Examples of failures of the last mile

Ramit Sethi

Yesterday I wrote about The Failure of the Last Mile, and some of my friends were nice enough to send me examples they thought of. If you can think of any, add yours as a comment.

Companies put you on hold
“Cellphone companies, banks, DSL providers, spend a ton of money on marketing but then put you on hold for 1/2 hour for the simplest customer service. Amazon is the only company that seems to get this part consistently right.”

Yahoo wastes its real estate
“Another example – Yahoo! spent tons of effort on Internet search and then throws it away at the last mile by running too many ads above their search results, relative to Google.”

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Sound systems don’t work and so you are sad
“Going to hear a wonderful, amazing, famous speaker, and the sound system/ microphones doesn’t work properly.”

Reservations should save you time
“Reservations: Why make a reservation for anything when you still have to wait once you arrive? For example, restaurants, airline flights (overbooked), apointments for your car to be serviced.”

Rain plans are key
“Not having a “plan B” if the weather doesn’t do what you want it to.”

Newspaper never optimizes distribution
From a journalist friend: “For my paper, what has always struck me is that we have an entire circulation department spending a lot of time and money trying to get people to buy and read the paper, to the point of sending out thousands of free copies as samples. Those postage fees mount up. Ironically, we don’t bother to fill up our streetside boxes which also act as billboards for the paper, and we haven’t increased the number of curbside drop boxes we own, which means that when people call up and ask where they can find the paper, the answer is literally “nowhere, it isn’t available to anyone who isn’t already a subscriber.”

Stupid newspaper also cuts off own circulation
“Also (you’ve got me going now), we have been repeatedly told that we must get on this “web thing” and yet company policy is to charge anyone who links to our articles. We are charging for free publicity. We are charging people who are pointing others to our site. Even worse, we are charging them $5, which is such a feeble amount it is an insult to buyer and seller.”

Investment banker gets reamed for small mistake
“How about an investment banking example. I spent an entire week and an all nighter working on a pitch to a client. Tons of valuation work, tweaking powerpoint slides, etc. When final books were printed, everyone saw on the front of the presentation that I misspelled the name of the client on the front page. And then I proceeded to get railed by my superiors.”

Any examples? Add a comment here.

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  1. Jonathan A

    Ouch. Man I’m sorry about that last one……now you have a good story to tell your kids 🙂

  2. Rob

    APC gets it right.
    One of my APC UPS devices for home use recently failed. It’s about 18 months old and I knew that failure was too soon for so expensive an item.
    I went to their website and found that the warranty is 2 years from date of purchase(with receipt) or 2 years from date of manufacture and they have a handy spot where you enter your device’s serial number and they immediately tell you if your UPS is under warranty.
    I no longer have the receipt so I check the serial number. WooHoo! My device is covered! I call support and am on hold for only about 1 minute. I spoke to two very helpful people and after 3 minutes of double checking the device the rep tells me “OK, we’ll send you a new one.”
    That’s it, the device failed prematurely so I get a new one. I already own 3 of them and am now confirmed to always buy any others I might need from them. Which company will I always recommend people buy a UPS from?
    APC went the last mile.

  3. Jennifer

    I went to a beautiful wedding a couple years ago. It was seriously perfect right down to the last detail. However, the bride decided to walk down the isle in a pair of droopy granny pants. Her underwear was clearly visible underneath her beautiful and somewhat form fitting wedding dress.

  4. Kevin

    sounds like the investment banker forgot to go the last mile by making sure the NAME OF THE CLIENT WAS CORRECT! All that valuation and hard work for a week was wasted because the point of contact (and front cover) misspelled their name. That’s the last mile. Your superiors are trying to get you to understand the last mile. You didn’t finish. It isn’t that your superiors didn’t go the last mile. It’s you.

  5. Mario

    I was an investment banking analyst. You are shocked that you were reamed out by misspelling the clients name? You are in the wrong line of work. Mispelling the client’s name right on the cover is a pretty bonehead move. That’s the kind of thing people don’t forget. I remember hearing stories about analysts making those sorts of mistakes and they always ended w/ the analyst being fired.

