By Ingrid Sapona
When I worked at a big consulting firm, one of the partners
had a motto that I strive to live up to in all my work situations: under
promise, over deliver. I like that saying because it embodies two separate and
equally important aspects of customer service: managing the customer’s
expectations to make sure they are reasonable and delivering service that goes
beyond what the customer is expecting.
Some businesses manage customer expectations by offering service
levels at different prices. Courier companies are the prime example. Courier
services quote you a rate to get a package from point A to point B within a
given period. But, they also offer to deliver packages faster, for a premium.
Indeed, if you’ve used a courier company like FedEx or DHL
recently, you know that many such have honed performance pricing to practically
an art form, with options like: standard, two-day, overnight, and even overnight
and before a specific time the next day. So, the customer decides what the
delivery speed is worth to them, and both parties are clear on the expectation
based on the price the customer paid. Clever – almost enviable – business model,
Well, earlier this week my sister wanted to send me
something. She knew I was going to be at my mother’s house in Buffalo from
Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, so she decided to send it to me there, rather
than send it to my home here in Toronto. She paid a premium to have the package
delivered between 4 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday. When it didn’t arrive, I phoned
She then phoned FedEx. It turns out that the FedEx plane was
delayed at her end due to circumstances beyond their control – bad weather. The
FedEx plane made it to Buffalo early on Wednesday and so they said the package would
be delivered on Thursday. She let FedEx know I was leaving on Thursday early
afternoon and they said they’d get it to me before 1.
Well, by 2 p.m. it was not there, so I phoned FedEx. While I
was on my second call to them, I saw a FedEx truck pass our house and then turn
around a few doors down. The truck then pulled up in front of our house and
delivered a package to the neighbor across the street before driving away.
Then, five minutes later, our neighbor came over with the package addressed to
me. Not only was it nearly 24 hours late, the driver didn’t even seem to care
what number he was delivering it to!
I could understand when the package wasn’t delivered on
Wednesday because there was a delay due to bad weather. But when they set the
expectations so high by charging a hefty premium for delivery within a certain
period, they should go out of their way to make sure the package is delivered
within their revised promised delivery time (in this case by 1 p.m. Thursday),
not to mention that it is delivered to the right address.
I had a similar problem a couple months ago when a client in
Buffalo sent me something via DHL. They decided to send it via courier because
a few months before that they sent something via ordinary mail and it took a
week to get here. Well, despite paying for “overnight delivery”, the DHL
envelope took seven days to arrive. When it didn’t show up on day four, I asked
the client for the tracking number. In tracking it, I found out that the
envelope went from Buffalo to Cincinnati and then to a DHL office in Northern Alberta
before being sent to Toronto. Though DHL never explained why it took seven days
to get an overnight delivery from Buffalo, it seems odd that they were shipping
things via Northern Alberta at that time because it was in the midst of the
Fort McMurray wildfires.
As a kid, I used to get my hopes up about things. And, if
something I was looking forward to didn’t happen, I was bummed out. I’m sure
that happened to everyone. I’m also sure that as we get older, we learn to temper
our expectations a bit to avoid disappointment.
But, just because we’re adults, we shouldn’t have to settle for service
that’s not what we’ve been promised.
When companies build up our expectations and charge in
proportion to their promised service, we shouldn’t have to temper our
expectations. Is it too much to ask that businesses – including courier services
– make sure their promises are realistic and that they can deliver on them? I
don’t think it is…