Be Like USPS, Not UPS

USPS customer service shines while UPS drops ballWhat???? Can pigs now fly?

Considering how many comedians have earned a living knocking the Postal Service, did you ever think you'd hear anyone holding up the Postal Service as a customer service example? And, wait for the other shoe to drop, as an example over the venerable UPS? 

I had recent experiences with the two services, which leads me to the startling conclusion in my title. Thanks to my tenth grade English teacher, I'll do a 'compare and contrast' customer service case study.

When I have unsold books/CDs/DVDs left over from speaking events, I send them home with a 'return service' UPS sticker. Ground service. Getting the books and CDs home doesn't rate expedited air service, IMHO. So, I have a UPS shipper account to allow me to crank out these return labels. I also pay $40 per year to have a UPS My Choice account so that I can reschedule deliveries when we're out-of-town (a service the Postal Service provides for FREE – aka. mail hold). Considering that I'm a motivational speaker and comedian, and this is a family business, we're out-of-town a bunch. It bugs me that I have to pay UPS not to alert would-be robbers that no one is home. I'm okay; I'm breathing deeply.

UPS: The Bad Customer Service Example

I had one of the aforementioned book shipments (big word – my English teach is beaming), according to the notification from UPS, scheduled to land on my door step when we would be out-of-town. So, merrily, I login to my UPS My Choice account and choose to reschedule the package for when we're back in town. At this point, I get a window that says (paraphrasing) that if I pay $40 per year I can reschedule packages. Hmm, I did pay $40 for a UPS My Choice account. Hmm, but I logged in. Oh joy, now let me find a customer service telephone number, wade through unrelated voice prompts, mash the '0' button numerous times, wait five minutes for someone to pick up… Full disclosure – I hated calling UPS customer service before this instance. I never feel that they help me. Ding, ding, ding, *case study note* – how do your customers feel about calling you or your customer support for help? I'm just saying.

I explained my problem to customer service. Back on hold. "This sounds like a tech support issue." Transferred to tech support. Back on hold. I again explained the problem, this time to tech support. Checking. Back on hold. But I've paid for the privilege to have my packages held. Checking. Back on hold. Not available for ground. But the Postal Service doesn't care what kind of mail I hold. Checking. Back on hold. Not available for return packages. But, but, but… Checking. Back on hold. NO

At this point, I was pretty frustrated. Go figure. So if I have it straight, if a delivery is either a ground package or a return I can't reschedule delivery? But, I'm pretty sure that I've rescheduled ground packages before. Hmm… 

I don't know why I thought of this, but I decided to take a different tack. I logged into my shipper account to check out the shipment, and guess what – there is a reschedule option! Wait, here's the best part. I can reschedule delivery, for only an additional $12.35!

So what did I do? I bit the bullet, feeling disabused, and paid the $12.35 to reschedule the package. But… I thought I already paid for this service… 

USPS: The Good Customer Service Example

As I've already stated, I regularly use the USPS mail hold service. Go online, tell them to hold your mail starting on one date, and ending on another date. Easy. Free. It just works. But here is where my case study gets some customer service meat and potatoes. 

I had set up a mail hold for a recent out-of-town trip. Our mail usually comes late in the afternoon, but we had a substitute postal carrier on the day we were scheduled to leave. In this case our mail arrived on the day the hold was set to start, around 10:00 AM. Since we hadn't left yet, the postal carrier brought our mail to the door and asked if we wanted it now, or whether we'd prefer that he hold it. We have a mailbox on the street. They don't normally bring our mail to the door. This guy noticed that we were obviously still home, and decided to go out of his way to see if we wanted our mail that day. Yep, great customer service from the USPS!

The Moral to the Story

C'mon, you knew there had to be a moral to the story!

From my vantage point, it looks like the USPS is trying to improve service and to rebuild its image, while UPS is more interested in slamming me with excessive fees, not delivering on what I thought I already paid for, providing me with awful customer service, and making their operational inadequacies my problem.

What am I doing about it? I'm researching other shipping options. Actually, my husband Bill is. I've had enough. Besides, he'd rather do it himself than being around me when I'm on a rampage. Whenever I get cranked up he mutters "Don't make me angry, you won't like me when I'm angry." Bill thinks it's funny. I wonder where he got it. I'm voting with my dollars.

Now, look at your own business. Can you afford to give abysmal customer service, making your customers do business YOUR WAY? In an age when you can order a custom built computer, delivered to your door in days, does that make any sense. Sure, UPS is a big company, and it could take years for bad customer service to put them out of business. Can you count on that for your business? I'm just saying… 




Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson - called one of North Carolina's funniest women by Our State Magazine. Kelly lifts the spirits of audiences from coast-to-coast using humor, storytelling, and lives of the characters from Prides Hollow - Kelly's make believe small town. This unique approach to motivational speaking allows Kelly to break through communications barriers and connect directly to the audience's imagination.
Her powerful stories and wacky wit will make you laugh, remind you that you matter, show you how to see beyond your obstacles, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market.
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  1. Great story Kelly – Your english teacher would be proud!  I like to think that I handle my own customer service issues more like your USPS situation. I ran out of books at a recent event and had to ship orders. One order form confused me – after I signed the book to Katie, I saw a note that I should sign it to Kathy.  Whoops.  Was it my volunteer's mistake? So I called Katie and she in fact wanted to buy the book for her mom Kathy for Mother's day.  I decided since I had already signed a book for Katie, I signed another one for Kathy and sent them both to Katie at no extra charge. I would rather overdeliver on the side of the customer than save a couple of bucks. 

  2. It amazes me when technology, like on the UPS site, doesn't hold up it's end of the bargain. Blue Shield wouldn't let me pay my bill the other day no matter how many times I tried. Good thing I lived to tell the story and eventually track down a service rep who happilly took my money. My postal gal, Carrie, is wonderful, but don't get me started about the guy in our local post office, Mr. I WON"T Smile. Other than that, I'm a Fed Ex girl.

    • For all of the hits the Postal Service gets, from my personal experience they do a lot of things right. I can't speak for the service in other parts of the country, but in our little berg the Postal Service people are really friendly and helpful. 

      In all fairness, I can't knock the UPS guys who actually deliver our packages. They are always nice, and they really hustle. However, I usually find the customer service terrible, and the service  incredibly inflexible. Just look at their tagline and you can see that their customers aren't their priority: "We Love Logistics." That says to me that they are inwardly focused on operations, and not on pleasing their customers.

  3. I really enjoyed your story, Kelly. I've written a couple of stories about UPS, too. 

    This story is about how your insurance isn't really "insurance."

    And this column is about what they did to a pair of antique speakers. 


    • Wow Dave, those stories are shocking! I always thought you could buy insurance from UPS for valuable packages. Thanks for the great information, and thanks for being on the job standing up for us ordinary folk.

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