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Yodel lost my brand new TV and ruined my weekend

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright July 21, 2016
Instead of relaxing in front of a brand new TV last weekend, the imperfectly combined forces of Yodel, Argos and Samsung conspired to keep me waiting a week

Yodel screenshot Monday by @philww
Finally, there's a new TV installed in my living room as of last night. But it could have been there a week ago if it had not been for the combined failures of delivery company Yodel, retailer Argos and manufacturer Samsung. This past week has taken me to the dark side of digital transformation, that twilight world of frustration and disappointment which still haunts unfortunate consumers when legacy systems, legacy processes and legacy thinking conspire to subvert our aspirations to experience a brighter future.

The chief irritant in this saga has been delivery company Yodel. This will come as no surprise to diginomica readers familiar with Stuart Lauchlan's assessment of Yodel as:

The courier firm to whom Argos outsources deliveries for reasons that defy any logic or common sense.

That's not to say Argos didn't also get things wrong. As Stuart ruefully reminded himself with another delivery shambles just this week, the way the two companies co-ordinate tasks makes them look like the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of UK home delivery. We'll dig into more of that shortly.

But Yodel, the UK’s second largest delivery service, formed after acquiring DHL's UK consumer parcel delivery business in 2010, adds its own unique incompetence to this sorry partnership.

Yodel's failed digital transformation

It's all summed up in the above screengrab from Monday morning. This screengrab shows the digitally transformed, mobile-first web app which is Yodel's main consumer interface for anyone waiting for a delivery to arrive. Allow me to highlight three remarkable features.

  • At 08:37 on Monday morning, 18th July, it is still promising delivery of a parcel three days prior, between 12:00 and 21:00 on Friday 15th. A parcel that, self-evidently, did not arrive.
  • The webchat — the only mechanism through which a consumer can submit an enquiry about what on earth has happened to their errant delivery — is unavailable due to high demand. This was its default condition whenever I looked from Friday evening all the way through to Monday afternoon, including all of Saturday (it's closed on Sundays).
  • If I drilled into the tracking history, the last entry was at 09:50 on Friday 15th July: "Your parcel is on its way, but there could be a short delay (Gatwick depot)." By the following Monday, this had become a grave understatement.

During the three days that I spent waiting for any meaningful elaboration on what was actually happening with my promised delivery, I had time to read up on Yodel's IT. It seems things have been worse, as our own Jessica Twentyman discovered when reporting on Yodel's Teradata data warehouse project last year.

Data now enters the data warehouse just five to ten minutes after an ‘event’, such as the arrival of a parcel at a sorting centre or its delivery to a customer ... getting rapid answers to senior management questions about current service quality takes minutes, rather than hours or even days.

Senior management includes CIO Adam Gerrard, who last week spoke of the difficulty balancing "consumer expectation of low cost delivery" with "seeking to deliver exceptional customer service." Yodel is set to finally replace its bespoke legacy ERP system over the next 12 months, and yet astonishingly the one question Gerrard would ask another CIO seems frivolous in comparison:

Quickest route to attain continued consumer app engagement — gamification, simplified UI or other?

My advice to Gerrard? You want to engage me, deliver my parcel. How can you think of investing in anything else when you're failing at your core mission?

If only I had known

With webchat continuously unavailable on Friday evening and Saturday morning, and having had no reply to my query posted late Friday on social media, I phoned Argos late Saturday morning to see what the retailer could tell me. With no updates on the Yodel system since 09:50 on Friday, I had no idea if we were supposed to wait in over the weekend in case the delivery turned up. The agent said yes, if Yodel fail to deliver the first day they will retry on subsequent days. Fortunately, I was too skeptical to cancel our plans and wait in — I just asked my neighbor to keep an eye out — but it all added to the sense of disappointment when nothing arrived.

What's really frustrating was that I could have collected the TV from Argos a week ago, and had I realized from the outset that the delivery would be handled by Yodel I think I would have done. I opted for delivery because it wasn't in my local store and didn't want to spend two hours to drive out and back to the nearest outlet that had it in stock.

So instead of collecting it last Thursday, I chose Friday delivery. That day I bought and carefully installed a wall mounting in readiness for the TV's arrival. The unused contraption loomed over the sitting room for the whole weekend, silently mocking us as we peered at the 14" portable TV that I had grabbed out of storage to serve as our emergency substitute.

An astonishing webchat exchange

On Monday morning, I was determined to resolve the impasse.

With Yodel's delivery information still not updated and webchat still continuously busy, I finally called Argos again. The call center agent put me on hold while she called Yodel and returned with the information that the TV had been at the wrong depot and needed to be transferred before Yodel could rearrange delivery. She wasn't able to explain why, if that was the case, Yodel's system had promised its arrival after "a short delay."

