Monday, June 14, 2010

When It Absolutely Positively Must Be There Overnight

My wife is the director of a hospital laboratory. It's not a huge hospital, and so the laboratory often sends out tests to larger hospitals or to cutting-edge venues like the Mayo Clinic. And so it was Friday. A sample needed to be sent to the Mayo Clinic on Saturday and arrive on Sunday so that the test could be completed on Monday.

My wife had one of her employees call the nearest FedEx office, which is a distance of 35 miles south. "Yes," the employee was told, "if someone brings the package to our office we can overnight it to Mayo at Rochester.

And so the trip to Springfield, and the FedEx office. "No, we're sorry," my wife heard from the clerk, "we only do overnight delivery from a physical address."

"But that's not what we were told when we called yesterday. This is a medical sample. The only physical address is that of the hospital, and the hospital has a physical address."

"Can you leave it with a neightbor?"

And so the adventure began. My wife sat in the vehicle with FedEx's 800 contact number and called for a pick-up with at a physical address, during which 20 minute conversation she learns that if she has available the hospital's FedEx account number, the test sample (packed in dry ice and weighing less than the 9-pound maximum) can be picked up at the hospital. 

She disconnects from FedEx, calls the hospital, and secures the account number. Another call to FedEx reveals that the pick-up will be made within a 90-minute time frame by an independent courier not wearing a FedEx uniform nor driving a FedEx vehicle.

At a cost of nearly $600 ...

"I'm near the airport," my wife says. "Can I take it to the FedEx terminal?"

"No."

"If a physical address is necessary, why can't I leave it at a FedEx Kinkos? I'm sitting in the parking lot of one presently."

"That's not permitted." What is permitted is hiring a special courier who will make a 90-mile round trip because FedEx won't accept a FedEx overnight shipment at a FedEx office.

And so back to the hospital we go, where the sequence of events is explained to the Saturday staff who are being brought into the adventure without prior knowledge of the test's importance.

And that generates a call to our home at pick-up time from courier who tells my wife "It'd be much cheaper to take this to a FedEx office and overnight it to Rochester. Since it's a weekend, it won't get there until Tuesday, but it will be far less money."

My wife didn't yell, not that time at least. She simply explained the sample had to be at Mayo on Sunday so that results could be reported on Monday.

There's an apocryphal story about Fred Smith, FedEx's founder, being given a "C" when he wrote a paper about his business idea. Obviously Smith knew what he was doing. FedEx is a multi-billion dollar corporation.

But my wife's convoluted and frustrating adventure in getting an "It" there overnight, one that illustrates a minor bit of major corporate inefficiency, makes me wonder if corporations also suffer from their own form of The Peter Principle -- that the mechanisms necessary to operate at international levels with faceless employees thriving in an environment where rules can stifle the innovative and customer-friendly interaction that made the corporation a success initially.
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