Janna and I learned a hard lesson yesterday: FTD Ruined Mother’s Day!

Incompetence has many feral fathers and its talent for boorishness is born in a variety of floral colors and indigent mothers — but when it comes to ruining Mother’s Day tomorrow — FTD barely edges out the DHL delivery service for the ultimate “I poop on you!” grand prize.

Janna and I ordered a lovely $60.00 USD bouquet for Janna’s mom in Iowa from the online flower powerhouse FTD — I’ll show you the flowers here virtually tomorrow since that’s the only way they’re ever going to be delivered anywhere — and we were incredibly disappointed to learn yesterday the flowers would not be delivered as promised. 

The whole grotesque charade began with an email from FTD telling us the order had shipped via DHL and when we checked online yesterday morning the DHL delivery date was, indeed, May 11 before 3pm. 3:00pm arrived and died and the flowers were still not delivered. I called DHL and the woman on the other side of the phone told me her phone was ringing off the hook with FTD complaints.

She told me based on information only she could see — “Because we track packages in different ways than what we show you online because of Homeland Security requirements” — the FTD package never left FTD and would not be delivered. I asked her why the system was showing a Tracking Number?

Why did FTD send us email saying the flowers shipped? The DHL woman said her supervisors gave everyone working the phones “three pages of things to try to explain what FTD did because so many people are so angry at us and not them.” She went on to explain that FTD generates a shipping and tracking “Revenue Ticket” in the DHL system that then gets sent to customers when the order is placed, not actually complete.

“It’s like a placeholder, not a shipment.  What you’re seeing is not a physical reality. You are only seeing a potential shipment from FTD.”

“So, I’ve been tracking a placeholder all day and not a bouquet of flowers?” “Exactly,” she said, “This is an ongoing FTD issue. Take it up with them. They’ll blame it on us at DHL. But I told you the truth even though we’re being recorded.” I thanked DHL and dialed FTD. The first call to FTD did not go through to a person — it ended up in a “call back later” plea and an auto-hangup — because FTD was overwhelmed with calls. Interesting. Instead of choosing Customer Service when I called back a second time, I chose the option to place a fresh order. That call, FTD answered with a live person named Sarah within 10 seconds.

Sure enough — just as DHL had predicted — Sarah at FTD told me the flowers were not delivered because of DHL. When I confronted Sarah with my copious notes from my DHL conversation on why FTD was to blame and not DHL — she ran quiet. I asked her to cancel the order and issue a refund. Sarah perked up and told me FTD doesn’t “do refunds until delivery is confirmed denied or late.”

I told her the DHL site clearly says delivery by 3:00pm on May 11 — that time is dead and gone — so I’m entitled to a cancellation and a refund. “No,” Sarah scolded me, “FTD doesn’t guarantee delivery times. The DHL site only says ‘in transit’ and that doesn’t mean anything other than it’s ‘in transition.'” “Well, DHL promised 3:00pm today, and I only know that because of the DHL Tracking Number FTD sent me last night — and FTD picked the carrier, not me — so you should tell DHL to change their online information because DHL told me the flowers will not be delivered today or Saturday or Sunday.

The flowers will sit in their warehouse until Monday when deliveries start again — if they were even shipped in the first place. I want to cancel the order and get our money back.” Sarah put me on hold to call DHL herself. She returned with news she could not get through to DHL. She told me to call back later. I asked to speak to a Supervisor just to place my DHL story on-the-record and to request a refund. Sarah told me she would be happy to give me a refund as soon as FTD could confirm the flowers were late or not delivered. I invited her to take a look at my order on the DHL website for confirmation. She placed me on hold for about 10 minutes and came back with the news her Supervisor had “been able to get through” to DHL and confirmed non-delivery.

Sarah agreed to cancel our order and refund our money with the caveat attached that the refund had to go through a “review process” to verify we, in fact, did not get the flowers delivered and that we really did, in fact, deserve a refund. I thanked Sarah and hung up. I was worn out. And so now we wait for a pending, perhaps, refund and for a “potential shipment” of flowers still stuck “in transition” in a perpetual DHL “never left the warehouse” re-delivery scheme in Iowa. The only thing we know without a doubt is that FTD Ruined Mother’s Day.