Yodel live chat 2016-07 by @philww
That afternoon, while checking Yodel for any change to my delivery details, I noticed that webchat was actually available, and I had this astonishing exchange:

Phil: My delivery is still showing as noon - 9pm last Friday. When will this be updated?

Yodel: I'm afraid this parcel hasn't been updated since the 16th. If you could give me a description of the parcel contents, I'll request the depot to carry out a base search for your order.

I replied that I had already resolved the issue with Argos and just wanted to know when the delivery was going to arrive, but my webchat respondent insisted that Argos had got it wrong and the package was still at Gatwick depot. He needed to know what it was so that his colleagues there could hunt for it.

I can't say who's right and who's wrong but what I do know is that at 04:20 the next morning, the Yodel system was updated with the news that the TV had arrived at a closer local depot, and it was delivered nine hours later. Nothing on the packaging suggested it had been to any other depot.

Samsung makes it worse

Having received the TV you'd think the saga would be over, but then came the challenge of securing it to the wall mount. For whatever reason, Samsung doesn't supply fixing screws with the TV and none of the three screw sizes provided with the third-party mounting kit I'd bought were anywhere near the right length.

A quick Google search suggested I could get the required bolts from my local hardware store, but it turns out that 20mm M8 bolts from there have a beveled end that isn't VESA compatible and which the Samsung manual clearly forbids for safety reasons. My last TV lasted 16 years until it gave up the ghost at the beginning of last week and I don't want this new one falling to the floor any time in the next decade.

So I went back to Google and found what looked like the right kind of screw on Amazon. Since I was fed up with waiting and now had a smart TV with the capacity to access Amazon programming, Amazon Prime acquired a new subscriber and the required screws arrived on schedule yesterday by next-day delivery. Finally the TV is up on the wall and my week-long battle is over.

My take

The last time I bought a TV, I walked up and down all the showrooms in central London's Tottenham Court Road before settling on my choice. A decade-and-a-half later, the purchasing process is much better informed and wholly online. But it's still handicapped by legacy processes and systems.

One of the reasons click-and-collect is so popular is because of the justifiable lack of trust in online delivery systems. The lack of co-ordination between Argos and Yodel is appalling, and whether a customer gets their issue resolved often seems to depend on the expertise and savvy of the individual call center operator they speak to. Hard-pressed staff are clearly resorting to all kinds of manual workarounds (phone calls, walking around the depot) to cover up for deficiencies in the processes the two companies operate and in integration between their IT systems.

The consumer shouldn't have to be calling up to resolve these issues. If Yodel's system is still showing an unfilled delivery at the end of the day, shouldn't someone be onto that straight away, instead of waiting for the customer to call up three days later? Doesn't the immensely costly Teradata data warehouse generate a list of let-down customers at the end of every working day, or is that not a priority for top management at Yodel in their mission to "deliver exceptional customer service"?

In this context, I question the investment that Yodel has been making in data warehousing and other digital transformation initiatives. What is the point of a mobile-first front-end if it doesn't deliver valid information and if webchat is constantly overwhelmed by incoming enquiries? Far too many organizations focus on bringing digital technologies into their customer engagement layer without ensuring their back-end systems can surface relevant information. Digital transformation is only useful if it's end-to-end and focused on fulfilling customer outcomes.

Finally I found Samsung's lack of help relating to VESA compatible mounting screws another example of a throwback to an earlier age. There was a time when you could get away with denying consumers information as a way of encouraging them to buy your own high-margin accessories. Those days are past.

Ideally I'd have wanted the necessary screws in the box, but an acceptable fallback would have been trustworthy advice on where to source them at a reasonable price. In a connected digital world it ought to be all part of the service. Instead I was left to my own devices to find the right solution. Based on what I've seen online, many people are making ill-advised choices and as a result may well have poorly secured TVs posing a safety risk in their homes. In the past, brands could wash their hands of those consequential risks. Today, their lack of action makes them complicit.

Personally, I feel let down by legacy systems and legacy thinking that has unnecessarily spoilt my weekend and jaundiced what should have been the pleasure of acquiring a new TV. It shows how far we have to go before connected digital technology really enables a seamless end-to-end experience. Perhaps it's churlish to complain when what I've acquired is orders of magnitude more functional and delightful than what I could afford for four times the price back in January 2001, and delivered to my home at no extra cost. But as a digital consumer I'm encouraged to have high standards and I don't see why in this day and age I can't expect suppliers to measure up to those standards.

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