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 First Word by Scott M. Paton


by Scott Madison Paton

As I write this, it's mid-August and the UPS strike continues. The ubiquitous little brown UPS trucks are nowhere to be seen. The legions of UPS delivery people have vanished as if beamed to another planet where packages are much smaller and the trucks are all air-conditioned.

The strike may be over by the time you read this. I hope so. I can't imagine what would happen if it continued for weeks or months. What will we do?

I know! There are plenty of other delivery companies! Why, there's FedEx, Airborne Express and, if all else fails, the U.S. Postal Service. Not to worry. Unless, of course, you do business in the real world. Instead of seizing this opportunity to win new customers, UPS' competitors have reacted in a decidedly unfriendly manner.

Baldrige Award-winning FedEx reacted by immediately canceling its delivery guarantee and refusing to sign up new accounts. In a shocking example of poor customer service, our local FedEx office here in Chico, California, even refused to accept a small box from us one afternoon. This was after we were unable to deposit our small box in the drop box outside our office because FedEx had suddenly changed the pickup time from 4:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. -- without notice.

Airborne Express and others have followed FedEx's lead and also canceled their delivery guarantees and refused to sign up new accounts.

Then there's the U.S. Postal Service. Long complaining that its competitors had an unfair advantage, the Postal Service had the perfect opportunity to win new business by proving itself a viable alternative to UPS. Instead, the Postal Service reacted by limiting customers to sending four packages per visit and delaying periodical-rate postage. (If you received this magazine late, blame the strike.)

Of course, FedEx and the Postal Service have an obligation to serve their existing customers first, and they only have so much capacity available. It's equivalent to Apple Computer trying to supply all the operating systems for personal computers if Microsoft suddenly ceased to exist. But it's amazing that the delivery companies have been so hostile.

And speaking of much-maligned Microsoft, why is it OK for the Justice Department to continually threaten antitrust suits against Microsoft, which also controls 80 percent of its market, and not threaten UPS? Doesn't an organization that ships 80 percent of the nation's packages have an obligation to society to keep the packages moving?

I've never been a big fan of UPS. I don't particularly like the fact that you have to pay a weekly service charge for the privilege of having UPS pick up at your location. But I sure do miss those little brown trucks. Unfortunately, what goes UPS sometimes goes down.

How do you feel about UPS and its competitors? Are you seeing terrific customer service in the face of unprecedented demand, or are you seeing shocking examples of poor customer service? E-mail your thoughts to me at spaton@qualitydigest.com.


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