THE RISK WATCH COLUMN: By Dr Alan Waring
Every so often, Risk Watch shifts its usual focus from the giddy heights of government and corporate boardrooms and the big risk issues to address risks as they are experienced by ordinary workaday people, especially where such matters are effectively controlled by big corporate interests. When it comes to considering the stakeholder beneficiaries of corporate good governance and risk management, regrettably individual customers are sometimes marginalised or even unrecognised by large companies. Some of the worst offenders are some of the biggest braggarts about their supposed exemplary ‘customer focussed’ ethos.
A recent personal experience has prompted me to provide Risk Watch readers with my own account of the contrasting behaviours of two seemingly matched organisations, DHL and Aramex, both of which provide international courier services. Of course, such an account is not a scientific study of customer satisfaction which draws on data from large numbers of customers and so it cannot be safely concluded from this alone that one company is good and the other bad. I can only report what I have personally experienced.
Ten Good Years
Having lived in Cyprus since 2004, my business activities have involved communications with companies in a number of countries in Europe, Middle East and Far East. I needed to both send and receive significant quantities of documents on a regular basis. In 2004, on the basis of reputation and the convenient location of their office, I opened an account with DHL a German-based company.
For ten years, I was sending and receiving several consignments per month via DHL. In all, I sent some 400 consignments and received a similar number. Throughout this period, the service I received was exemplary. A non-express consignment from Larnaca to London took 3-4 days from acceptance to delivery, exactly as promised, as did similar consignments to Hong Kong and Singapore. There were no delays or delivery failures. Not surprisingly, with this level of efficiency and reliability, I felt very confident about DHL and still do.
Nevertheless, as in any area of service provision, from time to time a customer may wish to try out the competition. In my case, there was no burning reason to do so but a few months ago I received a consignment via a courier called Aramex, whom I did not know. On enquiry at Aramex in Cyprus, I was advised that they sent consignments daily on direct flights to the UK at a price that was less than DHL. I was aware that DHL sent theirs via Athens, then Bergamo in Italy, onto Leipzig in Germany and then to UK. Fatefully, I decided to try out Aramex.
The Aramex Experience
On handover of a small A5 envelope containing some documents, I was advised at the Aramex office in Larnaca that the delivery to a business address in Manchester in the UK would take 3-4 days (including a weekend). Over the next three days, I used their on-line tracking system to follow the consignment’s progress via Dubai (funny, they told me the flights used for UK were direct!) to the Aramex UK operations hub at Colnbrook, not far from Heathrow. Mysteriously, the consignment then went into London and back out again to Colnbrook, where the on-line tracker showed it to be ‘in transit’.
On telephoning the Colnbrook facility, I was told that it would be sent to Manchester the following day (i.e. day 4). However, the next day – and the day after – showed the consignment still at Colnbrook, so I went into the Larnaca office to enquire. Colnbrook advised them that it would definitely be delivered to the Manchester address the next day (day 6). It wasn’t. Incidentally, the distance from Colnbrook to Manchester is barely 200 miles.
Now getting rather concerned, I e-mailed the Cyprus Country Manager of Aramex in Nicosia for action. After not receiving a prompt answer, I telephoned his assistant and was given a different name and an e-mail address which bounced back. In a further phone call, I was told that they would send me a correct e-mail address and failing that they would phone me. Neither the e-mail nor the phone call came and now their own phone number was not answering. Not to be thwarted, I managed to get a fax through and a fax copy to their Larnaca office but again no response.
The next day (day 7), I decided to up the ante and send my complaint and demand for action to the personal company e-mail address of the Chief Executive Officer of Aramex in Dubai, Mr Hussein Hachem. That connection failed so I sent a fax. As I pointed out to him, it is doubly unacceptable for a consignment to take (at that time) 7 days from Larnaca to Manchester in UK and then for his staff to abandon the customer and provide no satisfactory explanation, or how they intend to resolve the problem or indeed provide any meaningful or helpful feedback. I also faxed copies of my Hachem missive to the Cyprus Country Manager and the Larnaca operations office. I also tried the Colnbrook facility but neither of their published fax numbers would function. An attempt to register the complaint on their on-line Customer Care facility failed because it would not recognise my Larnaca post code as a valid post code in Cyprus! I doubt if any of the Aramex crew are remotely aware that their e-mail addresses, fax numbers and on-line complaint forms do not work – unless, of course, they were deliberately set up like this to deter customers from registering complaints!
Day 11 did see an apologetic phone call from a rather flustered lady at the Nicosia office which revealed that Aramex in the UK had lost track of the consignment. To cap that, on day 12 the Aramex website tracker then rejected my air waybill number as invalid. As we go to press on day 18, I have been offered a refund but no further information has been forthcoming, much less a delivery of the consignment. To all intents and purposes, I have been abandoned and the whole transaction and consignment have been air brushed out of the Aramex consciousness. It is as if I never existed, never handed over the consignment and have never raised a complaint to the Aramex management including the CEO no less. As I am now regarded as a ‘non-person’ complaining about non-delivery of a ‘non-existent consignment’, I doubt that the consignment will ever be found or returned to me. Fortunately, important as they were, the contents of the consignment were of no intrinsic value and could be replicated and resent via another more reliable carrier but nevertheless I had lost a lot of valuable time.
The tale of my personal bad experience is almost a textbook case of ‘how not to treat a customer’ and it suggests that Aramex has some really big issues to address in the areas of customer relations. In addition, for a CEO to simply ignore a direct appeal for help, raised necessarily because his operational managers at various locations have failed to fulfil the contract or to remedy the failure when brought to their attention, raises serious questions about his stewardship, the company’s values, attitudes and ethics, and the quality of corporate governance. In behaving as abysmally as they did, were his operational staff diligently carrying out his policy to the letter? Or, were internal controls and supervision simply lacking? Or, perhaps it was both! Moreover, corporate image and reputation are risk areas that no CEO should take lightly.
Having learned my own lesson the hard way, I shall not be using Aramex again and will return chastened and wiser to the relative comfort of DHL. Hopefully, others have had a better experience than I had. If transactions and consignment deliveries work smoothly 99% of the time, then why indeed should a customer be unduly concerned? Perhaps the test of a company’s true quality and standing is how well it responds to a customer in that 1% of instances which go wrong.
Dr Alan Waring is an international risk management consultant with extensive experience in Europe, Asia and the Middle East with industrial, commercial and governmental clients. His latest book Corporate Risk and Governance is at www.gowerpublishing.com/isbn/9781409448365 . Contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
©2014 Alan Waring
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