31 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    It seems that large corporations are good at shifting blame and drawing one into the vortex. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon!
    Recently I changed residences. At the time, BellSouth (now the new AT&T) was my Internet provider. When I called to change my phone service, the BellSouth rep told me she could change my DSL service at the same time. No problem.
    After moving, the BellSouth tech connected my new service. I eagerly jumped on my computer, but no connection. I called BellSouth. I got sucked into the vortex. A computerized phone menu led me through a troubleshooting routine for the phone jack.
    Finally, a live body came on the phone and said my telephone was probably interferring with the service. I assured him that was not the case, as the phone worked perfectly fine at my previous residence. I was put on hold and disconnected.
    Five phone calls later, after getting nowhere with the representatives, I asked to speak to a supervisor. He told me that DSL was not offered at my new residence.
    “But you told me you were taking care of this two weeks ago. Why didn’t you tell me then?”
    A passive-aggressive silence.
    “Are you telling me I have to get Comcast out here and run a new line?”
    A passive-aggressive silence.
    “If I sound angry, it’s because I am.”
    The supervisor gives me a robotic response,
    Thank you for calling the new AT&T. The DSL service is not offered in your area. Is there anything else I can help you with today?
    This time I disconnected.
    Donna

  2. Hi Donna!
    Yes! Your AT&T story is the same as my FTD story and my UPS story and my Iomega story… and and and…
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/06/17/fragging-iomega-tech-support/
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/12/04/blaming-the-end-user/
    Proper customer service is a dying entity. They do everything they can to push us off into an endless voice mail system and if we get through we usually get connected to a foreign call center where we can get properly and rudely dismissed.
    I’m not sure how to fight back except to go public and share these miseries beyond the blush.

  3. Hi Nicola!
    Yeah, it was pretty rotten all around and I thank you for visiting this to bump it up the Google queue — because I’m quite sure there will be others who have been similarly burned if DHL is to be believed and it turns out everything they told me was the truth. The flowers never left the FTD warehouse!

  4. Hi Katha!
    FTD has been around for many decades and their “Running Delivery Man” logo is an image as burned into the American psyche as the IBM logo and McDonald’s Golden Arches.
    FTD used to be a network of local florists across the nation that guaranteed a certain level of quality so the roses you saw in New York were the same that would be delivered in Iowa.
    When we saw the flowers were not being locally created and delivered in Iowa — but were instead being SHIPPED via DHL by FTD — we felt a little sick because we knew flowers would not do well in transit like that and would likely arrive old and damaged, but FTD already had our money and had — so we thought — already shipped our order and so we just decided to go with it.
    What a pack of trouble that misplaced faith turned out to be in the end!

  5. Hi Michael —
    I now know now I should’ve looked up online local flower shops where Janna’s mother lives and spent a long distance call to make sure delivery would be made on time by ordering directly from t hem. That would have been a more reliable method for payment and delivery.
    We have a local NYC florist we love and they will ship anywhere you wish via their own private national network of florists — but the catch is they’re very expensive and you pay their NYC price and not the price from the local florist. A beautiful bouquet in NYC will run you $120.00 USD while in Iowa that same bouquet at twice the size well be well under $40.00 USD.

  6. Hi David,
    As you say in your Iomega story, it is very disappointing when the company does not honor their promises.
    It seems that FTD is trying to live off their past reputation for speedy delivery, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
    What ever happened to common courtesy? Why don’t the reps apologize? It really is annoying when they try to make it your problem instead of taking responsibility and putting the blame where it is due.
    Donna

  7. Donna —
    Customer service doesn’t seem to matter much any longer unless you’re rich and can afford to pay for special service or hire a good lawyer to force these companies to appropriately treat you.
    I agree FTD used to be “It” when it came to flowers delivery — perhaps there are not other, better, and more reliable options out there now.
    We are demonized when we complain and that is by design. Companies cannot and will not admit their fault.
    My feeling is FTD knew they never shipped the flowers, but they thought if they could put me off a day or two in processing the refund they could then ship the order — late, of course — and then refuse to provide the refund because they delivered… providing them some protection if I complained to my credit card company.

  8. That was a process to set up a new account. Jeeze. I hope this goes through now.
    Bad FTD. It is good you complained and didn’t give up. I hope this article gets lots of attention.

  9. You made it in, arin! Thanks for registering. I know that can be a hassle. Our own Anne has said she can’t register because of her work circumstance and tracking and such and while that’s sad, and we’ll miss her, she does have other concerns that compel her to no longer participate.
    You might want to change your display name to show something other than your username and you also might want to upload an Avatar to show next to your name.
    Oh, and I agree the way to get big companies to change is with public exposure and pressure to fix what’s broken!

