FedEx at Forty: Mollie Swindle

The fine art of customer service.



FedEx customer service manager Mollie Swindle realizes that “other people do what we do. We have got to do it better.”

photography by Larry Kuzniewski

Thanks (or no thanks) to phone trees, automated calls, undecipherable messages, baffling foreign accents, not-our-faults, and insincere apologies, the phrase “customer service” is as likely to elicit groans as smiles.

As a manager in customer service at FedEx, Mollie Swindle is determined to move the needle toward the smile side for customers who call about their shipments.

Customer service is both art and science. The art is learning to give “virtual hugs” to worried, impatient, or cranky customers. The science is analyzing thousands of such contacts, putting them into 85 categories, and coming up with guidelines for handling them.

That’s where Swindle comes in. The Alabama native and diehard ’Bama football fan worked in industrial engineering at General Motors in Tuscaloosa for 25 years, moved to Memphis to work for Cummins Engines, then came to FedEx in 2003. She is so dedicated to her job that when she was going through training she sent her children off to school with a real hug and a cheery “thank you for calling FedEx, have a nice day!” Kind of bleeds over, she shrugs.

“FedEx is not the only option for customers. Other people do what we do. We have got to do it better.”

A little secret of the customer-service business: “Customers are more loyal if you do a good job of handling a problem for them than if they never had a problem.”

Another little secret: Resolution rate and average handle time (AHT) are crucial, but it’s better to take three-and-a-half minutes and resolve a problem than three minutes and have it resurface somewhere else as someone else’s problem on the Customer Advocate Team (CAT — FedEx is acronym central).

The call centers she deals with are only in the U.S. Expensive as it is, the telephone call, rather than e-mail, is still the preferred method for handling complaints.

“What started as a three-minute call has become a 15-minute ordeal for the customer,” says Swindle.

FedEx has about 2,200 employees working in 20 call centers across the country. The call centers Swindle deals with are only in the U.S. Expensive as it is, the telephone call, rather than e-mail, is still the preferred method for handling complaints, with other employees working as online chat representatives in Memphis and Dallas and monitoring social media for FedEx buzz, good or bad.

Swindle and her staff also study companies with stellar customer service such as Zappos.com, an online shoe company. They learned, among other things, that the company asks job applicants how lucky they are on a scale of one to ten. Hint: only optimists need apply.

The most common calls involve tracking, pickup issues, and disputed deliveries. The customer says the package did not come, the service rep says tracking shows proof of delivery and suggests looking around. The package may be at the front door instead of the back door, or vice versa. By routing calls to the appropriate ground or express station immediately and having their people work it instead of a trace group, “we’re finding the package 20 percent more of the time than we used to, and the customer is getting virtual love.”

Customer service is not all love and hugs, of course. There is the stress of computer crashes (“most understand it’s not our fault”), callers who yell, and the overlap of Smart Post services with the United States Postal Service, which takes the shipment to the recipient once FedEx gets it to their city.

“We tell the customer the whole process, explain that the Postal Service has it now, give them the number, and try to make them feel good about it,” says Swindle.

How upbeat is she? Well, she wanted to put a “hug” sticker on every customer service rep’s computer but her boss wouldn’t let her. And when she moved to Memphis she used to eat breakfast at a place on Summer Avenue where there was a crabby waitress. Swindle’s goal was to make her smile every time she went there. She says she never failed.  

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