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7/27/2006
03:21 PM
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How a Failure to Collaborate Directly Impacts Business

People collaborate with people.  People also collaborate with machines.  And machines collaborate with machines. But what happens when it all breaks down - what we have here is a failure to collaborate and communicate. (With apologies to Strother Martin's character "Captain" in Cool Hand Luke)

Before I start, I want to say that I really like Fedex as a company and have been very satisfied with their services over the years, although I blamed them in my book for helping create a society of instant gratification. But I digress.

It all started with a package, which in actuality was travelling such a short distance I could have delivered it myself.  But instead, I chose to send it via Fedex and dropped it off at a Fedex station yesterday midday.  It was scheduled to have arrived at 39 West 14th Street today at 10:30 a.m.. But it didn't.Usually, the Fedex Web-based shipment tracking system is spot on.  So I was surprised when I checked at 9:30 a.m. and it showed "At local Fedex facility."  At 10:30 I called and a customer service rep told me that there had been some freight delays coming in from Newark (which is where my package was sorted) and there was a one-hour delay system wide.  No problem, I thought.  11:30 came and went.  I checked the Web site at 12:15.  This time it showed "Delivery Exception - Incorrect Address."  Now that's funny, I know the address was correct.  In fact, I have the original air bill here.  So I rang customer service again.  They told me they were delivering to "391 West 14th Street" which is not what I had written on the air bill (that will teach me to write these things out by hand).  Apparently, something had caused a mark to be added next to the "39" but, according to the cheerful representative, I shouldn't worry; she would send a message to the station, which would in turn contact the driver and arrange a redelivery to the correct address since the driver was still in the area (albeit many streets away from the destination).

As advised, I called back in 30 minutes and the [now] slightly less cheerful representative told me that 30 minutes was wildly optimistic and that normally this process takes up to two hours.  So I called back again - at the prescribed interval.

The next representative was very much to the point:  "The driver has already gone home; we won't be able to deliver the package today."  The time was now 14:15.  I asked for a supervisor and met Buzz, a chap in the customer advocacy team.  He was very pleasant and well trained in empathy.  He investigated the situation and tried to figure out why I was given wildly conflicting information on what to do and what would happen.  At every turn, the representatives I was speaking with were checking with colleagues and systems.  And each managed to give me a different story and possible outcome.

If the first or second representative had informed me that the package simply could not be delivered until Monday, I could have both considered alternate arrangements (such as arranging to have the package picked up) and saved time by not calling back like an automaton.

This was an important package.  I really needed it to be delivered by 10:30.  But it wasn't and the failure of multiple people to collaborate and share correct information with me wasted both my time and theirs.  

These things happen all the time - but they shouldn't.  I spoke with five people over the course of several hours - probably at a cost of several hundred dollars to Fedex.  All for a package that cost ca. $18 to send.

The facts of this case didn't change as the day progressed; but the information the representatives gave me did, and the information they got both from colleagues and each other was incorrect at several junctures.  Clearly mistakes happen.  But some mistakes are avoidable; clearly, the representative who told me to call back in 30 minutes was wrong yet she set my expectations in a way that guaranteed I would be unhappy when I called back.  

As I noted earlier, people collaborate with people and also with machines.  In the same breath, people need to understand the limitations of such interaction and recognize when a course correction is needed.

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