  10. I don’t believe there is any such thing as customer service any more. Every time I order or buy something from an untested source I assume there will be problems and I will have to sit on the phone for hours navigating soulless menu systems and even more soulless customer care representatives.
    I am rarely disappointed.
    I have found that the best way is to ask as early as possible to speak to a supervisor, then their supervisor and so on up the chain until somebody tells you there is nobody else.
    They are usually lying so make sure you go one level further.
    Then you can finally state your case, make it clear that you aren’t going to stop bugging them until they do something to actually help you, sit back and wait for their response.
    This is usually something along the lines of “wait a few more days for X”, “we have a standard call-out period of 7 days” or “please wait in for our fix-it guy between the hours of 7am and 10pm.
    That’s when I start telling them that they are wasting my time, which I charge a significant amount for and will be sending an invoice if they don’t stop doing it soon. They then bluster and stall and use a lot of sentences beginning “but …”.
    Sometimes they hang up on me. At that point I call the company headquarters back and ask for them by name (which I made sure to get). At that point (considering this is management I’m talking to now) they are usually suitably embarrassed.
    The long and short is that I usually get a refund / replacement but it really does waste a huge amount of time that I could be doing more interesting things with.
    (My other favourite question is to ask an obviously non-native English speaker where they are located. They tell me Sheffield or Glasgow or somesuch. I then respond with “oh, I know it well, I lived there for many years, are you on such-and-such park”. Often they will say yes. As I have made up the business park off the top of my head I now know they are in India and lying to me. Then I hang up and call the company headquarters to complain.)
    What I fail to understand is WHY nobody wants to give good customer service. Surely it would be better for their business in the long run? Or is that just very naive economics on my part?
    //Mike

  11. Hi Mike!
    Wowser! What a great manifesto! I love it! My blood was boiling as I relived the experiences you describe.
    There’s no profit in good customer service. They want you to buy and once you have — they’re done with you unless you have an ongoing relationship with, say, a cellular phone company. Then they’ll treat you a bit nicer. But for a onetime purchase, they don’t care if you live or die as long as they have your money.
    When I called FTD I told Sarah straight up I was going to write a blog article about the whole delivery deception and I even gave her the title of this post. That information usually leads to an immediate change of tone on their end after you have their name and you tell them you’re putting them on public point.
    I didn’t get much satisfaction from her until the very end, though, when she ran out of avenues of excuses and the fact that she was able to cancel the order and not just issue a refund proved there was an air of malfeasance on their end from the start of the call.
    If I get an offshore call center I have learned to bluntly ask them if they are in the United States. They cannot lie to me because they are being recorded. When they tell me they are not, I say I would like to speak to an American branch because I cannot hear you so far away. They immediately transfer me to an American branch and the communication and line noise are better and diminished.
    I’ve also learned they cannot hang up on you — because they’re being recorded — unless you are yelling at them or cursing at them. As long as you are persistent, perfectly kind and non-cursing, they can’t get rid of you without putting their own job in jeopardy.
    You’re right the first several lines of defense in customer service are the “Naysayers” and the “NoCanDos” — you have to keep pressing upward until you reach those with the power to say “Yes.”
    Everyone is authorized to say “No” but few can say “Yes” –- and sometimes an effective tactic is to ask if they have the power to say “Yes” and when they say “No” then you ask to speak to the person with the “Yes” power.
    When Sarah’s supervisor was invoked everything changed and we got our money back. If I’d listened to Sarah and called back later, we’d still have no flowers and they’d still have our money. I’m sure she’s trained and likely awarded for that scenario.

  12. Funnily enough I was reading another blog post about the management techinques arounf this sort of thing and the incentives offered to the lowly workers.
    Econ management 101
    And this is where those sort of incentives lead …
    But you’re absolutely right – there is no point even talking to the person that answers the phone – they almost certainly do not have the power to help you.
    And being civil towards them, however frustrating, goes a long way towards getting what you want as it gives them no reason to deny you.
    I’ve still had people hang up on me when I’ve been perfectly polite though. I’m sure they’d say they were “accidentally cut off” – even if it was the phone company I was talking to 😉
    //Mike

  13. I love that blog entry Mike, thanks!
    I also love the Best Buy story — whenever they try to sell me stuff or add other warranty extensions, I just tell them I’m leaving the machine on 24 hours a days for 7 days and if it fails in any way, I’m coming back here and getting a replacement. If it runs for 7 days all day long, the machine will not fail for at least five years and I buy a new machine twice a year. That shuts them up pretty fast.
    Right! I always compliment the first line person — I tell them I understand they’re following policy and they’ve done everything for me they can and then I ask to move up the scale to the next “No!” in the queue. 😀
    Yes, the “accidentally cut off” scheme was popular here about five years ago. Now, not so much. I think with everything being recorded they can’t cut you off without someone detecting it on their end if you call back and complain.

