Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Delivering the goods (not)

As mentioned several times in this blog, bureacratic non-sense and obtuseness is not only to be found in EU and public sector offices, but it happily lives and festers in large (and not so large) corporates as well.

This is a well-known fact and one I am somewhat resigned to - what, however, really depresses me is when "technology progress" gets hijacked by those who just can't really tell their elbow from their, well, keyboard...

Take Amtrak, for example.

They have a fantastic web tracking facility, and if you place an order with an online retailer who uses them (and the retailer is clever enough to provide you with the parcel tracking ID) you can follow in almost real time the progress of your goods from Amtrak's website.

I used it and was quite impressed and rather pleased - how naive!

It so happens that if you are not home when they make the first deliver attempt, an automatic re-delivery attempt will be made on the following working day, and failing that one too, goods will be kept at their depot for two days only, before being returned to sender.

Now for the non-sense:

  1. there is no way to contact Amtrak and tell them: "sorry, I won't be home tomorrow, can we do the day after?";
  2. worse yet, it's not even possible to tell them "sorry, I won't be home tomorrow. Don't bother calling, save yourself time, money and, ideally, some air pollution too";
  3. finally, you can't even tell them "sorry, I won't be home tomorrow: can you please leave the parcel with my next door neighbour? He looks odd and I do disapprove of his singing habits, but all considered he's a reliable guy and unlikely to nick my parcel".

Nope. Niet. Zilch.

We are Amtrak, we deliver and we'll be at your door tomorrow, come hell or high water.

Apparently, there is a way to avoid that: to call the online retailer, explain to them that, no, you won't be home tomorrow, then have them contact Amtrak to re-arrange delivery.

Now, if anyone has ever tried to get in touch with an online retailer's Customer Service call centre and tried to explain to them even the most basic change (it once took me half an hour to convince a guy that my postcode change was not because of my whim, but RoyalMail's decision over which I had, regrettably, very little influence) you'll know why I shuddered at the thought.

To me, the infuriating part is the sheer nonsense of a system that allows no flexibility whatsoever, whilst it would be really trivial to make a minor modification to their IT systems and business processes to allow customers to pick, online, a more convenient date: this would result in greatly more satisfied customers, great cost savings to them and, lest we forget, less environmental damage from so many missed deliveries.

They already have all the systems in place (witness the tracking system) and the facilities to manage that flexibility - it is not a matter of re-designing it or implementing it from scratch.

I can only conclude that their IT folks never talk to "the suits," who, for their part, can't be bothered to talk to their call centre staff who would undoubtedly explain to them that probably 30% of delivery trips are in vain.

So much so for technology progress...

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