3 Things We Can Learn from UPS’ Recent Failures

Something’s amiss at UPS. Promises are being broken. Children aren’t getting their holiday gifts. My boxes of books aren’t getting picked up. Even Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is considering switching to drones. Since my initial UPS post, I have been awash with stories from friends, colleagues, and former strangers (hey there!) who found me through the magic of social media.

But, ah, there’s a silver lining here. In every failure there’s a lesson to be learned.

And in multiple failures, there are oodles of lessons. Let’s start with three:

Lessons #1: Remember Who Made You

UPS became a big successful company by delivering on a promise to deliver the fruits of the labors of businesses large and small across these United States. UPS became so big and successful that Amazon chose them for a delivery partner. This was a huge opportunity for UPS, the opportunity of a lifetime. But they didn’t scale properly and the people who made them big are getting trampled. My advice here is: be careful what you wish for and be ready when it comes. Large accounts take up a huge portion of your company’s time and effort. If you’re pitching that giant client you’d love to have – or even just a slightly bigger client than you usually have – you had better make sure you have the bandwidth to handle both them and the bread-and-butter people who made you.

Lesson #2: Manage My Expectations

Customer service is all about expectations. Setting the right expectations – the ones you can deliver on – and then delivering on them every time. If you can’t fulfill your promises, I can’t trust you. It’s as simple as that. If I’d known there was even a chance that UPS wouldn’t be able to pick up my packages, I would have been happy to have one of my staff drop the boxes at a UPS store. Just tell me so I can take the appropriate action to get my needs met.

Lesson #3: Nail the Recovery

When you aren’t able to make good on a promise, for Pete’s sake, have a plan to recover quickly. Apologize, listen, fix … in that order. Not once did my friend Jack, probably not his real name, ever apologize for the inconvenience and extra time this caused me. Nor did he have any way to look into, address, or fix the issue. Jack clearly had a delay-tactic script and he was sticking to it. Here’s your homework. Take five customer service problems you’ve had recently. Map out the ideal recovery procedure for each. Get your team together, assigns roles, and practice each one. Switch places do it again. Discuss.


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