Information as power zone in customer relations

We are reminded constantly of the power of interconnected tools to allow all of us to share information in real time, improving efficiency and enabling companies to connect with customers. In some ways this is undeniable but the ability to network also creates a new category of information, which when considered from a user’s perpsective, is partially useless, aggravating and even misleading.

UPS provide a great example of this at the moment. Currently struggling to move packages backlogged in Dallas (again) they provide numersous ways for customers to track and receive updates on the status of their items. Similarly, they usually allow sellers like Amazon to directly link into their tracking system so customers can access information at the point of purchase. So, no longer just waiting, shoppers can ostensibly track the progress of their packages acriss the country from source to destination. The trouble here is that UPS, once it has issued initial tracking info, does not actually update this information reliably and predictably, and makes it quite difficult to ask further questions.

Items backlogged this week are sitting in what UPS euphamistically term ‘exception’ status, and are tagged with the stock message that the anticipated delay is ‘one business day’. This day comes and goes and the update never changes. Some reports online indicated delays of more than 10 business days without this message ever being updated, and there is speculation that once in ‘exception’ status, your package is the lowest priority as the company tries to maintain its on-time record up with fresher shipments that have not yet hit a lag. UPS allows you to request updates but all this does (after asking for your email address again) is send you that same old message, nothing new. So yes, they provide online tracking but it is not real-time, not useful, and allows you little chance of estimating reliably when you may actually receive an item. One might consider this an information gap.

Of course, the beauty of the web is that one need not just accept this. The aptly named ‘pissed off consumer‘ contains numerous postings about the problems of UPS and their rather poor customer relations, including numbers to call. Some of the stories here are excrutiating. I tried contacting the company who sold me the item I am waiting for and they at least managed to get more info from UPS than I could. Most distressing for many online was that UPS knew days ago that anything entering the Dallas area was just going to pile up but they still accepted the orders, even with expedited shipping fees from late Xmas shoppers.This much one could determine with a little exploration online. Unfortunately, despite the supposed democratization of the web, too few sellers allow the buyer to choose preferred carriers, or else I suspect UPS would be in real difficulty in Texas and its serviced areas.

All this information power is potentially impressive for the companies perhaps but from a consumer side the black hole of holding patterns one ends up in quickly after the initial update is a guaranteed source of frustration. It may even be that the lack of tracking info from the start would be better than what is on offer here. Suddenly, the idea of network tracking seems less informative than it might be and the old power differential between informed and uninformed is magnified. Real world information and real world people seem mismatched. Unintended consequences of IT, again?

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