It's all Fed Ex's fault.
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If you are in the world of business, you know that everyone has to have everything immediately, if not sooner. I've been in the promotional products business for 15 years now, and have seen a world of change in that time.
Promotional products people are the ones from whom you order mugs, pens, things like, with your business logo imprinted. Not so many years ago, the turnaround time on a simple order was 4 to 6 weeks. You gave my company the order, we prepared the artwork after awhile, told you "4 to 6 weeks", sent the order off to the factory, and your product arrived in, oh, 4 to 6 weeks, while you waited patiently for the UPS driver to arrive with your stuff eventually.
You're not so patient anymore, are you?
The Fed Ex revolution, overnight delivery with a specific time commitment, seemed to dramatically speed up the timetable of everyone's expectations on everything. If Fed Ex can get a package from California to Florida overnight, why does it take me 6 weeks to print some mugs with your logo on it?
Good question. I'd be happy to bore you with the details of my operations, but you don't care. You want your stuff and you want it now. I want your business, so I'm going to change the way I do things to get you what you want, when you want it. Orders that formerly took weeks and weeks, are now turned around in a couple of days. While I blame Fed Ex for making everybody race much faster and much harder, I credit Fed Ex with being the business partner that makes me able to meet my customer's needs.
Give me Fed Ex or give me a Severance Package
I couldn't do what I do, the way I do it, without Fed Ex…and I wouldn't want to try.
I run the direct marketing division of our $40 million company with accounts nationwide. Each and every one of our orders is time sensitive and Fed Ex is my shipper of choice.
There was a time when I used UPS for a good percentage of our orders. UPS usually delivers the packages on time (based on the commitment they've made for the service you've chosen)…the problem is what happens when there is a problem.
Tracking the Package
So, the Bigwigs are coming in and you've ordered 50 engraved Swiss Army watches from me for Tuesday's 12-noon luncheon. You forgot to place the order until the last minute, and my company scrambled to get you what you needed, and ship it Monday night, for 10:30 AM delivery (Fed Ex Priority Overnight).
At 11:00 you call one of my customer reps in a panic because your watches haven't arrived. My customer rep (with knowing smile) puts you on hold and plugs the tracking number into the Fed Ex website. Sure enough, like almost all of the phone calls of this nature, your package was delivered an hour and half ago, signed for on your company loading dock by Mr. John Smith, and Mr. Smith was too busy flirting with the coffee lady to get the watches up to you. You take the information, chew Mr. Smith out, and get your watches up to the Bigwig Luncheon just in time. (Bigwigs loved the watches by the way, you scored big points.)
Until recently, Fed Ex was the only shipper who could give me a signer's name within minutes of package delivery. UPS simply did not have real time tracking with signature name. UPS has introduced a new web-based feature called "UPS Signature Tracking" which you can sign up for and use after waiting 7 to 10 business days for a PIN. Because I long ago stopped using UPS for time sensitive deliveries, I don't have an evaluation of their latest tracking services. Fed Ex has done such an excellent job, I don't personally have any reason to fiddle with UPS' newest services (much to the chagrin of the UPS salesperson who keeps trying to get me to switch all of our business.)
To track with Fed Ex you can use
* your own shipping computer supplied by Fed Ex
When using the 800#, you can either use the automated operator and plug the tracking number in or talk to a real live human being.
Okay, what happens when something goes wrong?
We have thousands of Fed Ex shipments each month. Because we are doing business to business orders, one shipment may easily have 15 to 50 boxes in it and weigh hundreds of pounds. No matter how perfect a carrier is, there are bound to be problems (whether the problem originated on the carrier side, the customer side, or our side). When there are problems, it is a human being that makes the difference.
The people who work Customer Service for Fed Ex went to Nice School. They are all very nice and very helpful. They seem to be genuinely interested in making sure that each and every package reaches its destination at the right time and are empowered to move heaven and earth for the end goal.
My experience with UPS customer service over the years has been anything but. I cannot count the times my people have been told that there is nothing that can be done to solve whatever the problem of the day is.
Package re-routing, for instance, has saved my butt many a day. Remember that Bigwig Luncheon that you ordered those 50 Swiss Army watches for? Imagine that you forgot to tell me that the luncheon was off-site, that you didn't need the watches delivered to your company address, you needed them delivered to the San Pancho Rio Restaurant 100 miles from Company Headquarters. You call me with the correct information 6:00 at night, after the package has left the factory loading dock. I can get on the phone with Fed Ex and have the package re-routed to the right address, something that is impossible with any other air carrier in business (especially UPS).
This review is specifically about the Priority Overnight service, so let me spend a couple of minutes of your time on that.
Priority Overnight service generally means that a package shipped from me is delivered to you by 10:30 AM the next business day. I have shipped tens of thousands of packages using this service and have very few problems with packages being delivered when Fed Ex said they were going to be delivered.
There are some things you need to know, however:
1. The 10:30 AM delivery time for Priority Overnight service does not apply to every area of the United States. Alaska and Hawaii, for instance, are one extra day away for any Fed Ex service. If you need your Swiss Army watches for a Bigwig meeting in Hawaii, I have to ship them on Monday evening for guaranteed delivery on Wednesday AM.
