Published on: September 23, 2010Now available on iTunes…
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Sometimes, little things happen that give you the sense that a company’s culture is eroding. It may not mean the end of the company, not anytime soon, but maybe you get the sense that a core value has somehow been lost, or hasn’t been properly or effectively communicated through the ranks.
That’s the sense I got last week in my dealings with FedEx. And I think the scenario is illustrative of something larger, and perhaps can serve as a metaphor from which other businesses can learn.
Let me explain.
On Thursday, I needed to get a package to a client so they’d have it by end of business on Friday. So I packaged the information up, slipped it into a FedEx envelope, filled out the form, marked it for Friday-by-3 pm delivery, wrote in my FedEx account number, and deposited it in the local FedEx box well before the last pickup of the day.
On Friday at about 2 pm, I got a call from the client, gently inquiring if I’d been able to send the package as planned. I was a little surprised by this, and immediately went online, going to the FedEx website to track the package. To my considerable surprise, it apparently was sitting in Memphis, Tennessee, in the FedEx hub there.
Now I was even more surprised, but figured that maybe the computer was wrong. So I called the FedEx 800 number to find out what was going on, and was instantly treated to one of those circular experiences during which it seems almost impossible to talk to a live human being. However, I figured out - and this is a tip for the future - that if you mumble and the machine can’t figure out what you;re saying, they transfer you to an operator. So I mumbled.
The operator to whom I spoke did some quick checking, and reassured me that yes, the package indeed was in Memphis and would be delivered on Monday. When I informed her that I had listed it - and paid - for next day delivery, she did some more checking and informed me that because President Obama was in New York the previous evening, airport traffic had been clogged, the truck had not made its connections, and therefore had not gotten to the plane on time. “It wasn’t our fault,” she said.
Now, I wasn’t really annoyed by this, though I did think was a little unfair to blame Obama. After all, you can call him a Muslim, a Socialist, a radical, or any number of other things...but it didn’t seem quite fair to blame him for my package being delayed.
So I said to her, “But it wasn’t my fault, either. And I absolutely, positively wanted it to get there overnight.”
She didn’t seem to get the reference. “Nothing I can do, sir,” she said.
I realized that the place to which I was sending the package was not open on Saturday, so I asked if she could change the listing so it would be delivered first thing Monday morning (which would actually be in plenty of time for the client...I’d gone for Friday delivery to be safe).
No, she said, I’d only paid for afternoon delivery, so that’s what I was going to get.
Now I was getting annoyed.
How about a break on the cost? Maybe to the two-day delivery rate?
No, she said. Can’t do that either.
I spent a few minutes trying to reason with her, but frankly found the whole experience to be frustrating. But I decided to give it one last try.
“It seems to me that you have three choices,” I told her. “I just want to clear about which one you are choosing. I paid for a specific service, that you did not deliver - to have a package absolutely, positively delivered overnight. (Again, she didn’t seem to get the reference.) You could choose right now to make sure that the package gets delivered first thing Monday morning, but you’re not making that choice...even though, since there are probably numerous trucks going in that direction on Monday, it would cost you almost nothing. You could choose to give me a break on the price, which might cost you as much as five or ten dollars, but you’re not making that choice, either.
“No, you are choosing to leave me - a customer who regularly uses your service - dissatisfied with the whole FedEx experience...enough so that next time I have a package that absolutely, positively delivered needs to get delivered overnight, I’m going to think about UPS, or even the Post Office, or any one of the other overnight services that are out there. Are you sure you want to make that choice?”
The answer, basically, was yes.
Now, the package got there on Monday afternoon, and all was well.
But it seems to me that these are the kinds of encounters that slowly kill companies. By itself, not a big deal. But if they happen over and over, to a multitude of people, eventually it starts to wear on a company’s culture and reputation.
FedEx is a widely admired company, and for good reasons. I have no idea if I ran into an institutional problem, or just an individual one. You know something, though? Institutional problems start out as individual ones.
The question that all businesses need to ask themselves, on a regular basis, is if these kinds of disconnects exist in their organizations - promises of products and services that ought to be absolutely, positively delivered in an effective and efficient way...but are not.
It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It doesn’t matter who gets blamed. It only matters that the customer is dissatisfied and perhaps willing top go somewhere else next time.
Then, the problem can be deadly.
For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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