UPS and its customers are slaves of its technology

UPS has the information about customers, locations, and shipments to be an amazing leader in customer experience (CX). It has the people, devices, and bar codes to turn the Internet of Things — of packages — into an artificially intelligent engine for customer delight. But based on my experience, UPS is the slave, not the master, of the machine that it has created.

I’ll share three (unfortunately, not hypothetical) situations and talk about how as a CX leader UPS could use its technology and people to make each a great customer experience.

1 The empty envelope

A small business owner sends a package by UPS to Nevada. The package arrives torn open and empty. What should UPS do?



A CX leader UPS would have delivery staff who knew better than to deliver an empty package. In fact, those delivery workers would upload a photo of the damaged package, scan the bar code, alert the sender, and automatically credit the sender’s account.

The actual UPS delivered the empty package. The actual UPS also features an elaborate claims process that requires the sender to provide physical evidence of the damaged package, not just a photo. For small packages and charges, this process is effective at deterring damage claims; unless the package includes something very valuable, it’s just not worth it for the shipper to recover the cost of the shipping.

Strike one.

2 The misaddressed package

Due to receiving incorrect information from the recipient, a small business sends a package to another business at the wrong address. What should UPS do?

A CX leader UPS has any number of possible ways to correct the problem, including:

  • Search the Internet for the correct address for the business (which is one digit off from the incorrect address).
  • Check the address for the business that UPS has delivered to hundreds of times before.
  • Call or text the phone number included in the shipping label and online system and ask the recipient for the correct address.
  • Email the email address included on the shipping label and online system and ask the recipient for the correct address.
  • Call, text, or email the sender (phone and email information are the sender’s account) and ask for instructions.

The actual UPS took a different path. It identified a different incorrect address for the business that was 3 years out of date. It delivered the package to this defunct address and got a signature, despite the fact that the business was clearly not at that address. It charged the shipper for rerouting the package.

Fixing this problem takes two phone calls, because UPS maintains separate customer service systems for shipping and for billing (“We can’t fix that, you have to call the billing department.”) UPS sends advice of these additional charges on the weekend, but the billing department is closed on the weekend.

In this case, after the sender complained, UPS blamed the post office (!), saying the incorrect address was in the post office’s system. And a month later, against the sender’s explicit instructions, UPS retrieved the package, returned it to the sender, and charged the shipper yet again for the return.

Strike two.

3 When second-day air doesn’t arrive on the second day

A small business sends a package by second-day air across the country — for $35. On the second day, UPS realizes it has lost track of the package for some unknown reason. It adjusts the delivery date to the third day (or fifth day, if you count weekend days). What should UPS do?

A CX leader UPS would do both of the following:

  • Email or text the sender to alert them to the delay.
  • Automatically adjust the cost of the shipment.

The actual UPS changed the information in its tracking system to reflect the delay, but failed to alert the sender. When the sender checked the system, noticed the delay, and called, the customer service people had no explanation for the delay. The separate service people in the billing department (remember, a separate phone call) could see the delay, but said they could do nothing until the package is actually delivered late.

Strike three.

Social media is part of an intelligent customer experience

All customers deserve excellent service. But some customers can make more noise. Businesses must pay close attention to those customers.

All of the incidents above happened to me as I shipped pre-release and thank-you copies of Writing Without Bullshit to people who were important to me. I used UPS because the UPS store is right down the street. And I complained to UPS on Twitter about each one. But the @UPShelp Twitter account mostly looks like this:


And sure enough, UPS treated me like any other customer and told me to email its help address. I did that, but the resulting emails simply reinforce UPS’ rigid policies.

My Twitter account has 22,000 followers. That means nothing to UPS.

It links to my blog, which gets 1 million views per year. That means nothing to UPS.

A CX leader UPS would not only turn the power of its technology to creating a great customer experience. It would know that I ship five packages a week and have a social media following. And it would take a little extra effort to make sure that I got service good enough to prevent blog posts like this.

Instead, UPS not only failed me, but charged me extra for its failures.

UPS is an incredible machine. With a little intelligence, it could turn that machine into a mechanism to delight customers, rather than one that treats them in an undifferentiated way, fails to handle failures well, and chews them up and spits them out.

Goodbye, UPS.


I tweeted a link to this post to @UPS and @UPSHelp. Predictably, here is their response:

Additional update: Just heard from UPS social media team, which will process refunds for all the inappropriate charges (but not for the first empty package unless I “file a claim”). They don’t comment on blogs.

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  1. I feel your pain; shipping losses are incredibly annoying. As someone who does big pulses of shipping every so often, I’ve been in your situation – and it’s resulted in me becoming a real shipping nerd.

    If I may make a suggestion, next time use USPS. I have found them to be as good or better than UPS when it comes to delivery performance, and their prices are much better for small-volume shippers. Plus you can go to the local post office and get help from real v1.0 humans when something bizarre happens.

    In particular, if you are sending media (books, printed matter, DVDs), you have multiple options:

    * Media Mail (5-10 days, incredibly cheap – $2.61 for a 1lb package)
    * 1st Class (3+ days, up to a pound)
    * Priority Mail (2-3 days)

    Oh, and if anything in your shipment is Priority Mail, you can call them and schedule a free pickup (not many people know that). Same goes if you’re sending out a lot of packages.

    There is usually someone at every local post office who is the expert in what I call USPS Black Magic — the interesting little features of the postal regulations that you can use to save money (like Media Mail with non/incidental 1st class enclosure)

    I’ve also found that is well worth the monthly fee because it gets you the commercial rates and most importantly, it leverages USPS address correction and reformatting. If you do a fair amount of shipping then getting the thermal label printer is a no-brainer, it really saves time and money.

  2. Well. NOT the USPS in NYC. Not helpful people at all assuming you can even get them to open a window during business hours! UPS usually works for me — but agree with all the points made; these things do happen. and FedEx is expensive!!

  3. I hope a human at UPS reads this eventually and learns from the experience. It looks to me like they are using an auto response to each and every post. DUMB in this day of social media. I can’t help but think of the commercial with the older women with the tag line, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.” Get with it UPS.

  4. Update: I just heard from “Tamika B” on the social media team at UPS. She is processing refunds for incidents #2 and #3. As for the package delivered with no contents, I would have to file a claim for that, which is pain in the ass for $10 compensation, so I won’t be doing that.

    She also shared the shocking news that UPS social media team members are not permitted to comment on blogs. Hah!