wife called the ticket company first thing Tuesday (Monday was the July 4th holiday) and explained the situation (and inquired how an order placed on the 29th takes until the 11th to be delivered, but that’s another topic). Anyway, the ticket company said they would put her on hold and they would call UPS and inquire about changing the delivery service to get us the tickets on time. When they came back, they told her that UPS said there is nothing that can be done. Needless to say, my phone rang a few minutes later with my wife telling me the situation and how they would not have any tickets for their vacation, which led to me calling the ticket company for a conference call with UPS, who told me there is nothing that can be done, because UPS won’t upgrade delivery service until AFTER the first delivery attempt on originally scheduled delivery date. (Why would I need to upgrade delivery speed AFTER the initial delivery date???)

Anyhow, I sent a quick tweet to UPS explaining my thoughts. Shortly afterwards, they responded and said that in fact they could change the shipping and the shipper just needed to call them to request it (which we’d already done), but I thought I’d give it another try. (click picture for full size) image
In the meantime, I had tracked the package and the tickets had been scanned into the Redmond, WA facility at 3:41 am that morning (Wednesday, July 6th). Here’s a quick map showing just how close the Redmond, WA UPS facility is to my work (2.6 miles): image
As instructed, I called the ticket company (the shipper), arranged a conference call and brought in UPS on the line. The supervisor at the ticket company and I explained to the UPS agent that we were requesting a release on the tickets to allow me to pick them up from the Redmond, WA facility and that the package had arrived at 3:41 am that morning. See image to the right (click for full size): image

UPS Agent Response: Oh, the destination scan time isn’t actually when it arrived at that facility, that is just our estimated time of when it will arrive there.

Really? You are estimating it will arrive at 3:41 am?? Not 3:45, 4:00, or 3:30, but 3:41 am?? Anyway, fine. We explained our situation and requested to pick up the package at the Redmond, WA facility and we were informed that the package would have to be released at the Everett, WA facility because the Redmond facility is unable to do this. For those not familiar with Washington, here’s a map showing how close Everett, WA is to Redmond, WA (23.9 miles) (click image for full size): image

My reply: No problem. It’s only Wednesday and Everett is just up the street. Can you please note in your system that we’d like to release it for pickup once it hits Everett so I can come get it?

UPS Agent: No, we are unable to do that in our systems.

What??? You can’t note it in your system? Fine, since it was apparently up to me, my response:

ME: So if I am hearing you correctly, what you are saying is that I need to track the package on my side for when it hits Everett, which should be tomorrow since it is so close to Redmond, then arrange another conference call between the ticket company and you to once again request release of the tickets for pickup?

UPS Agent: Yes, that is what you would need to do.

Ok, fine. The supervisor at the ticket company that was on the conference call said they would be more than happy to once again have a call with UPS once the tickets hit Everett, so we agreed to try again on Thursday once the package hit the Everett facility. At this point, there had been no less than 4-5 calls we had with UPS this day trying to figure out how to arrange to get this package delivered on time.

Needless to say, throughout the day on Thursday, my wife and I continued to track the package waiting for it to show up in Everett; however, it never did. Hmmmm, that’s weird. Come Friday, we once again tracked the package throughout the morning and then in the early afternoon, yet still, no arrival scan in Everett. In fact, the package had not even moved in the past two days! Here’s the tracking information from Friday (note the date and time):

image

Needless to say, I was beside myself, so I called UPS for some clarity. When I first reached the agent, I clarified that in fact what I was seeing online was true, and that despite the numerous contacts to UPS and requests to make the package available for pickup, that the package had in fact sat still in Redmond for the past two full days and was still sitting there. Affirmative. When I asked the UPS Agent how it is possible that it would still be sitting in the Redmond facility and not have been moved to Everett where it could in fact be picked up, the response from the UPS agent, and believe me, I was in shock when I heard it:

UPS Agent: Well, that package isn’t scheduled for delivery until the 11th, so we won’t move it from the Redmond facility to the Everett facility until probably one, maybe two, days before it is scheduled to be delivered since it doesn’t need to be there until then.

Heaven forbid you actually EXCEED expectations. By all means, shoot for “Only when we need to” in your delivery service. Upon hearing this, my first thought was, “Ok, how do we resolve this now?” so I replied:

ME: That package contains tickets for my wife and kids’ vacation that they are leaving for tonight and that I have been in contact with your company, in conjunction with the shipper, about since Wednesday trying to find a way to retrieve them from your local facility. I cannot believe they have sat in Redmond for the past two day and not moved at all; however, it is what it is, so can you please tell me how I can retrieve these tickets today so my wife and kids can have them for the trip?