Additionally, many, many rural areas of the United States do not have a 10:30 AM Priority Overnight time. Some are 12 noon, some are 5 PM. If you have a package that "absolutely, positively" must arrive by 10:30 in the morning, and it is going to Podunk, ND, call Fed Ex to see what the guarantee time for Podunk is. Always have the shipping and delivery zip codes handy when making the phone call.
2. Fed Ex sometimes misses the 10:30 AM delivery time. If they miss the delivery time by just one minute, you do not have to pay for the freight at all. The only way to claim your credit, however, is to make sure that you go over your Fed Ex bill carefully. They will truthfully report the time that the package is signed for on the bill; it is up to you to call Fed Ex and tell them that you are not paying for that specific package since it was signed for at 10:32AM. They will then credit your bill. If you don't claim your credit, Fed Ex is not going to say word one about it.
3. Priority Overnight Service is often not necessary. Fed Ex offers "Standard Overnight Service" which is guaranteed by 5PM the next business day (in most areas). Standard Overnight Service is most often delivered well before 5PM, and is a much more economical choice.
Speaking of Economical Choices
You do have your own Fed Ex account number, don't you?
If you are in business, you should have your own Fed Ex number and you should insist that all Fed Ex shipments are billed to your number, not the shipper's.
My company pays quite a bit less than standard "rack rates" for Fed Ex shipments. We ship everything, coming from our location or from a third party factory's, on our Fed Ex number. These tens of thousands of shipments a year combine for us to be a most favored Fed Ex account. Favored Fed Ex accounts are able to negotiate rates that are substantially less than what someone off the street pays. The more shipments that are credited to your company, the better your position to negotiate favorable rates.
Shippers Mark Up Freight
If you are ordering your widgets from the ABC company and ask them to send them Priority Overnight, chances are good that the ABC company is going to pocket the difference between their discount with Fed Ex and charge whatever the rack rates are. They might even tack a 10% to 25% surcharge on top of the rack rates.
While I see nothing wrong with a small freight markup, the truth is, depending on the size of the shipment, you could be looking at a substantial business savings by just having the charges billed to your Fed Ex number instead of the shipper's, especially if you make this a standard business practice.
Because my company wants all of our customers to authorize Fed Ex as the carrier, we pass our significant savings on, figuring that we end up winning because orders shipped via Fed Ex take us so many fewer man hours to manage. This is not, however, the case with most shippers and you would do well to just use your Fed Ex number as routine in order to control costs.
Fed Ex Bills Help Manage Costs
If all of your shipping is documented on your Fed Ex bill, rather than your individual invoices from individual suppliers, you have an opportunity to manage your freight costs. If Jim Periwinkle in Marketing has a high number of Fed Ex Priority One bills, you might want to ask him if he couldn't just plan a smidgen ahead in order to be able to take advantage of less expensive Fed Ex shipping charges, and thereby save the company a chunk of change.
Fed Ex bills also cost money, and the bills alone are why this service is getting four stars from me instead of five. If a good bit of your shipping is done third party (meaning not from your location but from either the supplier's or a third party factory) the only verification of the actual dollar charges for any shipment is on the (sometimes) massive bill that arrives to your accounting department. A third party shipment may take anywhere from one week to four weeks to arrive on your Fed Ex bill. Since we ship thousands of packages per month, you can imagine that sorting the Fed Ex bill can require the almost full time services of one of our people. A Fed Ex rep cannot provide you with your package's actual charges until it goes through their billing department, although they can give you a rough estimate. This is a huge flaw in the otherwise near perfect Fed Ex system, and one I have been squawking about for years. For years my Fed Ex rep has told me that the solution is right around the corner, but I'm still waiting, with one employee under a whole lot of paper.
It gets a little hairy here folks. There are costs, and then there are costs.
If you ship a package or two a week, you are best served to go to www.UPS.com and www.FedEx.com and use each site's estimate feature to compare what a particular package will cost to ship. Fed Ex is often higher than UPS' air services.
If you ship more than a few packages a week, you need to have your own Fed Ex account number, your own UPS account number, and your own salesperson for each freight service bidding each other down for your business. You need to negotiate discounts, and you need to negotiate them now. Only after you have negotiated your discounts and determined the service that you will need most frequently (Priority Overnight, Standard Overnight, Express Saver, whatever) can you begin to compare the difference in costs between UPS, FedEx…and any of the other "also rans" in the overnight shipping business.
I'll tell you flat out, my Fed Ex services are cheaper than most of what UPS has to offer. Fed Ex likes high volume shippers who are loyal.
When it absolutely, positively….
Okay, "When it absolutely, positively has to be there" is a cliché by now, but the commercial could not be more true. In business, when it absolutely, positively has to be there by 10:30AM the next business day, Fed Ex is the only choice to make. Any other service UPS, Airborne, US Mail Priority Overnight (God forbid!) is merely rolling the dice. I'm too old for the stress. Fed Ex for me, for my company, for my customers, without a doubt.
So, when you order your engraved Swiss Army watches for the Bigwig luncheon from me, it's the guy (or gal) in the Fed Ex truck who will deliver them to you, on time, guaranteed. Just next time, could you cut me a break, and plan a little better ahead, okay?
Sigh. Ah, for the olden days.
There's more to say on the other Fed Ex services (believe it or not!) and there are reasons to make sure you have UPS as at least your secondary shipper. I'll tackle some of these issues under an Epinion on one of the other Fed Ex services soon.
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