In all kinds of weather, the package left at my door

I have a question to ask… and unfortunately, I believe I already understand the answer.

I’m guessing but already without question certain, technology and efficiency and all sorts of other things that make the company dollars while repeatedly ticking us all off is involved to a significant degree. And I say “us all” because I am convinced I am not alone.

Here’s my question…

Why did the delivery services become so careless and impersonal?

We can begin with where I think the answer is found.

I love my GPS. (This is a quick aside… promise… and will matter later.) Funny thing is, when you use your GPS or similar apps enough, you begin to discover quirky little flaws in the programming. And I don’t mean a business that used to exist but doesn’t now, or one that does exist but isn’t listed. It might be a spot where the system thinks you can’t make a turn and tells you to drive an extra half mile. It could be a place where it gives you directions to get off a highway at an exit that actually adds time onto the trip. I’m talking about those little blips where your familiarity with a place reveals a miss from the GPS or app.

I’ve been thinking about these things every so often, when for whatever reason I have the GPS on and running, taking me home or along paths I know, and suddenly an unexpected instruction is offered. And it occurred to me that there was a really good chance that while on vacation or heading around parts unknown, I’ve actually accepted the misleading directions, still got to my destination safely, and never knew about the glitch.

Another funny thing about a GPS is that they tend to ignore traffic and red lights in arrival estimates. Not all of them do… and to say they completely ignore them would be misleading since you can find some that adjust immediately, and the clock ticks along when you come to a complete stop. But still, if you catch three or four red lights, it’s easy for that estimated arrival time to start changing.

Let’s bring this back to the delivery companies and our packages. Imagine if you are working for one of those companies and you have your day mapped out for you in one of the most efficient ways available. Mapped out in such a way that those three or four red lights adding a minute or two on one trip now involves several adjustments covering your entire shift at work, and we’re actually talking about some truly significant delays on your schedule.

This is where I’m guessing. And I say that because I don’t work for one of those delivery companies, and I’m not completely aware of how their daily responsibilities are scheduled. But I can tell you that I’m convinced it has something to do with why I haven’t seen the face of a delivery driver in years, though I have been home and readily available to answer the door when many packages were left outside the door of my house. And after seeing packages left in the rain and the snow and so on, the events of yesterday got me thinking (and writing).

About two months ago, Terry and I sent some garden tools back as part of a product recall. It was quite the process -- notification sent to us… went online to register for the recall and request that they send us the materials… have a box shipped to us so we could return the tools… place the tools in the prepaid shipping box and drop it off… wait eight to twelve weeks for new tools to arrive. In fact, it was such a lengthy process that a person just might be tempted… you know, especially during the winter months when not using the garden tools… to completely forget about it during that eight to twelve weeks. (Which I sort of did.)

A week ago, my mother sent a package to me. Dad had a tracking number for it and was all over the process, sending along updates and anticipated delivery details. And the day after I thought the package was going to arrive, I happened to be on the phone with my father and I mentioned I hadn’t seen it yet. His response was quick: “I thought it was supposed to be there today, not yesterday.”

With him on the phone, I walked to the door, opened it, and found two boxes on the ground. Now… allow me to offer a few things for your consideration…

First up -- I had been home all day. I hadn’t gone anywhere. And that means, as has become the custom lately, the packages were dropped off and left without a knock on the door, without a signature requested, and so on.

Second item -- The weather has been awful this winter. Snow and cold and all sorts of inhospitable things have become the norm. Driveways, walkways and stairs are safe, but definitely not clear and dry.

Third -- I wasn’t heading out for anything. Not on that day. Not on the next day. And not on the day after that next day. It was, so to speak, my weekend.

Back to those two packages sitting in the snow outside the door. The garden tools were wrapped in a clear plastic trash bag. The package from my parents was not wrapped at all, and was wet along the edges. If it hadn’t been for my expecting a package from my parents, the garden tools would have sat there for days before I found them. (I believe I’m supposed to be grateful that they were the ones wrapped in a bag.) And if I hadn’t called my father, I probably would have left both packages outside for at least one night.

A few years ago Terry and I went with some dear friends out to California, and we spent several days visiting wineries and vineyards, and had several bottles shipped back home. When discussing the shipping with the various places, we worked with them specifically to make sure that they would arrive once we were home (including looking at calendars to time them for days we would be home and not at work), since a signature from someone of legal drinking age was required to complete the delivery.

For two of the boxes being sent with wine inside, we got home from work to find “we were here” notices on the door. And, since someone had to be there to receive the packages (and couldn’t just sign the waiver on the back of the notice), we found ourselves in a wonderful whirlwind of stupidity. When we got home, the delivery company had closed for the day… that meant the packages had completed day one of the “three attempts and we return it” process. And by the time phones were active the next day, the packages would be on the truck again, meaning we couldn’t pick either up at the nearest shipping center that day. Which brings us along to day three, when a package could be available after not being loaded onto a truck and held at the nearest shipping center, which I would now like to mention was a thirty-minute drive out of our way (becoming an hour round trip) and not at all convenient in any way at all.

These two incidents weren’t the only time we faced this problem. And you can probably guess how excited and happy you can be when given with an extra hour of driving on your commute, after a long day at work and with dogs waiting for you to get home, so you can go out of your way to get a package that you arranged and paid to have shipped to your door. Sure… it’s just lovely.

And now we head back to the GPS.

See… anything that delays the driver along the route for the day is a problem. That delay could be an accident and it could be a string of red lights. That delay could be talking to a person face to face. And so, we have for a variety of reasons… possibly included in this essay, and likely many others not mentioned here… arrived at a place where the companies play their own version of ding-dong-ditch. (How many of you have heard the doorbell ring, immediately gone to the door, and opened it to find that in less than twenty seconds from the sounding of the bell the driver had returned to the truck, gotten inside, put it in gear and begun to drive off while leaving a package on the stairs? Me too.)

I want to understand, or at least be understanding. It’s not an easy job. I wouldn’t be thrilled about dealing with the weather, unfamiliar pets (no matter how friendly), labeling errors that weren’t my fault but have me spinning in circles, disappointed recipients, and all sorts of other obstacles that I’m certain are routine parts of the day.

The trouble for me is that this is another example where speed and efficiency really seem to be replacing common sense and responsibility. And go figure, with the removal of common sense and responsibility, along come results that tend to be far less reliable when it comes to being speedy or efficient. And for better or worse, it changes the way I do business and hurts some companies. No exaggeration… if getting a case of wine sent from my favorite vineyard is going to be more expensive and mind-bogglingly exasperating, then I’m going to learn to be satisfied by stopping at the liquor store on my way home instead. Less time, less money, less frustration. Win, win, win for me… and a loss for that vineyard I would have loved to reward with my loyalty.

And make no mistake, the world is changing. Just ask at your local post office about the fun these days involving mail and delivery. (Actually, don’t… I’m sure you’ve already heard, and they probably would prefer not to be reminded.) In all honesty, I am a huge fan of the US mail and these companies that deliver packages. But I am stunned by how many companies seem to be thinking about the immediacy of a single sale and losing sight of long term business from repeat customers. And, amazingly enough, quite often it really seems like the answer to a happy customer could very much be as easy as knocking on the door and putting a package in a bag when it’s raining.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at