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November 21, 2005

Secret Shippers

The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and these are ignorance, superstition and incompetence. ~ Elbert Hubbard

There are two televisions in my home -- a bedroom number and a living room number. The bedroom unit has begun to join the choir invisible and, since the "good" TV is over 10 years old and only 19" big, I decided to ask for one for the holidays. Keeping a sharp eye out for a model that can accommodate all my A/V needs at a good price, I recently stumbled upon THIS 27" BEAUTY at Amazon.com. I am not one of those PIP / HDTV / Must have all the bells and whistles people. The fact that I'm going from 19" to 27" sort of makes me have TV guilt, but I'm over it.

The person who pledged to give me said item for the holiday (okay, fine, it's my mother *sigh*) preferred to forward the money to me and allow me to do the purchasing because buying things on-line makes her "edgy." This sort of negates the whole gift thing (one of the nice parts about getting a gift is that you don't have to hassle with the purchasing part) but it's my MOTHER and at this point, I'd done the research and knew what I wanted.

The purchase process was fairly painless and Amazon's post-sales blather said it would have it here by the 23rd. Which seemed ridiculously optimistic, but I liked the idea.

This is when I noticed that on my order page, beneath the shipping date, the following disclaimer appears:

Your order is being sent to an area recently affected by Hurricane Katrina. We estimate that delivery of your shipment may be delayed up to 10 days or more.

Forgiving that "up to 10 days or more" is a frustrating nonsense statement, and taking into account that my area had NOT, in fact, been affected by Hurricane Katrina, I find it more than a little offensive that they're using it as an excuse to cover their ass on late shipping dates. It was mildly miffed. Then, I click through to the next page and get this message:

Weather Delays

Last Updated: October 25, 2005

At this time, deliveries to certain areas have been delayed or suspended completely due to weather activity. We have listed the affected ZIP codes below.

Please be aware that even if your ZIP code is not listed below, deliveries to your area may still be delayed because carriers are prioritizing their transport capacity to deliver emergency response materials and first-aid support.

We currently expect shipments to affected areas to be delayed by up to 10 days or more. Our carriers have assured us they will deliver packages as swiftly as possible once it is safe for their drivers to do so.

We are very sorry for the inconvenience this delay may cause. We hope you will understand that occasionally shipments may be delayed by circumstances beyond our control.

Areas still Affected by the Hurricanes

(List includes those areas that are likely to be affected by Hurricane Wilma, as well as residual from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.)

All Zip Codes with First 3 Digits:

329, 330, 331, 332, 333, 334, 339, 341, 342, 349, 700, 701, 706

So. Okay. ALL THESE areas might be affected by (insert hurricane here) and, oh, we might not even ship it at all because you know, UPS isn't shipping anything to Florida if suddenly medical supplies are necessary in Lousiana.

As a hurricane survivor who knows and understands how things work, I cannot begin to tell you how hugely offensive this is to me. This is intentional corporate falsehood to cover poor customer service practice because hurricanes give them the excuse to do so.

There isn't a single person who would be bothered if UPS or some other carrier experienced delays because they were working on getting shipments of needed supplies to storm victims. That is perfectly reasonable, and when an explination of such an occurance were to show up in my tracking, I wouldn't think twice about it. But UPS is a business and they don't just suspend all pickups and delay all shipments in entire states MONTHS after a natural disaster hits a region of that state.

I am writing a letter to Amazon condemning this blatant and shameful exploitation of storm victims for the comfort of a nice cushy excuse to give them extra delay time in their shipping buffers. I encourage everyone else to do so as well.

But back to my TV.

I wake up to an Amazon email in my box this morning. It says my TV has shipped via UPS ground and gives a tracking number: XXX-XXXXXXX-X.

Fabulous! My faith in Amazon is semi-renewed. The CYA blurb on their site is still offensive and requires addressing, but at least they aren't intentionally holding back items just because they think they can. Bad, but not beyond understanding. They notice is probably just outdated.

Except the tracking number is bogus. I'm unable to get a status on either Amazon's tracking or UPS's tracking with the number they've provided. A call to UPS and the rep tells me they've never heard of this tracking number and it's the improper format for a UPS tracking number at any rate. Of course, they cannot track a package based solely on the destination and recipient for "security reasons." In fact they cannot even CHECK to see if a package from Amazon to my shipping address even exists. Because even though I know all there is to know about this package and I'm only asking for a current status (or verification of existence) I could still, I suppose, mean the package harm and it needs to be protected from me. Out of morbid curiosity I ask if there are any areas where they've completely suspended shipments and/or pickups to entire states because of hurricanes. The answer is no -- although a few areas experience delays, those delays are reflected in the tracking when they happen ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS.

