Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Business as Usual with Australia Post

Personal circumstances prevented me from reporting the following on a timely manner, yet the gravity of the situation begs the matter to be aired: for the first time ever, Australia Post has been failing to deliver us with our mail. However, more than just a story of an error, the following is the story of an organization going to the dogs as it outsources its core services and as money becomes the only thing that matters to this government owned company.

Perhaps our story starts during the summer holidays. Going away for a week, we left an order with Australia Post to withhold all our post deliveries while away. For this pleasure I had to pay Australia Post $20. While I consider the sum outrageous - that's $4 per day! - I still paid. After all, a pile of mail on our doorstep during summer holidays reads like an open invitation to would be burglars.
Yet despite the effort and the moneys we were still wronged. We came back from home holidays to discover a big package residing next to our door. Goddess knows for how long it’s been there. I called Australia Post’s call center to complain.
After a brief investigation, held while I was put on hold, I was told that the source of the problem is to do with us having one postal distribution center catering for our letters and another for our packages; it appeared only the former was notified of our request to withhold mail delivery. Caroline, the representative with whom I talked, tried to end things at that. I however, insisted that as a customer I should not care how Australia Post fulfills its duties, I just know I did not get what I paid for. Caroline forwarded my message onwards.
Ten days later an Australia Post representative left a message on my mobile informing me my $20 will be paid back to me. The cheque arrived a couple of days later.
The issue still remains, though: during three out of four times we used post withholding services, we still ended up receiving packages (on the fourth time we were not expecting packages to begin with). In all three cases we got our money back from Australia Post, but the point is obvious – Australia Post is unable to deliver on its core services, despite charging an arm and a leg.
As we found out, that was only a prelude. Soon we were to face Australia Post’s revenge.

During the same summer holidays I was talking about before I went shopping online three times. I bought a book from BookDepository, a bag from Ozgameshop, and a hoodie from Woot. Note all three are reputable overseas online shops, with the first and the third being owned by Amazon. These are not your mysterious one hit wonder sellers.
Alas, when three weeks passed since the time I should have been receiving these packages and none had arrived I started asking questions. Specifically, I was wondering whether this is more than a coincidence. I called Australia Post. I was told I shouldn’t worry and that I should ask the senders for tracking numbers, which should be available on all packages sent to Australia from overseas.
Great advice, only that it was wrong: all three sellers told me that in order to reduce their shipping costs they do not use tracking. So, a week later and still without a package in sight, I called Australia again.
On 19 February I spoke with Darren. As usual, he tried to get rid of me, but I insisted. Eventually he agreed to email an inquiry to the postal distribution center handling my packages, with that center having 10 business days (!) to reply. Boy, emails are sure slow at Australia Post!
On 23 February I decided to take the initiative and check with the post store near me whether they have any packages for me that I failed to know about. They didn’t.
On 26 February Australia Post finally called me with its answers. To their credit, they called me three times: first they left me a message, to which I called back and spoke with Mallory who told me the postal distribution centers (both of them!) claim no mail of mine is with them and nothing is held back. Later Christina called to tell me the same thing, and add that Australia Post cannot help me without tracking numbers.
Turned out Australia Post was lying to me.
Two days later, on 28 February, we had a guest at our house: David from our Australia Post store. Not the store near us, heaven forbid, but the one 2.5 kilometers away where (as per the grueling saga reported here) Australia Post has been sending our packages to over the past six months or so.
David actually took the initiative: he noticed that a package sent to our address was deferred by the delivery guy, who labelled our address as “moved” and avoided delivering us the package. David had rightfully found the delivery guy’s actions suspicious: since when does the delivery guy decide regarding people moves? He therefore decided to check things for himself, and stopped by our house after work on his way home. Luckily, my wife was there to accept the Woot hoodie with the following label on its packaging:

