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UPS - Useful. Professional. Swift
Member Name: steerpyke
Advantages: a fast, supportive and professional service
Disadvantages: may not compete in all areas
First a bit of back ground on me the customer. I work for a small company that imports and exports specialist spare parts for plant machinery, that’s diggers, excavators and the like to you. Consequently our consignments can range from a jiffy bag with a couple of bolts in it up to half a ton of drive motors, quite a diverse range and coupled with the fact that we could be receiving shipments and sending orders anywhere in the world, that is quite a task for one courier service to undertake. Which brings me to my first point, one company doesn’t. With such a range of different requirements and so many courier firms available the obvious approach is to compare the various services available and match the firms to what they do best. In my opinion there is no one company that fits all eventualities and in business it does not pay to put all your eggs in one basket anyway, the recent strike action at DHL paralysed some business that had a 100% reliance on that firm. So given the understanding that no one firm is the godsend to you business solutions, lets look at the back ground of the one under the microscope here, United Parcel Services or UPS from here on in.
UPS has an interesting beginning when, in 1907, Jim Casey of Seattle borrowed $100 to set up the American Messenger Service, employing teenage message runners and despite stiff opposition, their policy of courtesy, round the clock operating and low rates made the company a success. In 1913 the break though occurred when they bought their own car and moved into transporting packages for the new phenomena of the big retail store. By the twenties they had acquired the name we know them by today and were streaking ahead of the competition in terms of automated handling (conveyor belts) and a very modern account and billing system that replaced the old cash on delivery idea. By the nineteen fifties the company were using aircraft as part of their service, incidentally something they had tried as far back as 1929 but closed again due to lack of volume, and were so big that they were in direct competition with the American postal system, setting off a series of unprecedented legal wrangles that in many causes resulted in changes in legislation. By the mid seventies the company had gone fully national, operating in all the states and also began a swift rise through the international delivery market. Today, UPS operates an international small package and document network in more than 185 countries and territories, spanning both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. With its international service, UPS can reach over four billion people, twice the number of people who can be reached by any telephone network.
So enough of the history, why do I rate UPS. Well let’s start by saying that despite my praise, I don’t use them for deliveries within the UK. The reason being is that they just don’t compete price wise, although they do often outstrip the competition in the ability to deliver next day, but as always its money that counts. Its not that they are excessively expensive, its just that, like all established companies, our existing arrangements with another package courier, as well as local pallet haulage firms is so good that after all discounts are applied, UPS don’t get a look in. If however you were a company setting up from scratch, they would be the first people I called to arrange a meeting with.
Their system of cost works in the same way as most courier firms. The more you spend over a given period, the more discount you get. and even for spending a few hundred pounds a week you are probably looking at 40-50% reduction from the basic charges and that’s quite a saving. Destination is also fairly standard with all parts of the globe falling into one of about a dozen zones, the zone and the weight of the shipment being used to calculate the final cost before discount. I tend to find that for America and the Far East they can't be beaten and even in Europe many of their services are better value for money than the competition. That’s not to say the cheapest. If you don’t mind you shipments travelling on the back of a donkey to Kiev then there are cheaper options but if it has to be there tomorrow and you are willing to pay the extra (or more probably your customer is) then this is the company you should go for. It goes without saying that a company with such a massive infrastructure in the US cannot be beaten on a swift and reasonably priced service back to its homeland.
Its support systems also put it ahead of the game in many respects. It has a large on-line facility, many of the functions are available to non-account holders, meaning that your customer can, if they like, trace their own packages. The track and trace function is the one that is used more than any other. This is a line-by-line account, which is presented to you on-line, which marks the progress of the consignment. If a client rings up chasing and estimated time for the goods to arrive, you sound pretty clued up if you can say “ahh, yes, your shipment landed in Prague at 2.15 this morning, has passed through the local depot and has been on the road to you for the last hour”, so much better than “well it was in Northampton two days ago, it should be there soon”. The other function that goes hand in hand with this is the proof of delivery system, referred to as P.O.D. If there is any dispute after the event of the package being received, it is possible to not only tell the customer, when, where and by whom it was received, you can actually produce a scanned image of the signature. This is particularly handy for companies that have mobile engineers working on out of the way sites, half way up a Dutch mountain as the head office not only can be given a recognisable name as a recipient but can match it to a signature if there is any thoughts of fraud or theft. Although I have never had cause to resort to it with a UPS delivery there is something satisfying when a company are ranting down the phone about non-received goods and you can produce a fax of a signature that just happens to be their managing director, the phone tends to go quiet after that.
There are numerous other functions available, such as one line booking of consignment pick ups, though there is an automated telephone option and a human call centre, both of which are swift and painless, I tend to call the humans, I don’t trust the automated services since I watched I, Robot, but that is in no way the fault of UPS. Ordering of consumables, zone guides, other business solutions are all available at www.ups.com it is beyond the scope of this review to cover everything.
The one thing that is the test of a good company is how they perform not so much when things are running smoothly, but their ability to deal with the problems. Again UPS seem well able to troubleshoot. The one recent incident I did have with them was caused through no fault of there’s but resulted in a shipment being held in Cyprus for no payment. The customer was waiting to collect it and was being told that he would have to pay the shipping costs. This was due to a fault at my company who should have already been billed. The solution was simple, all I had to do was authorise payment against our account to free up the goods, but having tried this sort of thing before with other firms, knew that red tape is stronger than steel and it could take days to resolve, especially as it meant dealing with an overseas depot, many of whom did not speak good English. However through a helpful gentleman in what is known as the Resolutions department, the goods were freed up the same day and the customer went away…well still pretty pissed off actually but that’s the joy of business.
So on the whole, UPS may not be the solution to all of your needs, no courier company is, but they serve us for a number of the more difficult types of shipment and faster services that we require and they do that well. Just a quick mention to the drivers that I deal with also as they have never been anything but professional and courteous, although the company policy of going as far into the building to find a member of staff can sometimes take you by surprise, but it does mean that they have never failed to collect a package even when everyone else is in a different part of the building. My only real criticism is the colour of the company livery, why that horrible brown?
Summary: a worthy tool for company distribution and shipping
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