Software that works the way it’s supposed to

Sad to say, but I'm surrounded on a daily basis by so much software that doesn't work very well that I'm really surprised when it does work.

My wife just called me with a UPS tracking number -- could I arrange for will-call and go pick it up? The resulting interaction I had with UPS's systems was pretty unique for me, in the sense that it worked, despite the complex systems I know are involved on the other end of the interaction.My wife gave me a tracking number and an 800-number to call - both printed on the slip that UPS left on the door. She could tell from the slip that UPS was trying to deliver a mail-order prescription, and that since the prescription was going to require a signature, tomorrow's delivery would fail too, so she asked me to pick it up at the UPS location.

The first thing I did was to log onto and check the tracking number. Why? Just dumb curiosity, I guess. Sure enough, it showed the status as "first attempt made."

So I picked up the phone and dialed the number. An autmated attendant asked me for the number that was printed on the slip. "Oh, great," I thought -- I've been on the losing end of way too many of these engagements not to be skeptical. I didn't have any other options, though, so I read the number, fully expecting to be put on hold for ten minutes, only to be asked for the tracking number again when somebody finally got to my call.

But that didn't happen. Not five seconds after I'd read the number, the attendant came back with information about the shipment (tried to deliver today, going to deliver tomorrow -- is that ok?). I answered, "no" and was asked if I wanted to pick up the package. I was told it was still early enough to pick the package up today, and asked to provide a phone number. So far, so good. Finally, I was asked for a second number in case the first didn't work. I gave my work number, including an extension.

Throughout this exchange, there was a stunning lack of interference. No "please wait while we get the next question ready." No "please repeat your last answer - we didn't understand it." None of that. Not even with my work phone - I figured the extension would mess up the system for sure.

Very, very nice.

Now, I know that somewhere back in the bowels of some UPS data center, cams were turning and gears were whirring. I know that a complex matrix of SOA-compliant software components were exchanging protocols at a blistering pace. I didn't have to, though. I didn't have to give a hoot about routers and message busses, because the system just worked. The technology became invisible.

Just for grins, I updated the tracking page no more than ten seconds after I hung up the phone. Guess what? It showed that the package was being processed for will-call.


Please, let this be a lesson for all of the customer dis-service centers out there that make me say my phone number, account number, name, whatever, then put me on hold and make me say them all over again when somebody finally gets on the like to abuse me in person.

Please let this also be a lesson to all the stupid automated systems that just aren't ready for prime time.

I know this is a problem for lots of people out there, because there's a major credit card company running a big ad campaign based on a "feature" in their customer service IVR system that lets you press "0" to speak with a real person. That's right, the general state of customer service is so lousy, that just the promise of being able to talk to a person is a major selling point!

Oh, yeah - one more thing. The UPS system promised that someone would call me back to confirm arrangements within an hour. They called in twenty-two minutes.

Well done, UPS.