Occasionally I have a little go at Royal Mail here, and usually I get my knuckles rapped – there is great belief and customer loyalty out there. Since my last cheap poke at our worthy national carrier we have had a mighty hike in postage prices, a controversial privatisation and a bewildering – I hesitate to say nonsensical – new set of regulations concerning shapes and sizes of parcel. My appreciation of them has new lighting, some changes of script.
And yet they almost always deliver – if slower and more expensively than previously – so we have to be grateful. Mustn’t gwumble.
One of the services offered – at a cost, of course, is trackability. The idea that you can see exactly where your precious package has got to is very attractive, especially in the somewhat tense world of eBay, where a painstakingly-built reputation can be destroyed by a single accident in the post. I am saddened to observe that this service is neither so useful nor so reassuring as it once was. The last three or four attempts I have made to check progress on parcels (including a guaranteed-delivery item which was 2 days overdue) have discovered only that my item was “in progress”. Since I already had a paper receipt which confirmed that it was in progress, this was not a big help.
I doubt if the internal rules or guidelines have changed. I suspect that the RM staff have discovered it saves effort and generates some useful fog if they do not bother with a full log of the adventures of our tracked parcels. You can take a horse to water, you can provide the posties with a state of the art online information system, but you can’t force them to use the thing properly – especially if not using it makes accountability (and potential blame) easier to avoid. Students of Brehm's (or was it Marr's?) Boomerang Effect will be nodding sagely at this point.
The logging system does, of course, record successful delivery, but then we have normally been contacted already by the recipient if the package was in any way precious, and this is also Brownie Points time, so you would expect flawless record keeping at this stage.
International tracked packages have always been a joke, since they simply tell you that the package has left the UK, and is no longer visible to the RM system. It seems that inland tracked mail may be heading the same way – the only reason to make anything signed-for or to pay for a trackable service is to ensure the maximum amount of evidence in event of loss, and the insurance cover is normally better.
It’s not a real defence, but the competition are about the same – one nation-wide courier I used recently provided a tracking reference which for 4 days told me that my package was “in the system”. Thank you for that – that’s a relief. This represents a genuine downgrade; the previous time I used this same courier I got to follow my parcel from Harwich, to their West Bromwich depot, to Livingston, and eventually was told it was on the van and would be delivered between 4pm and 5pm. Now that’s more like it. Not only was that useful, but also quite exciting for a poor old soul who doesn’t get out much.
Somehow, “in the system” is not quite the same. I kept checking again later, naturally, to see if the message had changed to “what bloody parcel?”.