This is only peripherally about real estate and much longer than most of my posts and may be just venting, but a warning about this kind of a move might be helpful to some of your clients. If you read it you might conclude that it is just hyperbole from an angry customer but if anything it understates the difficulty of this encounter with the self-moving giant.
U-Haul is a very successful company. Their revenue and profits have been great and they have enjoyed a nice run-up on their stock price in the last year.
That’s not why I hate them.
A little background…this summer a close relative went through simultaneous domestic, medical, and financial crises after she is abandoned in Las Vegas. The family pooled some financial resources to move her and her toddler daughter back east. Since money was tight, I researched various alternatives for getting her modest possessions and her daughter’s toys across the country.
The two least expensive alternatives both turned out to be U-Haul. The first option was to rent a truck, load up her stuff and drive it cross country…about 2300 miles in this case. The second alternative was what U-Haul calls U-Boxes. These are crates about 8’ X 7’ X 5’. We estimated correctly that we would need two U-Boxes. The shipping cost came to almost exactly the same thing as renting the truck plus gas, food, motel, etc and nobody had to take the week off and make that punishing journey in a small noisy truck.
Easy decision, right? Maybe not. There are a couple of costs that may or may not affect your pocketbook, depending on your situation. The first is that you are not likely to get your shipment if you are moving cross-country in the time you could driving it yourself. U-Haul “guaranties” it will reach your destination city in 10 days. Internally they are confused whether this is ten business days or ten calendar days but when you go to their website and punch in your contract number and name it calculates the guarantee ten calendar days out from the pickup date.
The second thing you should be aware of is that you don’t know where your stuff is during that shipping period. The real problem is that U-Haul doesn’t know either. U-Haul uses freight brokers and regular shippers to move the boxes. U-Haul depends on these brokers to keep track of the boxes.
How did I find this out? My boxes did not arrive in the guaranteed time. However, someone, I presume someone in the corporate offices in Phoenix, called me to tell me that they had. I got my help together and went over to the local store to arrange getting them home. False alarm, they weren’t there.
This I learned from the lone bewildered clerk in the store after waiting for twenty minutes in line with several other customers and potential customers trying to do everything from buy a couple of shipping boxes, to returning a truck, to trying to get a trailer hitch installed that they had scheduled ahead of time
Their attitude about the shipment was “it will get here when it gets here.” They have no access to any tracking information, apparently because there isn’t any.
This is where the fun begins.
I’m not totally unfamiliar with shipping stuff because I used to help run a company that managed the logistics for our clients’ trade show programs. The U-Boxes actually look like the big crates we built to ship trade show exhibits. However, trade shows go on whether your shipper has a problem or not so we would pay more for real shipment guarantees. The U-Boxes are not handled that way. But that’s OK if you’re going for the least expense and aren’t too concerned about when they reach their destination. They can keep the cost reasonable by letting the freight companies consolidate cross country shipments in a variety of ways. It turned out our boxes went from Las Vegas to Los Angles before they headed east.
Honestly, a day or two late was not going to cause a major problem. What did cause a problem was that no one I could reach in the U-Haul/U-Box organization could tell us what was going on even well past the “guaranteed” date. Here are a few highlights of those days.
- I talked to at least a dozen U-Haul personal on the phone not including the people in the local store. When you try to call the local store, if they are busy, the calls get rolled to a call center in Phoenix. But someone at a call center only knows what’s on the computer which in this case was wrong.
- I was on hold at least two hours total over several days. A couple of those holds where about a half hour each. In retrospect, I don’t think anyone had any intention of picking the calls back up so I started hanging up after 15 minutes. Otherwise, only heaven knows how many of my cell phone minutes would have been spent listening to the ironic on-hold message about how “easy” U-Haul made your move. To amuse themselves I wonder if the customer service people make bets on how long disgruntled customers will hold before they hang up?
- When corporate insisted that the boxes had reached their destination and the local general manager said they weren’t there, she and I walked her lot and checked the numbered barcodes to prove that they weren’t. The barcodes suggest that the boxes are tracked. Maybe that’s one of those things that falls in the category of “coming soon.”
- I asked one of the customer service people on the phone what the guaranteed delivery meant. She hemmed and hawed. A free shipment? No. A discount? No. A Starbucks Gift card for a latte? No. A written apology from the Director of Flack Catching? No. It’s a meaningless, empty promise? Yes.
- Twice I was transferred out of the U-Haul network, obviously to get rid of me. Once to an e-learning company that was closed for the weekend and shortly after that to a civilian who thought I was crazy. Speaking of that, I saw the same sort of thing in a customer review where the customer was transferred twice to a phone sex line. I wonder if longtime customer service personal in companies like this have a name for this process, like “ditching,” and I wonder if every customer service person has their personal favorite transfer location?
- If you want to see those customer reviews, it’s not obvious on the U-Haul website where they are. Interestingly, most of the reviews are positive, or at least made without comment, but when something goes wrong, they really go wrong. Check for yourself. At the bottom of the home page under “Company Info” click on “Social Media Directory” and you will find the reviews. What that has to do with social media, I don’t know. I had to tell one of the U-Box managers in Phoenix about these reviews. He had no idea they existed.