Also good to know.

Against my better judgment. Against all logic, I call Amazon customer service. No easy task. But I've had Cliche Ideas' Amazon Page bookmarked for quite some time. Helpful little Internet. Good puppy. Here, have a cookie.

I will not tell you how long it took to get through the voice prompt system which is -- I'm convinced -- intentionally unhelpful to anyone that doesn't have a basic "one size fits all" inquiry. They are, at this point, looking to actively piss off people with unique problems and force them into email-only resolution. There is no other explanation for the complete lack of accommodation for problems their system does not foresee.

But I digress.

I am put in touch with "Kath." (and if Kathy is her real name, I'm the Queen of Argyle). Kathy manages with a somewhat difficult grasp of the English language to repeat back the Amazon Order Number I provided (after three tries). It is not Kathy's fault she barely knows English. It's not like she lives in a country where English is the primary language. It's not her fault she was hired by an employer who places zero emphasis on customer service. Kathy probably speaks at least two languages, so she's obviously a competent and intelligent woman in a bad situation. I refuse to take out my bile upon her. At least not right out of the gate. More flies with sugar and all that. Even if this has already consumed an hour of my morning.

Kathy accesses the system and asks for my billing address, my shipping address, my email address, and, the last 5 digits of my credit card along with my expiration date. All of this before I can even explain the concern I'm having. But, okay. It's not "Kathy's" fault. No reason to get upset with her. I provide the information pleasantly. After all, I'm only going to be asking for a tracking number. It's all quick and painless from this point on.

Once my information has been confirmed (which takes additional tries because Kathy has a little trouble with understanding me when I speak too quickly -- so defined as any speaking pattern above slow-mo) I then get the privilege of explaining my problem to Kathy. The UPS tracking number provided in the email Amazon sent me AND on my order page is incorrect. May I please have the real tracking number? Pretty please. With sugar on top? If I promise to be good? I just want to keep tabs on the package so that someone can be here to help me lift the 80lb monster when it gets here.

I am placed on hold because, you know, asking for a real tracking number is something a rep cannot possibly be expected to have at their fingertips. Poor Kathy.

Kathy returns to the line with someone, obviously speaking behind her. Fine. So she's a trainee. No problem. There's someone there with her, two heads better than one, etc etc etc.

Kathy explains that because this is an "expensive heavy weight item" she has to fill out a special form to expedite shipping.

I explain I wasn't looking to expedite shipping (although that would be nice). I just want the correct tracking number so that I can track the package myself.

Kathy then states that there is no tracking number.

I ask how on earth Amazon could ship out an expensive "heavy weight item" with UPS and not get a tracking number in return.

What follows is a transcript of the rest of my conversation with Kathy. I recorded my end of the conversation on my home computer in a wav. Kathy's responses are from memory and may be somewhat paraphrased.

K: "The heavy weight item did not ship UPS."

Me: "But your company sent me an email saying it shipped UPS. It provided me with a tracking number."

K: "That was a technical error."

Me: "No, Kathy. A technical error means that something didn't work correctly. This is a falsehood. There is a difference between providing the wrong tracking number and lying about which company you shipped with."

K: "It was a technical error."

Me: "Okay. It was a technical error. Did the package even ship?"

K: "Yes, the heavy weight item has shipped."

Me: "Fine. What company did it ship with?"

K: "I cannot provide that information."

Me: "The shipping company is a secret?"

K: "They do not give us tracking numbers."

Me: "But they exist?"

K: "Yes."

Me: "Okay. So, what company did Amazon ship this heavy weight item to me with?"

K: "I'm sorry?"

Me: "What shipping company is currently in possession of my heavy weight item?"

K: "It is the shipping company we use for heavy weight items."

Me: "What is the name of the company, Kathy."

K: "I cannot give you that information."

Me: "So, the secret company that has my heavy weight item cannot be revealed to me?"

K: "I will fill out a form for them, ma'am, so that they will deliver your item."

Me: "The act of giving it to them and telling them to ship it to me won't get that done?"

K: "I don't understand. I am filling out your form to get the heavy weight item to you."

Me: "Kathy, it's a television. We can say television, can't we? Or is the secret company afraid this will lend some clue as to their identification?"

(The person in the back is heard murmuring. Kathy says nothing)

Me: "Kathy?"

K: "Yes, ma'am. I am trying to get this information so that I can fill out...so that we can tell the shipping company what it needs to deliver to you."

