Why UPS frustrates me

They've finally pushed me over the edge and made me write something about them.

I guess I should provide a little background to that statement. The "They" I'm talking about is United Parcel Service, aka UPS. Seems every time I receive a package that's shipped via UPS my blood-pressure shoots up. Here's the explanation.

I was home almost all day today. I'm on vacation for the Christmas and New Years holidays, so I've been at home most of the past week. I wasn't expecting a package today, so I went on with my life as usual. It turned out that I was out of the house for an hour over lunchtime, since I had to go pick up my car from the service station and go get some lunch. As anyone who deals with UPS, the phone company, cable installers, or other "service" industries that come to your house can guess, that hour is when the delivery attempt for my package was made. Of course if that was the extent of my gripe, this wouldn't be worth writing, and I think it is, so as Paul Harvey used to say (is he still alive, even?), here's the Rest of the Story.

I called UPS to try and get my package. I've done this a lot, so I'm well-versed in the drill, but for those of you unfamiliar with it, here's how it runs:

  1. Call their 800 number.
  2. Wait on hold for ten minutes or so.
  3. Explain to the person on the phone that you got the little yellow slip saying they missed you.
  4. Explain to the person on the phone that you haven't the foggiest idea of what kind of package it is, since you weren't expecting it.
  5. Explain to the person on the phone that yes, you will be home the rest of the day, but whether or not that'll be the case tomorrow is an unknown.
  6. Explain to the person on the phone why the driver can't just leave the package (secure building, insecure neighborhood, neighbors aren't home during the day, either).
  7. Explain that the easiest solution really is for me to just come into their service center and pick up the package. I don't know my schedule for the rest of the day, let alone the rest of the week.
  8. Listen to the explanation of why UPS can't have the package ready for me the same day at their service center.
  9. Curse their collective inefficiency and ask to have the package held at the service center whenever it's convenient for them.
  10. Sometime the next day, or more likely later in the week, since they're often closed by the time you actually leave work, no matter what time you plan to leave, stop by and pick up the package in person.

The superficial problem is that UPS just isn't set up to deal with delivering to a person who isn't always there. The individual people within the organization (aside from the phone operators) seem to try and do a good job but there's only so much they can do.

The real problem is deeper. UPS seems to have forgotten that both the shipper and the recipient of a package are their customers, even though they only get money (directly) from the shipper. If you ship a package via UPS, as I have in the past, you get very good service. You can check on the status of the package all the way through the pipeline, and barring someone forgetting to scan a package along the way (which happens too frequently), you can have a pretty good idea of where your package is.

If you're receiving a package, your options are fewer. You're either there to receive the package, or you come home to find a little yellow slip on your door. When you call to find out how to get a package from them, you can either spend the next day waiting for the package, or you can have the package held at the service center the following evening.

On the other hand, Federal Express remembers that both parties are customers, and handles packages accordingly. If you're a shipper, the package is tracked all along the way. You can check on its status. Works very similar to the way the UPS system does. The big difference is in receiving a package. With FedEx, when you receive the little (white) note on your door, you can call them up, find out which service center handles your neighborhood, and head down there after 5pm and pick up the package that same day. If you don't want to go to their office, you can ask them to redirect the package to another address. All you need is the tracking number for the package, which means that if you're expecting a package, and know you're not going to be home, you can redirect it before the first delivery attempt is even made. If you want them to retry the delivery the next day, that's possible, too. They're flexible.

The other thing I want to mention is that the Post Office is a darned good way to ship (small) things. They stop by your house every day except Sunday and holidays (since you've always got some junk-mail coming, even if there isn't any "real" mail) and they pick things up at that same time. The other hidden bonus is that in many cases, your postman (read that as letter-carrier if you're terminally PC) can deliver where UPS or FedEx can't. POBoxes are a prime example, but apartment buildings with secured entrances and no on-premise caretaker are another. The postman usually has a key to open a special lock-box that holds a key to the building door. This same box and key is also used by the fire department, and utility meter-readers. The only reasons I don't ship everything via the Post Office are that they don't have a tracking system, and they don't accept certain things (large packages and wine are the two I run into most often). Lastly, if the Post Office were to go on strike as UPS did earlier this year, not getting deliveries would be the least of your worries.

Disclaimer: This is my opinion. I feel that it's protected speech. If someone from UPS would like to contact me about it, I would appreciate your feedback, but I've had no luck contacting anyone who cared about my opinion there.

UPS is a registered trademark of United Parcel Service.
FedEx is a registered trademark of Federal Express.

This was originally written in December of 1997
Copyright 2009, Dave Polaschek. Last updated on Mon, 15 Feb 2010 14:08:45.