UPS reports a 5 y.o. called to “Return to Sender” #FAIL

My brother shared with me a very humorous story, about UPS apparently confabulating a story about his son (5 y.o. at the time) apparently calling UPS to tell them to return a shipment to sender. My brother writes:

A birthday present for our soon to be 6 year old son was being delivered by UPS. Initially their site said (according to my mother-in-law) that it had been delivered on our porch on Thursday. When my wife called UPS on Friday to say that it was not delivered she was told, “Mack Brady called and requested it be returned to sender.” My wife pointed out that Mack Brady was 5 years old and expecting that box to contain lots of LEGOs from his grandparents. He was unlikely to make the call much less request that the package be returned to sender.

It was delivered 5 days (3 business days) later.

I find this experience very interesting as we seek to learn valuable service delivery,  supply chain, and life lessons.


First, as a logistician and Supply Chain professional, I am reminded that shippers (the company in this case selling the LEGOs) are often at the mercy of the carrier (in this case UPS.)  They enter into a contract, expecting in good faith that UPS will deliver the package to the customer.  In fact, there is an expectation on the part of the shipper that the carrier will, if necessary, make several attempts before requesting that the customer come to them. 1  In this case, UPS not only failed to deliver the product on the behalf of the shipper, they then created a rather interesting backstory for why they failed to deliver.


In addition, this story speaks to the importance of accurate tracking of packages.  There are two parts to the tracking issue that confuse me.  First, the fact that the website tracking initially reported delivery to the porch is interesting, since the package was not actually delivered.  2  Initially, we believe the online tracking to be accurate.  Our whole business operation is based on accuracy in reporting.  The shipper expects the carrier to deliver the package and provide updated information along the way as necessary.  The carriers themselves rely on accurate ITV to know where their drivers and trucks are at any given time, and provide assurance to customers and shippers that they are providing appropriate care for their items.  And finally, ITV provides receivers (in this case my 5 y.o. nephew) a sense of security knowing that, even if a package has not yet arrived, it is safely on it’s way and that the carrier know exactly where it is.

Given the importance of ITV, the systems are designed to ensure and  enhance accuracy through barcode readers and digital signatures.  When these systems fail, and they will, carriers should not respond with finger pointing, or cover-ups, but rather work to understand the cause of the failure and attempt to once again poka-yoke the process.


The failure of in-transit visibility unfortunately led to the next, and perhaps more disturbing to anyone in this profession, reaction by the carrier’s representative.   As I am sure you are all thinking by now (and as my sister-in-law pointed out to the Customer Service Representative (CSR) from UPS) 5 y.o.s generally don’t ask for their much anticipated birthday presents to be “returned to sender.”  So this strikes me as a serious “CYA” 3 moment.  I suspect that, more often than not, this line works on their customers. 4   Now, we can’t know where the decision was made to “adjust” the record like this (or is it “falsify?”)  It could be that the driver mistakenly marked “left on porch” when delivering another package and that, upon arriving back at the distribution center realized he/she still had a package on the truck–and thus covered the tracks.  Or it could be that the CSR, in an effort to deflect blame away from UPS, confabulated on her own?  (I highly doubt this one is the case, but it’s possible.)

Just as “in transit visibility” relies on accurate reporting of information to enhance decision making, so does customer service, and service recovery.  One does not help the business by covering one’s tracks.5  Admittedly not every bad experience will result in a blog post such as this one–and that is all the more reason for carriers to be ever vigilant.  If given a choice between carriers, and you have had an experience where a carrier (or anyone, really) has been dishonest in their dealings with you, are you more, or less, likely to choose that carrier?  Decisions are often made on trust–trust that items will be delivered, and trust that firms will make every effort to make good when they don’t.  When one has a negative experience such as this, then one is more likely to perhaps go with a less reliable, or more costly, provider that they can trust.

When faced with our own failures, I learned a valuable lesson from my earliest military mentor, Dave Morris (@nicheguy on twitter.)  You step up, admit your failure, and work to make it right.6  I have generally found that at a personal level people respond almost in shock that someone is willing to take responsibility for the own actions, and more often than not, you are provided that second chance.  Firms would do well to create a culture that rewards stepping up, and taking responsibility, rather than making things worse by fostering cover-ups.

When people are honest with you about their failures and their successes, you are more likely to trust them.


I am not calling for a boycott of UPS or any carrier.  I am simply pointing out that future decisions are based on past experiences, and negative experiences carry more weight that positive ones. An old military aphorism seems appropriate here: “One oh, Sh*t wipes out a thousand ‘atta-boys’!”  Being able to “blame” people only goes so far, but being willing to take the blame certainly is better than attempting to blame the customers themselves.

We will never know the true genesis of the tale delivered in lieu of the package, but what we can know is this–UPS as an entity ends up taking the hit.

Share your thoughts–am I too harsh on UPS for this?

  1.  I have had my share of packages with attempted delivery requiring signature, and since I was unable to be home, I had to go to their customer service center to pick it up.
  2. That said, I will report that the status was in some sense accurate–they do have a covered porch of sorts.
  3. cover your a** for those not used to such vulgarities
  4. If I allow my imagination to run here for a minute, I can see a wife calling, wondering why a package was not delivered, and then being told that her husband had sent it back.  Turmoil ensues at home, but UPS dodges another bullet.
  5. And in fact, when uncovered, the attempt to cover-up should result in a negative action against the employee.
  6.  Dave also taught me to screw up infrequently, lest I gain a reputation as a perpetual screw up.