  6. Ramit Sethi

    What makes you guys think he was surprised that he got reamed? He’s using that example to prove the point. Chill, guys.

  7. Mike

    I have an example in which I was a participant but I believe has a broader lesson: Early in my career, I was working for a financial services firm. I was the writer on a proposal for a company with one of those names that is by all accounts is spelled “wrong.” So I wrote a proposal to how the name seemed to be meant to be spelled. And before anyone says anything, yes it was my fault–and I learned my lesson!

    But the broader point is that the proposal went through 4 drafts over 4+ weeks, and was reviewed by the account manager, his boss, AND his boss, all of whom had direct dealings with the company. I know they read it–they made plenty of comments. But none of them caught it, even though the name appeared many dozens of times throughout the document. The client, needless to say, did not pick up this particular service, and the sales/account management team wanted my head. At least until my manager produced the emails they had sent approving the drafts.

    So my point is that management at all levels has to be vigilent about the last mile–you can’t assume that your employees are doing it for you. I mean, yeah, it was the investment banker’s fault (I feel for you, buddy) but if just one other person had seen a draft, everyone would have been fine. So in many ways, it’s often a failure of management. Policies are one thing (although Best Buy’s are still funny) but enforcement of followthrough is key.

    To add in another direction, I have a good friend who runs a customer service center. He has the normal metrics, and everyone is measured on that. But he also listens to conversations they have with customers, and if he can’t “hear the smile,” he mentions it to them. He could just read the numbers, but they wouldn’t tell him about how service is being provided. It makes a huge difference, I think.

  8. Carlin

    I’ve got two recent stories of terrible customer service.
    I had a raincheck from a Best Buy near my house. That store had not gotten the item in for about 3 weeks, so I stop by a Best Buy near my parents’ house. They have it, I grab it, show them my raincheck, and am told I can only use it at the store that issued it. After some prodding, the real reason came out. The manager did not want to take the $20 hit to her store’s sales (the raincheck was for a sale price). She also refused to give me her manager’s information and told me to call 1-888-BESTBUY if I had a problem. So I call, get some attitude from the CS rep, and am extremely unimpressed at this point. The item finally arrives at the store near my house (which has wonderful people) and they call me, let me know it’s in, and I go pick it up. I tell them about the other store and come to find out that any manager has the authority to authorize a raincheck, it was just that she chose not to.

    My only other one involves Traveler’s Insurance. I was trying to renew my policy online, and I only had the option to set up a recurring payment (which could only be cancelled in writing, at least they mentioned that). So, I call the CS number, and after 20 minutes going through their phone maze (which mainly involved an endless loop of punching in my account number and then being told by the automated voice, “I’m sorry, but I need your account number to further process your call”) I talk to someone, who tells me I can’t pay by credit card over the phone for a renewal, but if I want a new policy they can take a credit card payment. They will take a check by phone, but I’m not fan since Time Warner debited my account for 4 times what they should have a couple years ago. Plus disputing a charge is much easier than fighting an incorrect account debit. So I say no thanks, hang up, go to State Farm’s website, and in about 5 minutes I have better coverage at a lower price.

  9. Eric N.

    I ordered a desk and chair from office max on January 16. The 50lb table arrived the next day. The chair, I ordered a desk and chair from office max on January 16. The 50lb table arrived the next day. The chair, < 80$. Has still not arrived at my home. I've waited nearly 9 weeks for this chair... I am never shopping at officemax. And never buying furniture online unless it is a smaller shop, who can guarantee their shipped items -- and who doesn't sell items not in stock locally. They told me 6 weeks to ship, and now are saying 8 - 10. I dare say they'll tell me 11-12 once it doesn't arrive in another week. The last mile really f'd me in the a.

