Not intelligent content – just stupid results

After the success of our recent Intelligent Content conference, I thought I’d share a story that illustrates where two companies are working together and probably think what they’re doing is a great thing, but really what they’re delivering is an epic fail.

On the Thursday of the conference, I went to the downtown main street of Palm Springs, and wandered through the street market looking at the various wares available for sale. I bought my daughter a bulky something (hey, I’m not going to say what is was, she might read the blog entry – unlikely, but possible) and planned to ship it home, so I didn’t have to have it on my lap during the flight home.

I checked the web on Saturday night and confirmed that there was a FedEx close to the airport. My plan was simple. Go to FedEx in the morning, bundle the present, ship it and then head to the airport.

If only it were that easy.

As I drove to the airport, I realized that I hadn’t noted the street number of the FedEx location, so I pulled over into a parking lot, dialed 411 on my iPhone, and waited. The AT&T robot asked me where I was, and what I was looking for. I answered “Palm Springs, California” and “FedEx” and waited whilst the electronic gears ground and various connections were made. I was expecting a local phone number (I had told it where I was), but instead I was patched through to a main central number – but here’s the kicker. I was sent to the FedEx help desk in Canada, not the US one.


Well, because my iPhone is a Canadian iPhone, with a Rogers SIM. AT&T picked up on this fact and stupidly made the assumption that because I was calling from a Canadian phone, I really wanted a Canadian number, not the one I had specifically asked for. This despite the fact I was calling from the US, and had asked the AT&T robot for a US number.

Unsurprisingly, the Canadian office didn’t know where the Palm Springs outlet was, so after a bit of confusion, and a significant expenditure of roaming charges, the Canadian FedEx operator sent me to the US system, where I was able to talk to someone and get the local Palm Springs address.

Unfortunately, when I drove to the FexEx location, I found that it was closed on Sunday, so I tried to see if there was a local UPS outlet available.

Same deal; I called 411 and AT&T stupidly sent me to the Canadian UPS phone number. UPS is worse than FedEx in this department, as the Canadian UPS phones aren’t even answered on Sunday, so I never found a local UPS office in Palm Springs.

I ended up carrying my daughters present home on my lap.

And if you’re wondering why I just didn’t fire up the browser on the iPhone and look for a FedEx or UPS store that way, you’ve obviously never had to pay a Rogers Roaming Data charge. I could have bought my daughters present its own seat on the plane for what it would have taken to use the browser on the AT&T 3G network…

The Moral?

The goal of intelligent content is to be able to provide your customers what they want, when and where they want it. Too often, companies take the easy way out and make overly simplistic assumptions about how to deliver. That appears to be what’s happening here. Where possible, it’s always best to ask people what they want, but in this case, it’s obvious that AT&T didn’t pay any attention to that (I told it “Palm Springs, California” and “FedEx”), and simply made a bad assumption based not on what I asked for, but what their computer system told them (hey, it’s a Canadian phone, he must want a Canadian number!).

Don’t do that. Ask your customers what they want. Pay attention to their answers. Test the assumptions you make and then make some more and test those too. Intelligent Content can deliver what your customers need, but ignoring your customers, and delivering what you think they want based on poorly thought out rules and automated tools that blindly follow those rules isn’t the way to make your customers happy.

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