Me: "The secret company?"

K: "The shipping company."

Me: "That has a name you can't tell me."

K: "That is correct, ma'am."

Me: "But it's definitely not UPS."

K: "No, ma'am."

Me: "Is it Fed Ex?"

K: "I cannot say."

Me: "Kathy, do you not know what company it is, or can you noy tell me?"

(A lot of muttering behind the scenes)

Me:" Kathy?"

K: "I cannot say. It is the company we use for heavy weight items."

Me: "And it doesn't give you an internal shipping number?"

K: "No, ma'am."

Me: "Okay. I give up. What do you need from me to fill out your form, Kathy?"

K: "Your email address."

Me "The one I gave you at the start of the call?"

K: "Yes. I have that."

Me: "Okay. What else do you need?"

K: "The order number and your shipping address."

Me: "Which I also gave you at the start of the call?"

K: "Yes, ma'am."

Me: "So, basically, you don't need anything else from me to fill out your form?"

K: "No ma'am."

Me: "Okay. To summarize where we are: my package has shipped with a company that needs a form to tell them to actually deliver the item you shipped to me. You can't tell me the name of the company and they provide no tracking numbers."

K: "I...no...I am going to fill out this form so that the item will get to you sooner, ma'am."

Me: "Sooner than what, Kathy?"

K: "I cannot say how much sooner."

Me: "Okay. Let's try this. At what point should I expect the package to get here?"

K: "I cannot say for sure. Soon."

Me: "Soon? Soon days or soon weeks?"

K: " Soon days. Maybe many days but hopefully less."

Me: "Enough soon days to equal weeks?"

K: "I will fill out the form. You will get it sooner."

Me: " I don't suppose you have a supervisor available?"

K: "No, ma'am, but if you want a call back I can fill out a form for a supervisor to email you or return your call."

Me: "Email me OR return my call? I'm guessing the odds are I'd be getting an email, isn't that right, Kathy?"

(Silence. More muttering in the background)

Me: "How about this -- can I speak to your training assistant, Kathy?"

K: "I'm sorry, ma'am?"

Me: "The person who is telling you what to say to the difficult customer you have on the phone. The one speaking with you in the background. Can I speak with them?"

(A pause, the muttering gets quieter)

K: "I cannot connect you with anyone else, ma'am. If you'd like to get a call back or an email from a supervisor I can fill out the form."

Me: "No, Kathy let's not create a glut in the form room. Go ahead and fill out the shipping form and I'll just consult my Magic 8 Ball each day for tracking information."

K: "Yes, ma'am. I'll fill out this form and your heavy weight item shipper will get the item to you. They will either send you an email or you will get the item."

Me: "They will either send me an email OR I will get the item?"

K: "Yes, ma'am."

Me: "Are they going to be asking for some kind of ransom in this email?"

K: "They will provide tracking information in the email."

Me: "Which they haven't given to you -- the shipper?"

K: "That's right, ma'am."

Me: "Will they be revealing their identity in this email? Will I need a code word or decoder ring of some sort to recognize them?"

K: "I don't understand." (pause - muttering) "You will not need anything to get the email."

Me: "Good to know."

K: "Okay. So I will fill out the shipping form for the heavy weight item and you will get an email or the item."

Me: "Right-o. Thank you, Kathy."

K: "Thank you for calling Amazon today. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

Me: "I don't think we should tempt fate any more today, Kathy, do you?"

K: "I...yes..no....is there anything else I can help you with, ma'am?"

Me: "No, Kathy. You have a good day and my condolences on your choice of employer."

K: "Thank you for calling Amazon."

For what it's worth, I believe "Kathy" was legitimately trying to help me. While my tone remained polite, it's obvious I lost my temper. I'm yet another example of the ugly, rude American snot nose. But, sometimes you really must laugh or else you go mad.


All I wanted was a new TV.

Idle Prattle by Doxy at 11:32 AM | permalink | talkback (4)


Oh, lord. I think I've talked to this same person, several times.

Posted by: Karl Elvis at November 21, 2005 02:31 PM

Oh and by the way - nice TV. Good pick.

Posted by: Karl Elvis at November 21, 2005 04:27 PM

You did much better than I would have.

Posted by: PugDuster at November 22, 2005 12:12 AM

On the "natural disaster as an excuse for business surrender" front, check out the status of Starbucks in New Orleans, where they were already getting their ass handed to them by 3 different local chains:



and nyah:


Posted by: Ray at November 28, 2005 10:11 PM

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