the holiday spirit blows

For some reason completely unknown to me, I always have this vague sense come December that online shopping will take all my worries and cares away. I don’t have to push my way through irritating crowds or find parking in lots full of dumbass, clearly non-spirit filled drivers, or wade through piles of merchandise thrown around by shoppers even crazier or more stressed than I am. I can just sit on the couch and peruse the web. And the gifts will come right to my house.

Every year, I am burned by this clearly irrational, completely unfounded faith.

This happened just recently when I ordered Monk DVDs from Amazon for my mom’s birthday. I paid extra for quick shipping because Amazon told me this would get the package to her the day before her birthday. (Yes, I shouldn’t have waited until the last minute, but I blame the idealistic dream of hassle-free shopping online that lured me in with its lies and its mythical, mirage-like comfort. Anyway. I soon as I finalized the order, Amazon told me that actually, my mom would be getting her gift three days after her birthday and sadly, it was too late for me to cancel my order or to even change it back to regular shipping.

You would think I would have remembered my folly, but my memory sucks.

I ordered something for P. that the merchant sent via FedEx. Apparently FedEx came, and since no one was home, left a door tag. I foolishly expected them to leave the actual package. But apparently, the idea is that FedEx only delivers actual packages to people without day jobs. The door tag did include a place for me to sign my name to say that it was OK to leave my package that I paid for and wanted, but someone had written “VOID” across it. That same person, in the same large magic marker, wrote the item contained inside the (theoretical at this point) package across the door tag. Not the company the item was coming from, but the specific item I ordered.

The grumpy FedEx elves have so much holiday spirit that not only do they refuse to give you your packages, but they want to be sure to spoil the suprise for the person who won’t be getting a gift.

I made the vital mistake of having hope. Surely, many people work all day. Surely there is a way for these people to get packages. I called the FedEx number left conveniently on my door tag. I was presented with several options, none of which were “talk to a person” or “get your package even if you work”. One option was “schedule pickup”. Aha! That’s exactly what I want to do. Of course, I had to speak it, not press a button and I don’t even want to get started on speech systems, although as someone who used to work on the development of interactive voice response systems and wrote documentation that told companies how to best design their implementations, and as a person who stutters (and I don’t think I’m the only one in the world who does), I could rant for a really long time about this. I will only say that companies should at the very least offer an option that lets callers talk to a live person and an option that lets people type in an account number if they so choose. But I digress.

I said “schedule pickup”. As it turns out, this did not mean I could schedule to pick up my package. It meant that if I already had an account with FedEx and they already came around to my business regularly to pick stuff up that I wanted to ship, I could tell them to come pick something up. The infuriating voice asked for my account number. It did not provide any other option. I could not go back to the previous menu. I could not tell it that I had no account number. I couldn’t talk to a person. I started yelling random things at the voice. “I don’t have an account number, you dumbass.” Its response, “If you don’t know your account number, enter the phone number associated with the account.” “I. have. no account.” “Please begin your response with the three digit area code, followed by…” I hung up.

I tried again, this time choosing the only thing remotely like what I might want (as I did not want to order supplies or find a copy center location), “track package”. However, this only told me that they had been to my house today and would come back tomorrow. Tomomorrow being another day when I work all day. They did give me a handy delivery window of between 8am and 4:30pm so I could better plan my day. The door tag said I could pick up my package at the service center but that I had to call this number first to make sure that my package was actually there (and not, for instance on a truck). However, the evil voice from a demon dimension did not offer me this choice.

Finally, I said, “operator”, although the devil voice had never mentioned this as an option. Note this magic word if you are ever trapped in FedEx phone tree hell.

This miracle word brought me to a live person. I still had a shred of hope so I was pleasant and curteous. “You tried to deliver a package to my house, but I’m at work all day, so I need to arrange something else.” She told me no need for that, they’d try again tomorrow! “Right, but I’ll also be working all day tomorrow. Can you change the shipping address to my office.” As it turns out, no, she couldn’t. She apologized. “OK, can you arrange to leave the package at my door?” No, she was so sorry, but she couldn’t.

So, does this happen a lot? I asked her. Don’t other people work all day and have this problem? Are they no options for them? Oh, but we have many options, she told me: you can either be at home or come to the service center after a delivery attempt. They’re open until 6 (although the package is on their truck quite possibly until 4:30) and are at least an hour away from me with rush hour traffic. Do most people work next door to the service center? Is this really easier than going to the mall? (Which, by the way, is ten minutes from me and has the item I ordered in stock.)

So, I asked if she could stop tomorrow’s delivery attempt since I was pretty sure I was still going to have to work tomorrow and instead, I could try to get there at lunch later this week. Yes, as it turns out, she could do that. She didn’t offer it as an option, but apparently, it’s like the “operator” hidden voice menu. I asked how long they would keep the package. She asked if I was coming tomorrow. I certainly will try to come tomorrow, but if I get pulled into a meeting, all bets are off. At this point, I was begging the operator, who I am pretty sure had the same voice as the satan-inspired voice menu. “Just tell me what your policy is. How long do you hold packages?” She offered to hang on to until Saturday. At the latest.

So, now, with my holiday spirit properly beaten down, I will drive the 20 miles to the FedEx service center at my earliest convenience. And will drive to the mall for all my other holiday shopping needs. At least there you have more than six predefined choices that serve exactly zero of your needs. I understand now why people take up knitting. Next year, everyone is getting scarves.

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