UPS Agent: I’m sorry, sir, packages cannot be picked up from the Redmond facility, only from the Everett facility.

ME: So let me make sure I am hearing you clearly… What you are telling me is that the package that you have had in your Redmond facility, which is just a few miles from my office since Wednesday, and that I have been calling you about since Wednesday trying to arrange a pickup of due to the time-sensitive nature of it, has sat there for the past two days because you don’t need it in Everett until Sunday since it isn’t scheduled until Monday, and now there is no way I can pick it up from anywhere today, so my wife and kids will not have their tickets for their trip?

UPS Agent: A whole bunch of sentences that went around in several circles stating numerous things we’d already said.

ME: So that is a Yes to my question, correct?

UPS Agent: Correct

So the end result of the story is, we ended up having to buy all new tickets for our trip (several hundred dollars) and have another set of non-refundable tickets (several hundred dollars) at home all because UPS couldn’t move a package 23.9 miles in three days (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday), regardless of numerous requests from their customer (the shipper) and the end customer (me) to please help facilitate this throughout the week. Oh wait, there was an explanation for this, because there was no reason for them to move the package early since they didn’t have it scheduled to be delivered until Monday and didn’t NEED to. After all, why on earth would you actually do something early when you don’t absolutely need to, especially in the name of customer service? That’s just crazy talk! Well, at least that seems to be the case when it comes to UPS.

Oh, by the way… As for the, “we’ll move it to Everett when we need it there,” reply I got? Well, take a look when the package got to Everett (see pic to right). Saturday, exactly when they said the needed to have it there for their purposes (one or two days before delivery date), not a single day earlier. image

Like everything in life, there are choices. Companies, including UPS, have every right to choose how they treat their customers. At the same time, customers, including me, have every right on who we do, and don’t, do business with and who we recommend and highly don’t recommend to our friends today and in the future. UPS has clearly made their choice and we will be making (ok, let’s be honest, we’ve already made) ours.

So the point of my story is this, just like in past posts where I have shared stories of companies that have gone out of their way to help customers and shown them as how to do business, I present you with the case above as an example of how, in my personal opinion, you should never treat customers and how not to do business. If you ever find yourself in a customer service situation saying, “we could help out but we don’t NEED to based on our policy so we won’t,” take a step back and remember, customer service does not revolve around only doing what you NEED to do, but doing what you CAN do.

Hopefully if we have ever had the chance to interact in any situation in the past, you have seen that I always try to strive for what I CAN do to help you, not falling back on only doing what I NEED to do based on policy. If not, be sure to call it to my attention as I clearly do not believe this is the way you provide the best customer/partner experience possible to earn long-term positive business relationships. If you have not read my prior American Airlines or Del Dotto posts on great customer service (and ironically, the American Airlines one was from last WPC and really shows a company that went waaaay above and beyond to take care of a customer), I would highly recommend doing so. Then ask yourself, how do you approach your business and how would your customers portray their interaction with you? After all, I really do believe that question of, “Why do people WANT to do business with you” that I posed in my Del Dotto post is something to always keep in mind and to work towards.

Ok, I am now returning the blog back to its normal business use. Smile

Update – Tues. July 19th: UPS Corporate Customer Relations has contacted me and is working with me to address this situation. In addition, the tickets we now have and are unable to use will be going to a charity so that they will be useful for someone in need. I wanted to be fair and acknowledge UPS’ outreach and offer to work with me to address the situation at this time.

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Eric LigmanFollow me on TWITTER, LinkedIn, and RSS and see “What I’m thinking
Director, Worldwide Partner Experience
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  • I feel your pain. I had something similar with UPS several years ago. I'm pretty sure UPS is unionized and if not they sure act it by never going above and beyond or straying from what is in their job description. I have the most issues with Customer Service with unionized work places however I'm not insisting that every union company is like that. It is just that I see it more frequently in union companies than in non union companies. I didn't mean to turn this comment about unions, just something I've noticed over the years and reminded me by reading your post.

    I'm not sure if Amazon.com is union or not but every company should have great customer service like them. My favorite experience was when I ordered a large screen tv from Amazon.com and while it was being delivered noticed a corner was slightly crushed (due to shipping). I had the trucker (they sent a semi to deliver the tv to my house) check the tv and noticed the tv frame was cracked. I then refused delivery and the trucker put it back on the truck. I called up Amazon.com (actually they call you) and told them I refused delivery because the tv frame was cracked. They told me ok and that they are immediately sending out another tv. The whole interaction from placing the call to talking to an english speaking person ( < 1 min ) and to tell them what happend ( 30 sec ) to them saying they're sending a new tv ( 5 sec ). The whole interaction lasted less than 2 min. Amazing. But what was even more amazing is that I received the new tv 2 days after I refused delivery! It took 7 days just for the initial delivery, so Amazon.com busted their butt to get me the tv I ordered even quicker because of what happened. Just amazing.

