Oversight

How about a rant about product delivery that has nothing to do with Amazon? What’s more, it’s not about UPS, FedEx, or OnTrac! Pardon me while I put on my old fart pants, because I’m talking about newspaper delivery.

Back in the dim reaches of prehistory, delivery in residential areas was mostly done by kids on bikes. Up in the early morning hours to get the papers delivered before school. The technique you see in vintage movies, where the delivery boy flings the paper at the front door without slowing down was actually more common than you might believe.

I have to wonder if it’s even still legal for kids to deliver papers. It’s certainly frowned upon, in the same way that society frowns on letting them go out to play by themselves. But I digress.

Today, delivery is done by those old enough to drive. Some things don’t change, though. Our carrier, at least, flings the paper out of the car window without slowing down.

And it mostly works. Usually the paper arrives while I’m getting dressed and checking my email–just in time for me to read it while I eat breakfast. It’s almost always in a bag, rarely in a puddle, and hardly ever missing sections.

When things do go wrong, though–well, that’s why I’m ranting.

There are two papers around here, the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Times. The latter is small and, IMNSHO, overly click-baitish. So we get the Chron. Except, of course, when the carrier goofs and gives us the wrong paper. That happens about once a month.

So we call the Chron and talk to their friendly robot in charge of delivery problems. No, I’m not being snide about an underpaid human. The whole process is automated, right down to the fake typing noises after the computer says, “Let me look that up for you.”

Not once have we actually gotten the paper redelivered when we’ve been given a Times instead of a Chron. I’m guess that’s because the Chron doesn’t have a “I got the wrong paper” option, just “Did you get your paper? Please answer yes or no.” So I suspect what happens when we say we didn’t is that Chron’s robot passes the word to the delivery person, who says to himself, “I remember tossing it into their driveway. They’re trying to scam an extra paper.” Why we’d want a second Chron, I can’t imagine, but I doubt logic really enters into this process.

Then we got a laser printed flier from the delivery service–or more likely, from the actual delivery person–that advised us to call them instead of the paper.

So that’s what we did the next time we got a Times. Wound up talking to an answering machine and were actually able to say, “Hey, we got the wrong paper today!” Wonder of wonders, a couple of hours later, we found a Chron outside.

Problem solved, right? Well…

That business about not calling the Chron rubs me the wrong way. It smacks of an attempt to cover up their goof. I’m sure the delivery contract specifies a service level agreement: papers to be delivered by a particular time, with no more than such-and-so many errors per month.

If we don’t call the Chron, those missed and incorrect deliveries might not be counted. There’s no incentive for the delivery service to improve their process*. There’s no accountability, no oversight.

* Nor, for that matter, is there any way for us to get a credit from the Chron if the paper never does show up.

We’ve decided to call both numbers. What’s the worst that happens? We might get two newspapers. Oh, the horror. But at least we’re doing our part to ensure that the situation doesn’t get any worse.

The analogy with the current state of the American political system is left as an exercise for the reader.

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