Saturday, September 29, 2007

A precautionary tale III - the bad Karma of DHL express

Choosing DHL express to ship my laptop became a second tragic flaw in the unfolding scenario. Until Wednesday, I would have nominated Cingular Wireless (now the new AT&T) as America’s least competent, least customer friendly corporation. (See last summer’s blogs from Sri Lanka for the details). Now I have a new nominee: DHL Express. The saga continues.

I should have known. Some weeks earlier, my travel agent had attempted to ship my Hungary air tickets to Washington via DHL express. A DHL driver had misdelivered them and a week of inquiries by my agent and my own staff was required before they were located. Informed by this experience my staff called DHL in advance of the shipment from Paris’ arrival. Except in emergencies, we learned, the local DHL office can not be reached directly. There is a “customer service” staff, at the end of an 800 number, that serves as an intermediary. A staff member spoke personally with a representative informing her that (a) the shipment was arriving and (b) we had experienced problems with a previous delivery because the driver had delivered to the wrong address and not obtained a proper signature. The staff member explained that the shipment was valuable and, because it was a computer, needed to be handled securely. She provided the representative with detailed directions about the location to which the package was to be delivered and to whom it was to be delivered. Apparently none of these instructions were passed to on the local office.

On the day the package was to arrive, we called the ‘customer service’ office again. We had followed the computerized tracking and knew it was in Rockville. We reiterated the delivery instructions once again. We were assured the package would be delivered before 5 PM. Then we waited... and waited... and waited... and waited. A 5 PM approached we contacted customer service again to check and reiterate, for the third time, our concern about he package’s safety and detailed delivery instructions. The representative, a new person who knew nothing of our previous calls, promised to check. We waited. I rearranged my schedule to remain late at the office so that I could pick up the package personally. We waited. At 6:30 I received a call from a customer service representative. I was told that the package was on a truck, but they had no way of communicating with the driver. They promised that it would be delivered before 7 PM. .... nothing. I arranged for another staff member to wait at the office until 8 PM ... nothing.

The next morning 4 CTE staff members, headed by the Assistant Director formed themselves into a swat team to follow up. Inquires to customer service elicited the information that the package had been delivered and signed for the previous evening. An individual named “Walsh” and signed. The driver later told us that supervisors told them to obtain a signature from “anyone who would sign” and deliver the package. A staff member began calling every AU employee with a name remotely similar to Walsh. Nothing. We then called every undergraduate with a Walsh-like name. Nothing. We called customer service and told the representative that because of the security risks associated with the package’s loss, we would be initiating legal action against DHL. In the face of this threat, DHL provided us with the name of the local office.

The work of our package recover SWAT team continued. All other work in CTE was put on hold, except for urgent calls. The driver was reached by DHL supervisors. He told an intermediary who told us that he had delivered the package to AU’s Anderson Centennial desk, which what he was instructed to do when a specific address was not indicated on the package. Despite three calls from CTE, providing detailed delivery instructions, he claimed he had never received any. SWAT team members tracked down the staff member who had been on duty at the desk. She informed us that DHL had attempted to deliver a package, but the staff had refused to sign for it. It was not entered in AU’s automated tracking system.

When the driver was confronted with this information. He changed his story. The name “Walsh” was a fabrication, we were now told. No one had signed for the package and he had not delivered it. Instead he had simply returned it to his truck. When he returned it to the truck, he failed to reenter the package in DHL’s computerized tracking system. In response to SWAT team inquiries and threats of legal action, DHL reported that he had located the package and would deliver it. Several calls between SWAT team members and DHL supervisory personnel were required to elicit this information. It turned out that it was possible for supervisors to contact the driver, by mobile phone, after all, though we had been told otherwise in numerous previous calls.

Only a coda to the saga remains. When the driver came to Hurst Hall SWAT team members were waiting at the door to greet him. but he had the wrong package, which was consigned to the Biology Department. After delivering the package, he returned to his truck while SWAT team members waited. Finally he returned with the package. The laptop had been irretrievably damaged in shipping. The driver left us with instructions about how to file a claim to recover the damages. He did not apologize for the damage or fabrications. We are hopeful that the claims process may produce results, in due course, but our experience, so far, suggests the process may be a tortuous one.

Throughout this experience, requiring significant expenditures of time by four CTE staff members plus myself and, in the end, producing damaged goods, not one DHL staff member apologized, expressed regret, or seemed to care about making things right. Only repeated proddings reinforced by threats of legal intervention produced action and some acknowledgment of accountability.

What lessons can be drawn from this precautionary tale?
1. don’t leave your laptop at a security check point - check your belongings carefully before moving on.
2. avoid the ‘sin of pride.’ If you think all is going particularly well, check even more carefully.
3. the world is populated by caring, responsible, honest, helpful people. We encountered many of them. They included my contact in Hungary, the Hungarian airport security police, several Malev staff members and numerous AU staff members and students who helped in our quest for the missing package. The CTE staff members who worked on the problem were creative, intelligent, diligent, patient and good humored.
4. I believe that most DHL employees, too, must have those qualities, though we never experienced them in our dealings with the organization. I can only conclude that in DHL’s corporate culture, the natural human qualities of caring, responsibility, honesty and helpfulness are suppressed rather than valued.
5. Should you be planning to ship a package by DHL express, seriously consider other options.



Blogger Laura said...

This is sadly not atypical. I have NEVER had a good experience with DHL. EVER. I'd rather go US Mail, and that's saying something.

You can post a digest of this on - it's a great consumer website where you share your experiences with other customers. It's pretty cool - and cathartic.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is another possibility, which is that at least some DHL employees do not have the qualities of honesty, responsibility etc., and that DHL's coporate culture (to the extent it is relevant at all) reinforces or fails to correct the bad qualities its employees already have. I'm not saying this is the case, but it is a possibility.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have found that the kind of service received depends on whether the drivers are DHL employee's or independent contractors. i believe only the North East has DHL direct employed drivers. I Hope they change this.

5:18 AM  

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