  • next time purchase next day air don't be cheap and ship Ground 7-9 BUSINESS days on a holiday weekend, you would have had them the following morning  

  • Unbelievable! I'm posting to my Facebook to help spread the word!

  • Eric, while disgusting, this isn't all that uncommon with UPS.

    My best story: They lost a projector for a training seminar I was conducting. Actually, lost isn't correct - they misdelivered it. I shipped it UPS Red overnight to my hotel, and they delivered it to the completely wrong address.

    The recipient of course denying they received it, since the package the was insured for $1300 was left on a front porch of a home without signature, instead of the receiving dock of the hotel for which it was destined. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a projector. It took five months for UPS to issue a check for the lost projector. They kept insisting they delivered it, and couldn't understand delivering it to the wrong person, without signature, didn't mean I received it.

    Always ship FedEx. :-)

  • I think the real issue here is that it's 2011, and for some reason, you needed to have *physical* tickets *shipped* to you, to gain entrance to a park? How does that make any sense?

  • Like Joe said there is some responsibility on your end to request shipping that gets the product there on time.  I take personal responsibility in my purchases and if I have to pay more to have it sooner, I do so.  I can't stand the fact that consumers take no responsibility in a transaction and are so quick to blame others.  This is the problem with our society today.  I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fixing my mistakes and if they are unable to come through then it is a lesson learned for me.  Grow up folks!

  • @ Chris - Thanks for sharing your Amazon story.

  • @ Joe - Thanks for the feedback. Yes, we did evaluate our options and thought we had enough time. Once we realized our error, that was when we contacted the two companies and asked for options, including agreeing to pay the redirect/adjustment fees we were told about since it was our choice to not ship via air. We take full responsibility for the choice of ground shipping as the method of delivery. As you notice above, nowhere am I questioning UPS's policy on their shipping plans in regard to how many days they quote for the service. My points are in reference to the actions once an issue was detected and help was requested. That is where customer service comes in to answer the question of HOW a situation is handled. Customer service is easy when everything works perfectly. It is when things don't go directly as designed when customer service makes the difference one way or another. Having a package sit within minutes of the receiver for 3 days with no effort whatsoever to help address the situation, even when multiple requests for assistance have been made, both by the customer and the end receiver, that is where I see a severe failure in customer service in this situation, which is what I stated in the post above.

  • @ Lisa - Thanks for sharing. I appreciate it.

  • @ Thomas - Thanks for sharing your story and Yikes! Sorry to hear about your experience.

  • @ Michael - Yes, that is a good point. Surprisingly, there was no, "Download ticket," or "Print E-Ticket" option at all. The only options available were physical, non-refundable tickets that needed to be shipped.

  • @ Nick - Thanks for the feedback. Yes, we take full responsibility for our choice of shipping options. As I stated to Joe above in my reply to him, once we realized our error, that was when we contacted the two companies and asked for options, including agreeing to pay the redirect/adjustment fees we were told about since it was our choice to not ship via air. We take full responsibility for the choice of ground shipping as the method of delivery. As you notice above, nowhere am I questioning UPS's policy on their shipping plans in regard to how many days they quote for the service. My points are in reference to the actions once an issue was detected and help was requested. That is where customer service comes in to answer the question of HOW a situation is handled. Customer service is easy when everything works perfectly. It is when things don't go directly as designed when customer service makes the difference one way or another. Having a package sit within minutes of the receiver for 3 days with no effort whatsoever to help address the situation, even when multiple requests for assistance have been made, both by the customer and the end receiver, that is where I see a severe failure in customer service in this situation, which is what I stated in the post above.

  • My worst shipping experience ever was with some sails I shipped from Florida to a guy in Tennessee via Federal Express, since he needed them quickly for a race, Overnight? Hah! It took four weeks to track that little main and jib all over the midwest and finally get them to TN. Great fun. Not.

    This is like Rob Malda's old line: "All ISPs suck."

    I used to run a custom humidity instrumentation & instrument calibration lab. Shipping was part of my responsibility. I assure you that if you do enough shipping, sooner or later you'll have problems with all shipping companies you use, whether you're sending small packages via UPS or FedEx, or container loads through a freight forwarder. It's the nature of the beast.

  • Your article hit the nail on the head, so I shared a link to your blog post with my readers @ UPSideDownBrown.com.

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