More driver surveillance, less customer satisfaction

Why didn’t the delivery guy just hand me my parcel instead of leaving a note on my door saying it couldn’t be delivered and I would have to pick it up? I was home; it would have been so easy. It was so annoying to think that the carrier (who I won’t name but wasn’t Canada Post) was right there, at my door, and took my package away.

Man having a parcel delivered

Ester Kaplan had the same problem and decided to get to the bottom of it. “I began to notice something frustrating about my UPS deliveries,” she explains is Harper’s magazine, “They never arrived. When I wasn’t home, I’d leave a note asking for packages to be left at the laundromat on the corner. I’d get an attempted-delivery note instead. The same thing sometimes happened even when I was home—I’d find an attempted-delivery note, but no one had rung my doorbell.”

UPS uses a monitoring system called telematics which transmits data from the truck and handheld devices. More than 200 sensors track everything from backup speeds to stop times to seat-belt use. When a driver scans a package for delivery, the system records the time and location; it records when a customer signs for the package. Most of this information flows back to a supervisor in real time.

I didn’t realize there was so much driver surveillance. One good thing about parcel delivery, I thought, is that at least someone isn’t always looking over your shoulder. But with this level of monitoring, someone is. Worse, they only see part of the picture, not whether a bridge under repair or if the roads are icy.

At first, telematics was only used to monitor safe driving practices such a seat belt use. Now it’s all about fuel-savings, reductions in maintenance, and efficiencies in labour.

With more shoppers buying online, suppliers like Amazon are competing with each other to get their merchandise to the door as soon as possible. That puts pressure on carriers to deliver more stuff with the same staff.

Kaplan followed one driver around. He told her that supervisors would announce, “Hey, your stop count is going up by ten.” Daily UPS package deliveries grew by 1.4 million between 2009 and 2013 in the U.S., while employees shrank by 22,000.

Sure, telematics is working but at what human cost? Drivers are putting in long days and getting injured. They know how to pick packages safely but, in a rush, they end up with back and shoulder injuries.

Drivers leave stickers on doors without delivering parcels because it cuts time. Telematics, clever as it might be, can’t determine whether a customer is actually home or not.

Until drones start delivering parcels (I’m not holding my breath), it’s only going to get worse. I’m going to find online retailers that use parcel companies that don’t run their drivers ragged even if I have to pay a bit more.

Meanwhile, you beleaguered carriers, don’t deliver my parcel. I’ll understand. Slap the sticker on door and run if it makes your life easier. Eventually, online marketers will figure out that customer service is worth treating you right.

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