- When you call U-Haul the first line of defense is a customer service area. The folks that answer the phone (I talked to at least seven or eight of them) are well trained to seem sympathic and listen patiently…that is, they know the basics of dealing with unhappy customers. They can look stuff up on the computer but beyond that they can’t do much but transfer you to someone else who can’t do much either. One, who was trying to be helpful suggested that I send an email and guided me to where I could find the form on the website. She said this would draw some attention and that all emails had to be responded to within 72 hours. I’ve sent three and none have been responded to, now well beyond the 72 hours. Together what I wrote provides a pretty good chronology of my misadventures in customer service hell. One gentlemen in the U-Box department confessed that he didn’t know this email capability existed on the website, had never seen one, and had no idea what happened to them or who responds to them. I suggested he send one himself and ask to be contacted so he would know where they went. My bet is that he will get nothing.
- Somewhere along the line one of the customer service people suggested that my shipment had been delayed because the charge to my debit card was rejected. I had been told and it was reflected on my status page on the website that it would be charged 5 days after the boxes were shipped. They tried it that day and three subsequent days. This turned out to have nothing to do with the delay. However, I was concerned because the money was in the account. I called my bank and discovered the debit card had a $1500 limit on POS transactions, which is probably a reasonable security precaution. I had it changed to accommodate the expected charge for three days. However nobody could tell me who initiated the charge or why nobody called me to tell me it hadn’t processed.
- In one of my conversations with the U-Haul department in Phoenix, they promised that they would have the shipper call me with an update. I thought that was really odd and have never experienced a company that wanted you to deal directly with their vendors. The freight broker did call me, and besides accepting some of the blame for the snafu, gave me his name and phone number. He also gave me a projected arrival of the boxes that was only about a half day wrong.
- Another customer service person suggested that I file a formal complaint. I explained that I had already sent these emails complaining and I still hadn’t got a response. Even though they contained my contract number, they were not included/attached to the record she had of the transaction. U-Haul doesn’t call complaints “complaints.” They call them “customer objections.” So I told her the story again. She had to assign it to a particular department. She said that since it involved shipping it would be sent to the location that initiated the shipping in Henderson/Las Vegas. I told her that I wasn’t enthusiastic about that because I had already tried to contact them twice. I gave up after 15 minutes on hold after I was told I was being transferred to the manager. When I called back later I refused to be put on hold and whoever was unlucky enough to answer the call promised that the manager would call me back. I did talk to him later (I actually had a name) and he said that he had never gotten the message.
- Everybody seemed to be blaming the people in Henderson including the Regional U-Box person in Raleigh. I was given her name and number by the store personnel and called her twice. She refused to call me back but passed word to me through the store to deal with Henderson. I tried Henderson again and got Susan who I subsequently learned was their U-Box coordinator. She was very pleasant and said that she would check and get back to me in a few minutes. She did call back several hours later and gave me the same information the shipper had given me earlier.
- I talked to Henderson one more time. It was the manager who had never called me back several days earlier. He was responding to the complaint…that is, the “customer objection.” By this time, the freight had finally arrived in Durham. He offered to compensate us $100 for every day it was late but insisted that it was only two days late because they didn’t count weekend days in the ten day guarantee even though it clearly gave the guarantee date on my status page on the website. He said that he would talk it over with his boss and see whether they could do five days. I shared with him that my major complaint no longer had anything to do with the shipment but was mostly about getting the run-around from so many people. I never heard from him again.
- Turns out the manager in Henderson didn’t think he should pay because I was unhappy for being run around so he kicked the complaint up to corporate. So, I told my story again to corporate. They asked what I wanted. I said they should be embarrassed that the local store kept calling to tell me the shipment was here and I could get the two boxes when I paid the full balance. He asked what I wanted. I said free shipping and a consulting fee for outlining all the faults of their customer service in the three disappeared emails. He said he would talk it over with his boss and get back to me. I expected a reasonable counter offer. After two days I hadn’t heard from him so I called him back at the number he had given me at the headquarters in Phoenix. The call rolled to another customer service person and I was told my guy was not in. How about his boss? Not in either. Can I leave him a message? They don’t have voice mail. Can I have his email address? No. Can you email him my message? Yes. Never heard from him.
- The last customer service person I talked to suggested that I file a customer objection. I said that I already had. She said she didn’t see an active one. I said that I knew I filed one. She asked for a reference number. I had forgotten about that but had it right in front of me. She looked it up. She said “That has been resolved.” I told her nobody told me it was resolved and she had no information about what the resolution was. She said that she would re-open it. Three days later, I still haven’t heard anything.
I give up.
So that’s why I hate U-Haul. I really don’t blame the people who I dealt with on the phone or in the store. I think that at least some of them would have really liked to help me. If you look at the customer reviews and U-Haul’s financial performance, they are obviously doing something right. They may simply be a rapidly growing organization with systems that haven’t caught up with the growth and don’t know how to handle exceptions.
If I had to bet though, I’d bet the culture is that customers who experience problems like I did are just collateral damage to them that they don’t consider important to the growth of the bottom line. Maybe this will catch up with them, as it recently did with General Motors which buried information about faulty ignition switches that killed people. They won’t get much sympathy in this family if it does.