¿Marque dos para español?

Paco Nathan
Sep 29, 2018 · 5 min read

Pro-tip: do not order business checks from UPS.

I did, on 2018-09-09. Plus, I ordered next-day delivery, their extra security option, etc.

More than two weeks later, I inquired why our checks hadn’t been delivered. After login on our UPS business account, a note explained how our checks had been delivered to our business address and were received by a woman named “Maria” at 09:20 Pacific time that morning.

In other words, someone who doesn’t exist had taken a delivery which required my signature: 300 hundred blank checks for our business bank account.


After nearly two hours on the phone, having talked with 6 different UPS customer service people, called four different UPS phone numbers, “talked” with an untold quantity of conversational bots, repeated their gazillion-digit tracking number multiple times over the phone, etc., and still no one at UPS could tell me where our blank checks had been delivered or who “Maria” was. Moreover, how was “Maria” able to sign my signature and take delivery of financial instruments capable of accessing a considerably large sum of money?

Multiple UPS representatives said something to the effect of: “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. Good luck.” One warned how especially impossible it could be to get past the voice menu and bots on their toll-free number.

Mentioning this matter on Twitter, the @UPShelp online support bot cheerfully replied:

I understand how upsetting it is when there is trouble on a delivery.

Srsly? Can an AI truly understand a potential case of package theft — which is a big thing now in the era of Amazon — or how upsetting charges of possession of stolen property might be?

A couple hours later I managed to get in contact with the UPS delivery driver, based out of Petaluma. Let’s call him “Jeff”. He’s one of the good guys in this story.

At first, “Jeff” and his manager explained how they’d done everything correctly, that our checks had in fact been delivered to our business address, directly to my colleague “Maria”. However, our business address had been in error, and furthermore they’d merely followed instructions from their dispatch. Not quite sure how those statements all gel together, but let’s roll with it for now.

As it turns out, our business name, business address, phone number, and email are correctly represented on:

  1. our UPS account — which UPS delivery folks say they cannot access
  2. the shipping label — which apparently nobody read
  3. the checks themselves — which, as it turns out, had been opened and viewed by “Maria”, ostensibly when “Jeff” made delivery

So I asked why — over the entire course of the Sep 25-28 period in which UPS dispatch in Petaluma was determining how to “reassign” our address — no one attempted to contact me to clarify about the delivery. It turns out that “Jeff” and other UPS drivers are not allowed to call shipping recipients, per corporate policy.

Then came the big reveal: “Maria” is a manager for a Starbucks down the street. WTF?

I visited the Starbucks and asked to speak with their manager, “Maria”, who of course was not available. However, the Starbucks employee was aware they’d accepted delivery of business checks which weren’t intended for Starbucks, and mentioned how they’d opened the package and looked through it. They did not attempt to contact me, their neighbor (and, now, former customer). She said they were required to wait until UPS returned to receive back the package.

Bokay. I asked if Starbucks would kindly not receive any further delivery of packages intended for our business, and could they please have their manager call me? Of course the latter never happened, so “Maria” remains a ghost.

“Jeff” called me back just as I was walking out of Starbucks. He promised to pick up the checks, first thing in the morning, then call to arrange delivery in person. Not per corporate policy.

Getting toward 11:00 the next morning, I hadn’t heard from the UPS customer support office which promised to call back, nor from “Jeff”, nor from “Maria”.

My tummy was making the rumblies, so I wandered over in the direction of Starbucks, near a fave Nicaraguan burrito place. Just then a UPS truck pulled alongside and parked. I waited at a table outside Starbucks, watching as “Jeff” entered the coffeehouse, reemerging with a package — about the size of 300 printed business checks. Oh joy!

On his way out the door, “Jeff” helped an old woman struggling to scramble inside for some warm pumpkin spice on a rainy NorCal autumn morning. The UPS driver “Jeff” seemed like a really good guy.

Back in his truck, after a minute or two, “Jeff” called — as promised — asking where could we meet? I grinned and waved, “Hi, sitting right here in front of you. You were really nice to that elderly lady.”

A few minutes later, “Jeff” looked over my passport to confirm ID, and I received our business checks. Finally!

We talked about what had happened. I offered to write a recommendation for “Jeff”, since he’d gone out of his way to fix a really messed up situation — a cascade of UPS corporate’s sloppy policies, fragmented data infrastructure, poor use of “AI” bots in lieu of actual customer service, and in general their really terrible compliance for handling financial documents and corporate liability.

“Jeff” urged me to be more careful when making arrangements with a shipper, and asked who the shipper had been?

“UPS,” I explained. “I ordered business checks from UPS.”

“Oh. Oh, that’s bad.” Then “Jeff” walked away shaking his head.

On a hunch, I visited the ATT store next door. Our business phone installation in July had been partially botched, and I wanted to arrange for a technician service visit.

Yet another hour spent waiting while the ATT store representative waded through the peculiar voice-menu- and conversational-bot- hell that is ATT customer support.

We watched the rain outside, listening to Muzak. Smiled politely. I played a Solitaire app to avoid stressing, thumbed through Instagram on mobile. Meanwhile the ATT store rep grew even more frustrated than me. We talked, about how I used to work for ATT, how their support process has serious Catch–22 issues now. Plus I mentioned adventures with UPS and Starbucks next door.

“We’ve had the same thing happen.”


“UPS delivers our inventory to them — sometimes boxes full of expensive telecom gear, clearly marked `ATT `— delivers them to the Starbucks, which signs for the goods.”

Huh. I’ve got a hunch that “Jeff” is doing his job, well and proper. However, who knows how legit we might consider either the apparitional “Maria” or the equally inept and arguably less-than-legit UPS dispatch in Petaluma? Some of that telecom gear has high resale value on the black market. Perhaps “Maria” has a hella sweet side gig going with her pal in Petaluma?

The moral of the story is that poor use of “AI” to replace customer support, combined with ridiculous corporate policies, combined with systematically stressed and underpaid mid-level managers — that’s a disastrous recipe for not-so-nice things to happen. UPS, Starbucks, ATT, etc., are you listening? Do we need to “Press one to continue?” or “¿Marque dos para español?”

Once is an anomaly.

Twice is a coincidence.

Three times is your own damn fault for letting it ever happen again.


"In the loop…" https://derwen.ai/

Paco Nathan

Written by

evil mad scientist https://derwen.ai/paco ; co-chair https://rev.dominodatalab.com/ ; lives on a tiny orchard in Ecotopia



"In the loop…" https://derwen.ai/

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