As of last night, I had been trying to make arrangements with DHL Express for shipping our solar panels from the manufacturer in Hong Kong to Maseru, Lesotho, for almost a month and was no closer than when I started.
Let me backtrack a moment ... Two years ago, when I was looking for information on shipping laptops from the U.S. to Lesotho, DHL bent over backwards to help me. I ended up not using them because we discovered we could take almost all the laptops in our checked luggage and in the process save L2L heaps of money. But DHL had so impressed me back then that now I was actually looking forward to working with them and giving them my business finally.
Unfortunately, things had changed.
To start with, I had to submit multiple inquiries over a period of several weeks before I got someone's attention at DHL and they responded. I gave that person all our contact information. Then, she said someone ELSE would get back to me within 24 hours to set up an account.
That seemed like an odd way to do it, but okay, maybe they had good reasons.
Five days later, no word from DHL, so I called them. The person I spoke with could find no record of my inquiries or the previous contact. So, after giving her the same information and being put on hold multiple times, I got shunted to someone else, who, like before, told me another someone else would be in touch to complete the process.
By this point, I was a little skeptical that there was an end to this line of "someone else's." However, that afternoon, I did get a call from Andrew Tarkington, my "personal DHL representative." Over the phone, I gave him all the same information yet again. Then I was told I'd have to fill out a form, after which he informed me it would take 3-4 days to complete the process of setting up an account.
Because of all the delays by DHL, and because the manufacturer was running a week ahead of schedule, I was running out of time, and 3-4 days was too long. I told him that, but he didn't have any suggestions for expediting it. I didn't see that I had any other choice, so I agreed, hoping for the best.
The brief form promptly arrived by email, and I filled it out with the exact same information I'd already given them several times, with the addition of three credit references the form requested. As I filled in contact information for our bank, a company in South Africa, and a funder in the U.S. who we also provide services for, I was thinking to myself that this seemed like an awful lot of unnecessary information, and an awful lot of trouble to go to just to arrange a shipment of three parcels weighing slightly less than 50 lbs each.
Shaking off my concerns, it took me just a few minutes to fill out the form, then I promptly sent it back.
My DHL representative emailed back to inform me that the information I'd sent wasn't good enough. They needed U.S. trade companies for the credit references.
Hunh?!?!! A. Why require only U.S. companies since DHL Express is international, and I'm going to them specifically because they have an office in Lesotho, a non-U.S. country, where we do all our work. I mean, duh ... Most of our business is in southern Africa. After all, that's why we're shipping there.
And B. Why limit it to "trade" companies? I tried to explain that we're a nonprofit organization. We provide a free service. We don't produce or sell anything, so we don't have regular "trade" suppliers or customers. That statement received absolutely no comment in reply.
At this point, I popped a cork and let my DHL representative take my frustration full in the face. We're not "good enough" for DHL to ship three measly packages for us?!?!!!
Fortunately, the manufacturer came to my rescue just in the nick of time, suggesting we use their DHL account and pay them, the manufacturer, for the shipping. It will mean paying the bank another huge fee to wire money to Hong Kong, but at least we have a workable solution.
So, I'm all calmed down and that is what we're going to do. I told DHL to cancel my application for an account. I will stick with UPS, USPS, or some other shipper.
I have a reply from my personal DHL representative sitting in my Inbox, but I'm not particularly eager to open it, especially since it doesn't really matter any more. It'll either raise my blood pressure or make me feel like an ass, so I think I'll leave it.
I want to add that, while all this was going on in the U.S., the DHL representative in Lesotho, Tlotliso Tlali, was bending over backwards to help me. Aaaah, just like the good ol' days. He took all the pertinent shipment information, something my personal representative never bothered to do, then he calculated the estimated shipping costs and sent me a quote, so I could budget for the shipping. He also got me information on what the Lesotho customs regulations were for our shipment, what the VAT (value-added tax) would be, and arranged to store our shipment until we could come pick it up.
Wow! I can't wait to meet Tlotliso.
I hope the irony of this reversal of stereotypes is not lost - the sharp, efficient guy in the Third World nation where things are supposed to get tied up in rigid bureaucratic red tape and suffer endless delays because "African" time lacks urgency vs. the guy who doesn't seem to care if he gets my business or not here in the U.S., the land of speedy efficiency, flexibility, and the customer is always right.