  10. Investment Banking Analyst

    Dearest Mario and Kevin,

    I was just hoping you could take a step of those high horses for a second. That example was one in which the analyst was simply adding to the conversation and MAKING FUN OF HIMSELF in the process. Kevin, he never said that he was blaming his superiors or going the last mile. And Mario, thats great that you’ve been in this line of work. And I’m sure in all your experience, you’ve not had one single typo in any presentation you’ve ever made. And that definitely makes you qualified to tell someone you don’t even know that he’s in the wrong line of work. Sheesh. I echo Ramit’s sentiments: “Chill.”

  11. KMulligan

    I’ve got a real winner to share… I’ll try to keep it short.

    Car battery dies abruptly, November 17, 2005. I get a jump, drive to Advanced Auto Parts, buy new battery ($68.77). This is in GA, where I go to college.

    Fast forward to February 2006. Moved to AL. Car won’t start. Completely dead. I borrow a car, buy a new battery at my local shop, install new non-Advanced battery. I later stop by a local Advanced Auto Parts, explain my situation, and ask if I can bring in the old, useless to me now battery, for a refund. “Sure, no problem!”

    2 weeks later I am in the store with my battery. Associate Robert tells me there is nothing he can do for me. Is the manager available? Robert waddles to the rear of the store, and talks to a guy on a bucket looking at something on the shelf. 3 minutes pass, Robert waddles back up front and tells me he can test the battery, and if it has a defect code, he can give me a new one.

    I don’t want a new one. But I’m getting no help here, so with the hope there is something wrong with it and I can talk to someone about Robert, I let him continue. Several minutes pass, Robert ignores me because he knows I’m pissed by now. The battery finally finishes the test, maybe 5-10 minutes later. Robert waddles over, grabs my battery, waddles back, and plunks it down on the counter. “There is nothing wrong with this battery. I can’t do anything for you.” “May I speak with a manager?” “He’s in an interview.”

    …no he isn’t. He’s sitting on a bucket. $^&((^%. “Okay… well is there a corporate number I can call to get some help?”

    “There is no corporate number you can call.”


    HAHAAHAHAHA. This is corporate America, bud. There is always a number. Shocked, I say, “Well…… I guess I’ll just have to take my business elsewhere in the future.”

    To which Robert gives the kicker, “That’s fine.”

    Wow. Sending me elsewhere. Fantastic! So I come home, look up at their website, find the investor relations number, it is in Roanoke, VA. I switchboard Advanced in Roanoke, and discover a listing that has no “We install this and that” section. Boom. Gotta be it. Call it, it’s an Area manager’s voicemail.

    I eventually get the district/area manager for my local store. He apologized profusely, asked when I could go back to the store, he called the Store Manager and Assistant manager and informed them I would be coming in the next day, and they would give me my refund. Asked if there was anything else I could do. I should’ve asked for $50 worth of gas, but I was calmed down by this point.

    I get my refund, the assistant manager doesn’t apologize, doesn’t shake my hand, just gives me my refund.

    Did Robert know who I was? What if I’m the son of a local shop owner with 5 locations that only uses Advanced? What if I’m the President of a car club with 100 members that work on their cars and get everything @ Advanced? All for $68.77… and in reality, they refunded me $75.xx. Ridiculous.

    [[sorry this was so long]]

  12. Peter

    Its not the issue of having a “single typo”. But more importantly what was misspelled and how obvious the mistake is.

    I think if you fudged up a bit on the financial aspects, it might not have been detected by your superiors. Everyone makes mistakes, just take it as a lesson you needed to learn I suppose.

  13. Jonathan Radande

    I think that Microsoft really screwed up with their XBOX 360’s.

    The Xbox 360 is a superior game console, but I think that more people woul’ve been satisfied if more games were available at launch.

  14. Geri Hutchins

    I ordered online from 2 companies and after not receiving the items, I checked my order and realized that I had neglected to change my address. I called both companies to tell them about MY MISTAKE and to see if there was anything they could do to help me. LL Bean told me not to worry about it, they would contact their carrier to retrieve the package and that they would expedite the ordered items to my new address. Company B reminded me that I had received a confirmation email (after I told them it was my mistake) and that the problem was mine.

    The original packages were returned to both companies. In the meantime, I received my order from LL Bean (with no additional shipping charges). Company B contacted me to tell me the items had been sent back and wanted to know why and if I still wanted them. I told them No and told them I was cancelling my account with them and why.

