August 19, 2020

Courier Services: “Delivered” – Really?

Published by the NZ Herald on June 11, 2020.

I am sure there are many who, when ordering online, have understood “Track and Trace” (TAT) to be a useful tool by which we can monitor the progress of our package from the company to our home. In my experience TAT has merely highlighted the incompetence of most courier services.

NZ Post has been much maligned for its poor service. As a result we have witnessed the rise of private delivery services. But these ‘express’ or ‘fast’ or ‘courier’ delivery service companies are hardly bastions of excellent customer service themselves.

Over the past year I have received several packages without incident. Ordered a product. A few days later product arrives. Pleasant surprise.

But on other occasions, especially when one has requested and paid for an express courier service, it has been enlightening to follow ‘progress’. TAT then reveals the inefficiencies.

The following is an example of a relatively straightforward experience – probably a local ‘hub and spoke’ system in place – although one does wonder why it took just a day from Petone to Masterton but then two days from Masterton to Martinborough.

Tuesday afternoon: Package collected from a Petone store by Company X
Wednesday morning: Package is checked into X’s Masterton Branch
Wednesday afternoon: Package is “out for delivery”
Friday afternoon: Package is delivered to me in Martinborough.

Here in Martinborough, by no means a rural location, one’s package could be marked “delivered” on the TAT website – but it is not at the front door, nor has one signed for it, nor is it at the next door neighbour. First we check at the local general store, P & K, which is also the local post office. Not there? Pop around to the local gas station. One or two courier companies believe that whatever the address in the village might be either of these two locations is ‘near enough’. Not at the gas station, either? Then sometimes a courier might hand it to over to our village postman who will deliver it along with NZ Post mail on the next working day.

Here’s an example, another package I ordered this week from Wellington City, sent via a different company.

Wednesday afternoon: collected from store in Wellington City
Thursday afternoon: scanned by Courier A – based in Palmerston North
Friday morning: scanned by Courier B – based in Masterton
Friday morning (two hours later): TAT system says “Delivered” and signed by “Authority to Leave”.

I call and ask – where this has been “delivered”? Answer is that the package has been delivered to a local courier (obviously not on the company’s TAT system) and I can expect “delivery” within the next 48 hours. That probably means Monday.

The divide in responsibility between company provider and courier is most stark when ordering from abroad. Prior to Christmas I ordered from that infamous US company, “A”, and paid for the fastest courier service – and given a delivery date of Dec 12. No problem.

Two days later I receive an email saying delivery date postponed by a week. When I inquire, “a problem had arisen but now resolved”, and yes, Dec 12 still good.

Between Dec 12 and Dec 14 TAT shows no movement from the Auckland Depot. Why?

Company A says there was a “customs” problem, now resolved, delivery on 14th. Sorry, says Company A – but we’ll refund the courier charge. Nice.

Between Dec 15 and 20 there is much to and fro – as it turns out that A uses and International courier company which then subcontracts a NZ courier company! Each of the three companies has their own online TAT which show differing information.

Finally, on Dec 22 package arrives, just in time to be re-wrapped for Christmas. And I check the websites of the three companies involved – three different messages!

Modern IT was supposed to provide faster more efficient services.

Every so often I watch wistfully as in an old episode of an English drama, perhaps an Agatha Christie mystery or an early Sherlock Holmes. Invariably there is a scene where someone is sent to post a letter before the evening collection rom the village postbox, or a butler brings in the morning mail, or we see the postman delivering the afternoon mail. Multiple daily collections, twice daily deliveries. How did they do it?