Needless to say, I was furious. I was just told there are no packages awaiting me, but here is one. Not only did I have it in my hand, I also had proof Australia Post had determined we had “moved” and thus avoided delivering us our packages. I immediately called Australia Post.
This time I spoke with Kerry. Kerry suggested I contact the senders so they can request an investigation (as the ones who actually paid for the postal service, only they are allowed to make such a request). I refused: clearly someone at Australia Post was tampering with the delivery of my mail; why should I wait on an overseas company initiate an investigation?
Eventually, but only after I made it clear she will not get rid of me that easily, Kerry agreed to call David’s post store for more details. David wasn’t there by now (I knew that; he was on his way home when he dropped by our place), so she spoke with Frida instead. Frida told her they have no other packages for us. At this point I will note how Australia Post conveniently removed clients from being able to call post stores directly: one can only contact them by phone through the Australia Post central call center, which – as you can gather by now – is geared towards getting rid of customers rather than helping them.
Regardless, if I was to find out more about the situation I had to talk to David, and the only way to do so was to call Australia Post again during David’s working hours. I did so on 4 March and found myself spending half an hour on the phone. According to David, with whom I was unable to speak directly but only through the mediation of the Australia Post call center, the contractor delivery person delivering our packages from the postal distribution center was responsible for writing we had moved on our packages. He was thus responsible for failing to deliver us our packages. Without tracking numbers there was nothing they could do to help with the other two missing packages, but the call center woman emailed the postal center again asking them to talk with the delivery guy to ensure this doesn’t reoccur and to look after my packages in general. Finally, I was assured there will be no more problems with the delivery of my packages.
Yeah, right. Guess what? Australia Post has lied to me. Again.
Two days after this latest promise was made, on 6 March, David was at our doorstep again with yet another package labelled “moved” in the delivery person’s handwriting:

This was actually a newer purchase I had made through eBay (I bought Dockers pants from a USA seller). I did it on purpose, because the seller promised to use tracking numbers. However, David beat the tracking to the post, pun intended.
If before I was angry, now I was furious. I immediately called Australia Post, again, to speak with Cassie. I held nothing back this time around, accusing Australia Post of stealing my packages and then lying to me about it. Cassie told me the matter would be referred to their “Back Office”, who deal with investigations. I should hear back from them within 5 to 10 business days (read: a week or two).
Exactly two weeks later, on 20 March, I got the call from Australia Post’s Peter.  According to Peter, after liaising with our postal distribution center they have identified the delivery person was under the impression we have moved. They do not know gave him this impression and they could not explain why the delivery person’s impressions matter in the first place. However, I was assured for the third time, by now the matter has been sorted. As for my two missing packages? There is nothing they can do about them. Nor could Peter advise on how to prevent similar mishaps in the future.

And that’s the story. Since this last interaction we have been receiving our post alright, with the obvious issue of us receiving packages to a post office 2.5 kilometers away while there is another office 100 meters from us. I make sure to fuss over this each time I pick a package up; by now the ritual is set:
  • I complain,
  • The post office people tell me to call the call center and complain,
  • I tell them the call center is all about getting rid of people and not about helping,
  • They shrug and laugh it off, clearly knowing exactly what I’m talking about.
More interestingly, when I pressed them further I was told that since deliveries were outsourced to contractors these contractors do whatever they feel like doing. I was even told the contractors threaten the post store people when the latter accuse the former of not doing things properly.
What does this leave us with? This leaves us with an organisation that, at its core, has some good people working for it. As much as I have an issue with Australia Post I cannot forget David taking the initiative twice and showing up at our door at his own time and by his own means to deliver us our mail. If this is not going above and beyond, I don’t know what is.
However, the whole affair leaves Australia Post to answer some serious questions:
  1. Could the whole matter of the disappearance of our packages be the result of a personal vendetta from the delivery person accused of delivering to us when we asked for post to be withheld? The timing of the incidents suggests this is a viable hypothesis.
  2. How come contractors are allowed to do whatever they feel like? As in, decide when people move houses, or decide which post store they leave packages at?
  3. When did the call center turn from a source of help to users in distress to a source of lies and incompetence, specializing mostly in deferring customers?
  4. Why is communication between various branches of Australia Post (delivery people, stores, distribution centers) so slow, inefficient and inaccurate?
There is no doubt in my mind Australia Post is a sick organization that’s been made corrupt through bottom line driven policies. Its behavior stands in stark contrast to the two shops I bought from, BookDepository and Ozgameshop, who quickly refunded me for packages that were lost through no fault of their own.

1 comment:

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