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(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Once upon a time a decade or two ago, I believed the tales told to me in business school. Perhaps they weren’t tales before some of the financial ravages occurred that changed how we do business. But those were days before right-sizing and outsourcing and all those great buzz words that might help the bottom line—and I’m sticking with “might” because I believe in a bottom line that reflects more than the latest quarter, but one that also looks to future earnings and growing customer goodwill—were quite so prominent.

Basically, I fell for operations management, not because I am some mathematical wizard who can analytically detail the best way to manufacture a product or provide a service, but because I believe the human decisions about the whys behind a process make a difference in how well an entity serves various stakeholders.

And part of the whys should be having a plan for how that entity responds when the goods are not delivered as promised or when promised or whatever. The manner in which a website is designed or a phone tree is built indicates something of the sort of service that is most valued by the organization. Resources, especially when limited, tend to get allocated toward what matters most.

When I access a website or a phone tree and note that my particular concern isn’t prominent, then either my current difficulty is not common or it isn’t considered as important as other problems to the organization.

This is where I find myself this week. Does a company so famous for its delivery systems not often have a problem with delivering packages to the wrong homes or does it focus more on resolving problems for the businesses that procure its services? Even though I pay the shipping fee to the original business, it’s that business that chooses which shipping provider to use—for all its shipping needs. They are the bigger stakeholder.

Of all the FAQs listed on the website, there is not one that says: Tracking says a package was delivered but the package was not received. Not sure if the “How do I determine what address my package was delivered to?” instructions work since it is their records available to me that show it was delivered to my address.

After a couple days of calling back and forth to the local hub for our neighborhood’s deliveries while waiting for the driver to tell the office if she recognized my house, I have found out she did not. Then I was told to call the original shipper to have them file the claim.

In my perfect little fairy tale world, this isn’t my responsibility. The company, recognizing that it has likely made a delivery to the wrong address, then takes charge of the mistake and does the legwork for me. The company facilitates this because it wants the problem corrected for me, the individual stakeholder, as well as for the larger stakeholder that is the business that chooses to send its deliveries to me and all its other customers through this particular shipper.

Beyond that, the company also tries to understand if something in the process led to the mistake in the first place in order to make changes that will reduce future errors. Plus, perhaps said company realizes that making the initial contact more customer-friendly and efficient in the face of delivery difficulties will improve the experience for all stakeholders—including its own employees and the productive and cost-effective use of their time—which in the end improves that ever important bottom line.

And then we would all live happily ever after.

As it stands, I left a phone message with the original business that sent out my package in good faith last week through the shipper. Any sweet dreams I expected from using the ordered little pillow to better position my oh-so-sensitive “princess and the pea” back for restful sleep will have to wait. If I were really living in a fairy tale, then all these challenges would simply be part of my hero’s journey to reach the happy ending.

Since I no longer believe in such tales, I’ll just say that this whole saga is not an example of best practices—for any of the stakeholders.

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But there’s more after all! In between writing and editing this piece, the doorbell rang. A man I did not recognize was standing there with my package. When he told me it was mine, I had to ask where he lives—inquiring minds want to know how all this really happened. His house is on the 3500 block while ours is on the 3800 block—no wonder I didn’t know him by sight. (And, yes, the correct address was marked on the box twice.)

So while what I said about businesses still stands, it turns out that sometimes you can depend on the kindness of strangers. In a world of people busy not taking enough responsibility for their actions, there are always those who take on more responsibility than is their due. As so often happens, just when my experiences seem to indicate that believing in others belongs in a mythical tale, then something happens that reminds me that there are plenty of people (and entities) living out the hero’s journey every day—in both big and small ways.

Don’t know if my pillow will be the magical solution for which I sought, but I’ll rest easier having remembered that some tales are true—which makes for a much happier ending for this particular tale.

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(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Two years ago my good, old trusty Kenmore dryer stopped running—right in the middle of winter when my clothesline is none too helpful. I wasn’t quite ready to move up appliance-wise, so I just replaced the washer/dryer set with one from a reliable used appliance store. However, I soon discovered that my replacement set was the budget version of my previous set—it was never designed to be as good as what I had owned.

That mattered most with the dryer and doing loads such as the jeans from our now fully-grown family of four. Doing laundry just took longer. Not exactly what I needed with so much of my focus on my mother. Then again, the kids left for college about seven months later, so we got by most of the time.

The kids’ return last summer reminded me just how slowly the dryer did its job. And because our dryer made doing a dull job even less appealing, the kids didn’t do their laundry much. It made me crazy to have so much dirty clothing in the house. Still, I wasn’t ready to upgrade yet.

That is until we knew that Jackson would not be returning to college after Christmas. It’s hard enough to figure out how to live together after living apart. What we don’t need is any additional burdens from using inefficient equipment that increases the time necessary for doing chores that no one really wants to do anyway.

My solution? Re-organize the laundry room and start the new year/new living arrangement with a spiffy new dryer to encourage regular laundry routines.

Great plan except that new dryer doesn’t seem to dry. Really. We’ve reattached it, cleaned out all the lint connections, tried pushing the buttons in different ways, etc. The sensor drying phase shuts off after two minutes—no matter what. And the timed drying phase just tumbles the clothes as dictated—if there is heat, it only comes after about three hours of constant use.

My daughter worked through a load of laundry with the old dryer, but had to return to school with the rest of her dirty clothing.

And my son’s clothing? Still waiting, other than the few necessary pieces we’ve managed to have the patience to dry.

Today we have a Chinook wind blowing with a sixty-degree forecast—might have to break out that clothesline after all.

In the meanwhile, I’m waiting for the service person’s arrival—impatiently—he said he’ll be here in half an hour. (Thank goodness I got his call telling me he would be here solidly within the scheduled window right before I received the company’s robo-call saying the arrival might be delayed beyond the scheduled time—please tell me he knows more than the computer!) Had to wait almost a week for this appointment after our call—after we had waited a week and a half trying to figure out if we were doing anything wrong and could fix it ourselves.

Part of me wonders, how did we as a culture get here? The salesperson told us if they have to come out more than four times in the year, they will replace the appliance—and that does happen. Does this make any sense when these appliances are so expensive in the first place?

I’m definitely longing for that trusty old Kenmore that lasted around twenty years—and that didn’t have any computer parts, which meant my husband also performed any needed repairs himself.

Am I a Luddite if I say I think we’ve all been hung out to dry? I suppose I am, even if I’m not planning to smash up my new dryer—hey, I paid for it already. But, sorry, folks, this way is not better.

Maybe I’ll change my tune when I have a functioning new dryer and see how much more efficient it is with both energy usage and our time. Still, just in case, I’m glad we at least have a clothesline and no covenants to prevent us from using it.

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