  15. Jeannine

    My boys are your age, so I guess I’m a little out of your target audience, but I really enjoyed reading your blog. I emailed it to both my boys (not rich students).

    Something to add to customer service. My debit card recently quit working with no explanation. When I contacted my bank, I was told it had been “compromised” and was on a list of debit card numbers that had been stolen, so it was cancelled. That was 6 weeks ago. The bank has issued a new card twice now, and both times it has just disappeared into the world of postal gremlins. My local branch keeps telling me they will “look into it because they don’t know what is going on”. I called the corporate HQ Customer Service number and gave up in frustration because it was a totally automated system and I couldn’t get to a real person.

    Needless to say, I am shopping for a new bank. I’ve been a customer of that bank for 15 years, but this has really got my hackles up. Do you know how many places won’t take checks now days? GRRRRRR!!

  16. Chris Bosken

    I’m currently in the market for a wedding cake. These days I consider businesses without webpages as behind the curve; Even if the vendor does have a website, too many are simplistic, or worse, poorly designed (these failures don’t even reach the last mile).

    But to those cake vendors that do have passable websites, many do their product a disservice by paying little attention to how the cakes are presented on the website- poor pictures probably give the potential customer a dim view of what could be a fantastic product. Seemingly, such poor presentation keeps customers away, or possibly keeps sale prices lower, since the customer coming from the website doesn’t feel like they are getting a designer cake, but an average one.

    The same last mile failure also shows up on ebay, with sellers who post poor pictures of their products.

    You’d think people would pay more attention to how their product looks, if they are selling it, at least in part, on aesthetics!

  17. arjun

    i hate how every clothes store always runs out of Medium sizes and ALWAYS has extra Ls and XLs. COME ON DUDES, LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES!

  18. candice

    Washington Mutual (don’t ask me why I ever signed up with them) goes out of their way to market themselves as an accessible bank but the branches near me ALWAYS run out of deposit envelopes on weekends.

    I am not exaggerating!

    I repeatedly couldn’t make a deposit because there were no envelopes!

    Veteran clients would hoard envelopes in their glove boxes and at times would share with me when I looked like I was about to cry.

    I made a complaint to customer service and I received a form letter with SOMEONE ELSE’s name inserted into some parts of the letter.

    After putting up with this for months and months (because they made it so hard to close my account) I finally escaped to a bank that can fulfill the bare minimum responsibility of stocking deposit envelopes.

  19. Bobette

    Apologies for being a couple of months late. I was researching CRM for an article, found the blog, and got sucked in.

    I have a wonderful example of failures in the last mile, courtesy of my (former) business credit card company. Advanta (like all financial institutions), closely monitors for fraud. That’s great.

    What’s not great is their procedures made it impossible for me to use the card without my account being repeatedly locked.

    When one of my vendors tried to charge the account, Advanta deemed the transaction “suspicious,” denied the charge and locked my account. When the vendor notified me of the decline, I called Advanta to find out what was up. The service rep explained why the account was locked: transactions with certain characteristics are denied by the computer and the account locked.

    I asked to have my account flagged to preapprove certain vendors. No go because “the computer does it.” They also could not allow a transaction, but call me to verify legitimacy (instead of denying and locking, for same reason).

    At least two of my vendors’ charges would have those characteristics in the future. Apparently each time one of those charges was presented it would trigger the computer’s wrath and my account would be locked. When I told the rep that this wouldn’t work for me because I knew I would be having more similar legitimate transactions that would cause my account to be frozen, she had no suggestions.

    Fast forward a month later, after I’d opened Citibank and Discover accounts (both of which, in my experience with personal card, have excellent fraud protection *without* freezing my account or making excuses about the computer), so was ready to close the Advanta account.

    When I called to close the account, the “customer service” rep asked why. After I explained, she replied (verbatim) “So you are closing the account because we protect you from fraud?”

    (Sorry this got so long, I’m still highly annoyed over the whole thing.)