Customer Experience nightmare: UPS UI hurts Apple’s UX

Steve Jobs and Apple have a well-earned reputation as control freaks, as the latest debate about Flash shows. In his open letter on Flash Jobs says:

“We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform.”

But have Apple’s user experience designers taken a moment to think about UPS drivers?

What’s the link? A Kafkaesque experience that I’m currently trapped in.

Kafka wears brown

It all started a month ago when I ordered a new MacBook Pro, Apple LED display and extended warranty to replace my current aging configuration. A serious chunk of change.

A week or so after Apple debited my card, a UPS driver showed up at my door with two parts of three-box order. After asking the driver where the third box was, and being told he didn’t know, I signed for the two parcels. Or so I thought.

Turns out that the UPS tracking system shows I signed for three boxes. You guessed it. The missing box was the MacBook Pro. Several frantic phone calls and emails later, an inquiry is underway. And it doesn’t look good.

UPS is the sub-standard app

Why, because, according to UPS, I signed for three boxes. This is totally incorrect, but I have no way of proving it because of my signature. Or more exactly: because of a crappy UPS user interface.

I don’t know if the handheld terminal used by UPS drivers is the same around the world, but in France it’s a retro brown slab. When the driver gives it to you for signature all you can see is the signature box in a tiny monochrome window. There’s no recap of the items in the delivery. It doesn’t print out a receipt. It doesn’t show the driver’s name or ID number. To make matters worse, outside of Paris UPS doesn’t operate those heroic brown trucks you see in the ads. Parcels are delivered in leased white vans by guys wearing no ID.

Tail wags dog

After some teething pains, my experience with the customer service people at Apple has been good. But they are, as they freely admit, a bit powerless to resolve the problem. We’re all waiting to see what UPS says – and they have two weeks to say it.

I find this ironic, given Apple’s $231 billion market cap versus UPS’s $65 billion. I expected UPS to roll over like a crêpe and admit their mistake, but instead they’ve holed up inside a fortress of denial. They won’t talk to me, only to the sender. They won’t give me the name of the driver or the local phone number of the warehouse. As part of the inquiry procedure, I guess, someone from UPS called me the other day to ask if I’d received a delivery, but he had the wrong date. I had to give him the tracking number. Nice.

The price of bad UI

Someone is going to end up holding the bag, and there’s a better than even chance that it will be me. If UPS denies responsibility, Apple will have to decide whether to replace the lost MacBook Pro at their expense or tell me I have to buy a new one.

As you might expect, if Apple decides the latter, my opinion of a brand that I much admire will take a serious nosedive. (My opinion of UPS, which I used to admire, is irremediably ruined). The aftertaste will be bitter and long lasting.

I consider myself a better than average Apple customer. I’m loyal. When I moved to France 18 years ago the laptop in my bag was a PowerBook. I’m an evangelist. Besides owning several Macs, I have converted at least three people in my family over to Macs in the past two years. My mom and my father-in-law were next on the list. But now I’m having second thoughts. Phrases like “by the short and curlies” and “over a barrel” have started to pollute my mind. The brand equity Apple has built up with me over the years is being burned off by UPS like an oil rig gas flare.

UPS is Flash

If Apple won’t allow Flash on iPhones because they can’t control the quality of the apps, why does it let bad UPS hardware/customer service/hiring procedures harm the relationships it works so hard to create with its customers? Every company should be asking themselves the same question: are your service providers harming your brand?

My humble suggestion: Apple, please, force UPS to design an iPhone application that lets the buyer/recipient scan and sign for the parcels. Empower me, damn it.

In closing, I’d like to help Mr. Jobs write an open letter to UPS. To help him get started, here’s how I’d re-write the paragraph shown above (my italics):

“We know from painful experience that letting a third party service provider come between the brand and the customer ultimately results in sub-standard customer experience and hinders the enhancement and progress of the brand.”

If you’d like to help my cause, please share this blog post with as many people as you can. Oh, and if UPS is your delivery company, remember to order one item at a time and think twice before signing.


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