  14. I never, ever, buy the extended warranty. For many companies (in the UK at least) that is where they make their money – if they never sold any extended warranties they’d simply go bankrupt.
    I just laugh at them when they try to sell me a 3 year warranty for 20 pounds for a kettle that cost 30 pounds !!

  15. Right, Mike!
    Those extended warranties are a license to print money for them and even you try to collect later, you won’t be able to because of all the caveats and whereas-es included in the unreadable fine print!

  16. David,
    What an awful experience! What did you end up getting for Janna’s mother instead of the flowers that FTD lost? How disheartening…
    My department at the bank has many different jobs–I sometimes think we are the “catch-all” department that does all the jobs no one else wants to do–and one of the big jobs we do is answering all incoming calls to all eight of our branches. Regardless of the number dialed, the customer is routed to my department and they are greeted by a real, living, breathing person answering their call by the second ring. I cannot tell you how many customers exclaim with delight after I have answered the phone, “Wow! A real person! How nice!”

  17. Hi David,
    Sorry to hear about your flower delivery horror story.
    My wife and I sent some flowers to a funeral in Kentucky a couple of years because we weren’t going to be able to attend. We checked on the web for local flower shops that had online shops, then read the reviews of them from other websites — if we could find reviews. We also called relatives in the area to ask their opinion of the florist as well.
    The order was placed with the local florist and shipped right from their local business to the local funeral home at the promised time by their courier.
    I called my parents — they were going to attend the funeral — and let them know that the flowers were going to be delivered and to check them to see if they matched the online photograph and description. My parents reported back that the flowers arrived on time and were just as promised.

  18. Hello Ms. Emily!
    Janna was smart enough earlier in the week to send her mother a beautiful card — so that will cover us a bit while we find an appropriate replacement without getting rushed into the last minute hustle of covering FTD’s mistake.
    Your bank sounds great! I hate talking to animated voice prompts. I don’t want to speak anything for a robot to interpret. I don’t want to punch in a 16 number account. I just want to talk to a real live person.

  19. Hi David,
    I wanted to make sure that there’d be people to double check to make sure that the flowers arrived and were the same ones that we ordered. We trusted the place we used because of their reputation, but it would be easy to switch out something expensive for something cheap when there wouldn’t be anyone who would know the difference.
    I read a story about a florist in Florida who competes with the huge stores that have put other places out of business by offering customer service that goes beyond the call. It’s important to be able to fulfill flower orders because, according to the article, Mother’s Day accounts for 20% of the florist’s annual income.
    http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070507/NEWS/705070553

  20. Hi Chris!
    Oh, I agree! Isn’t Mother’s Day #1 in flowers delivery and in phone calls to mom? 😀
    Janna’s mom may have or may not have received some sort of bouquet from us — not what we ordered, but perhaps, a replace in a different style and color? We’re checking into it…

  21. Hi David,
    I think it is especially important for a financial institution to have a Real Live Person answering the phone. The majority of customers who call the bank during the day are elderly. They always tell us how glad they are that they can talk to us instead of a machine because, to them, those prompts are confusing and the superfast rambling off of their balance and debits and credits is even more confusing!

  22. David,
    The Machines are taking over!!!
    First of all, no one wants to hold a Customer Service job because, like a friend of mine says, “It’s like being a toilet; all you do is catch crap all day long.” I mean, let’s face it: the majority of calls to a business are going to be from an unhappy and dissatisfied customer. As a result, those positions are difficult to keep filled and usually have to offer higher pay as an incentive. The result? Robot Land. Cheaper and more convenient for the company.

  23. Emily!
    Right on!
    You should write us up an article that details customer service and robotization.
    Customer service is a thankless job — just like delivering boxes and picking up garbage — but if you’re in business to succeeded and not just be, you need to pay to get the right people in the proper roles. When that is said and done, satiety will increase and the complaints will decline.