Many at the ‘sharp-end’ of the courier business have seen it. In fact, sometimes it’s more of a sixth-sense than anything else. It’s that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you arrive somewhere to make a delivery and you just KNOW it’s all going to go pear-shaped.
The warning signs
One of the best indicators that a courier job may go wrong is when you arrive at destination only to spot some immediately visible worries, including such gems as:
• Gates being padlocked;
• A security guard sitting at a desk in reception not trying too hard to hide the fact that he or she is playing a computer game;
• A completely empty car park;
•The ‘Closed’ sign hanging in the front window.
OK, so you don’t have to be a great detective to realise that any of these things may be a pretty powerful indicator that you’re probably going to have trouble making that delivery. There are, though, a few more subtle signposts the courier experiences from time to time.
In this category, things may initially look promising. Maybe the building’s open and buzzing with life, the sun’s shining and everything looks good. Don’t get too carried away with the ‘joie de vivre’ though, because those courier warning bells might start to ring again very shortly.
• The person on reception looks at you as though you’re clearly deranged when you say you’re a courier trying to make a delivery;
• Your mention of the recipient’s name results in a baffled look, followed by the receptionist starting to thumb half-heartedly through their internal directory to find the person concerned (this one is often accompanied by loud sighs and a sad shaking of the head from side-to-side as they try and find the name);
• The receptionist is “calling up” to try and find out what’s going on and all you can hear is one side of the conversation, consisting of one or more of: “no, I’ve never heard of them either”; “wasn’t that the guy that left 6 weeks ago?”; “aren’t they based in our other office up north?”; “I’m not telling him – you come down and tell him”;“that’s not my responsibility, so if you won’t sign for it then I’m not”;
• As the phone is put down, even if you haven’t heard anything along the lines of the above, you suddenly find the receptionist is unable to look you in the eye and starts fidgeting in their chair – that’s often accompanied by those immortal words “someone will be down to sort you out in a few minutes” (the expression ‘sort you out’ is almost ALWAYS a bad sign – be warned!);
• You sit down in reception patiently waiting for the ‘sorter-outer’ to arrive and then spot the receptionist whispering conspiratorially to a colleague and pointing in your direction.
Of course, none of these things necessarily mean doom and gloom for the courier but…….
Done and dusted
Let’s assume that in spite of all of this, the delivery has somehow managed to take place and you’re in the process of leaving. Job done. Mission accomplished. It’s time to take that mental lap of honour and on to the next courier job. Or is it?
If you’re an experienced courier, you’re probably worldly-wise enough to know that once you’ve got that signature, then you need to get out of there like greased lightning. That’s to avoid any remote possibility of the sudden “hang on – I’m not taking responsibility for this!” call and re-think on the part of the consignee. So, your feet are really motoring towards that exit door, then the alarm bells ring again as you hear the person signing for it saying to the receptionist one or more of:
• “I thought these were only shipped in lead-lined containers”
• “I’m surprised he agreed to deliver it like that given what’s inside”
• “I’m not touching it without a bio-hazard suit”
• “Oh no! It’s leaking out of the bottom!”
• “Get the safety tongs and I’ll carry it downstairs”.
That’s when you have to decide whether to continue letting your courier instincts drive your feet out of there as fast as possible or whether you turn back and say “er, excuse me…”. Tricky call! But don’t worry, we’re pretty sure this one will never happen, but you have been warned!
Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world’s largest neutral trading hub for the same day courier and express freight exchange industry. Over 2,500 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading courier jobs and capacity in a safe ‘wholesale’ environment.