06 October 2016

FedEx (a rant)

Happens more often than you think.

I dread going to FedEx.

Generally, when I go to the post office, I get quick, reliable and friendly service from people who take their job seriously and who will generally treat you well. In nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century America post offices were once centres of the community where people would come to hang out, and there’s still something of a cheerful and homey feel to a lot of them; even nowadays when they’ve been ‘professionalised’ the people who work there will still make conversation with you and joke with you while they work. I’ve stopped into the post office on Seventh Street twenty minutes before work to pick up packages, with two women behind the desk and six people ahead of me in line, and still gotten my package with a smile and gotten to work on time. I’ve never had the USPS fail to deliver a package, though there was one time when they delivered my diploma from the University of Pittsburgh and it fell behind the heating grate on the landing of my apartment building, and they (understandably) couldn’t tell me what happened to it. It was a stroke of luck that let me see the corner of the envelope peeking out from behind the grate. So yes, I got my diploma a couple of weeks late, but if we’re being fair, that wasn’t their fault.

Not so with FedEx.

My wife had to get her paperwork for completing an application for a green card from the notoriously-truculent American consulate in Guangzhou. We were at a point in the process where the deadline for her mandatory physical examination was due to expire, and thus the paperwork was somewhat time-sensitive. It seemed that the only way to get the paperwork there on time was to fly it out by courier rather than mailing it by slow boat. However, the woman who worked at the FedEx Office told us that, a.) they were not allowed by law to deliver papers to any residential address in China; and b.) the courier service would not be able to deliver the papers to any address in China before Jessie had to get down to Guangzhou for her physical exam.

Fine. We’d still get them there, even if it was a few days late and had to arrive at the school that I used to teach at, to be picked up by my old colleague, Mr. H—, who would then give it to Jessie. We paid $91.50 for that service.

I checked with Mr. H— to see if my package had arrived on time. No, it hadn’t. Imagine my reaction when I saw on the FedEx website that the package could not be delivered because I’d given them the wrong address. The address that I had worked and lived at for a year. Irate, I called up FedEx, which transferred me to some poor fellow sitting in a cubicle in India, and told them that no, I hadn’t given them the wrong address, and could they try again to deliver the package? The Indian bloke told me he couldn’t guarantee anything, but he’d see what he could do. Long story short, it turned out I was right and they delivered the package to the school—five days after they said they would. For that privilege, I paid ninety-one dollars and fifty cents.

Another time, FedEx couldn’t deliver a package to my house, so they left one of those ‘sorry we missed you’ post-its on the front door. (Note: neither USPS nor UPS has had this problem.) I had to drive all the way up to Roseville to get my package. I was the only person in the room, and the woman behind the desk kept me waiting for a full 15 minutes while she was on the phone, while a queue behind me started to form, then got my package and refused to answer my questions about why it couldn’t be delivered.

More recently – my workplace uses FedEx for all their printing services. I find this an… unfortunate choice, but what can I do? I order 6 copies of a 40-page PowerPoint presentation, spiral-bound, with a clear vinyl cover and a black vinyl back. I get to the FedEx Printing Centre the next morning to pick them up, and what do they give me? 12 copies of some 4-page document I don’t even recognise, stapled! I told them it wasn’t my order, and they didn’t believe me at first, and had to check the computer to figure out that I wasn’t trying to welsh them or something. This was also a time-sensitive document, so there wasn’t anything for it but to wait another 20 minutes while they did the correct print job. (It took three of these middle-aged guys to process my order, and I was worried for a while that they didn’t even look to see if each packet was in the correct order or had the right number of pages!) But they eventually handed me what I’d asked for, without so much as an apology until I was already on my way out the door, and even then only as a grumbling afterthought.

Huzzah for the superior service of the private sector in the free freaking market, huh?

I tell you this much – if not at my employer’s behest, I’m not darkening the doorstep of a FedEx ever again.

EDIT: Hat-tip to my reader Peter Gardner for this amusing article illustrating, for a less-grouchy contrast, the admirable lengths the good men and women of the US Postal Service will go to to deliver all manner of packages. And I really do mean all manner!

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