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Thu 19 Mar 2015 12:03 PM

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Post traumatic stress?

Sarah Townsend discovers taking delivery of a package brings with it more headaches that it should

Post traumatic stress?
Sarah Townsend

This week I attended a high profile event at which the former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, and several well known UAE businesspeople discussed how Dubai can prosper as an “anchor” for the global growth economy. The right systems and regulations, they said, must continue to be put in place to facilitate smooth business operations and hassle-free living. One spokesperson even said Dubai has “moved beyond the superlatives” to a new preference for quality over quantity - it wants to be the best at everything, not just the biggest.

So it was ironic that, the same day, I found myself coming up against one national system that emphatically isn’t the best – far from it in fact – and that’s the postal service.

As a newcomer to Dubai, I had prepared myself for many frustrations related to the thrills of setting up a new life abroad, wherever you are. But my postal experience has definitely been near the top in terms of potential for elevating my blood pressure to unhealthy limits.

Having just moved here two months ago, there were inevitably various belongings that had been forgotten and needed to be mailed out to me. But almost a month after being posted from the UK my parcel was a no-show. I had made sure I gave the accurate PO box number of the hotel I’m staying in, and figured that as it was a hotel, with 24-hour concierge and so on, the parcel should arrive on time and with no hiccups.

But I was wrong. When I deduced something must have gone amiss I got the reference number from the parcel delivery company and rang up Emirates Post, which informed me my parcel had been delivered almost two weeks ago to their sorting office near the Creek. The infuriating thing is that I had received no emails or texts informing me the parcel had arrived. At least in the UK, Royal Mail couriers leave a slip of paper at the delivery address informing you they tried to deliver but you weren’t in, and telling you where to go to collect it.

So far, frustrating, but not the end of the world. It was when I finally arrived at Dubai Central Post Office in Al Karama that the farce began. It had taken a long time to locate the building – none of the taxi drivers seemed to know where it was, there was heavy traffic and the nearest Metro station was more than a reasonable, and safe, walk from it.

Due to poor signage on the front of the building I ended up queueing in the wrong place and was eventually told I needed to walk round to the back of the building. I then got a ticket, sat for another 30 minutes or so and eventually handed over my reference number. But I was told there was a specific desk for collections and would have to take a new ticket and queue some more. A new ticket was printed, stating what I presumed was the same parcel reference number I had handed the assistant, and waited.

It later transpired that in printing me out a new ticket the assistant had keyed in the wrong parcel reference number, as I was informed by the next official I saw that the parcel had been “successfully delivered to my company in Abu Dhabi”. I do not have such a thing as I work in Dubai Media City and live close by. I was quite upset by then as imagined I would have to travel out of Dubai at not insignificant expense to collect my belongings and convince people who I was. It was only when I suggested to the official that his colleague might have made a mistake that he checked the number and confirmed the mix-up. Until then he was getting more and more impatient with me and wanted me to just leave for Abu Dhabi. There was then a longwinded identity re-confirmation process before I was able to walk out of the building with the right parcel.

I wondered if I’d just been unlucky, but colleagues and friends tell me my experience is sadly not uncommon, and often packages simply never turn up. Of course, any system that involves the level of paperwork, security and bureaucracy as the post is bound to be a pain for citizens to navigate, but I feel Dubai could do a few things to smooth the process and make sure this system does not damage international perceptions of the country’s efficiency.

1 – Do away with the antiquated PO box system and deliver at least small parcels to letter trays in the lobbies of residential buildings.

2 – Inform residents by text, email or a slip left with concierge that their parcel is at a sorting office and what they must do next.

3 – Improve post office customer service so there is less potential for time-consuming errors.

4 – Build new sorting offices/PO box stations at a wider range of locations across Dubai, so residents do not have to travel so far to collect their post.

5 – Overcome the problem of vague Dubai addresses by creating a publicly accessible map/information resource on Dubai geography so couriers know where they are going.

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Critic 5 years ago

Sorry to hear that you have to face such situation after your arrival here. Normally Dubai government services are the best in the region.

Me moving from Kuwait, where postal service is something which has its name exhibited in a museum, for me the Dubai services have a high level of satisfaction. But if we compare to the rest of the developed world systems, I could with no doubt say that, Dubai has to improve a lot to be considered as a leader. The government here is under this impression that they are par with any developed nations systems but in reality that is not the case.

Its better that the government should do some reality check before publishing the figures and percentages at high service satisfaction rates.

whatnext 5 years ago

Yes good article.
So much is wrong with the Central Post Office, but sadly nothing will ever change.

Jeremy M Skyrme - Emirates Post Group 5 years ago

We are sorry to hear about the poor service Mrs. Townsend received at Emirates Post Office in Karama. We would like though to add a few comments. The Post office in Karama has been there for some 30years and should be very well known to most residents and especially taxi drivers. We have over 126 Postal Locations situated in the UAE communities and more are opening unlike in Europe where postal locations are declining. To receive Parcels or letters in the UAE you must have a PO box number clearly mentioned on the shipment otherwise it will be returned to origin. This is the reason why parcels are not delivered and instead returned to origin. We are currently looking at delivering all parcels without a PO box number as we don't want to return to origin. Po boxes for individuals are priced at Dhs250 per year which is very affordable and we encourage people to take one in your local community. In Europe the service is paid through your tax system.

Doug 5 years ago

Jeremy, in Europe the service is NOT paid for through your tax system. People sending a parcel or letter pay at the point of postage according to the size and weight of the item and then the postal operator or courier takes it to the physical address specified on the packet.

In Europe, most delivery services deliver direct to the address of the recipient rather than them having to go to a post office to collect their parcel. Imagine that? A postman delivering a letter to your door, without you having to head off down to dusty Karama and having to queue up. Science fiction, eh?

No wonder the postal service is in trouble when clearly its own spokespeople have absolutely no idea how any other advanced country runs postal services.

procan 5 years ago

Doug... well said . First world services are one of many things that separate EU, North America, from the developing world. The fact many just do not get, it is evidence of immature governments . Can we say "Lack of Vision" mmmm

who2 5 years ago

Strange comment from Jeremy M Skyrme.
Almost like he is trying to explain that he knows the Post Office is bad, but it is nothing to do with them as there are no taxes to collect.

No surely he cant mean that, can he?

Just go there any day and see the queues of people waiting.
Then look at the lack of staff and the indifference.
That will not be addressed by taxes.

MT3 5 years ago

I always use couriers since my last experience at the DIFC post office. I never expect proper customer service, the usual sullen employees too busy with their smartphones to even notice I was waiting to be served does not phase me at all. After explaining the package I wanted to post had confidential documents in and that I need the quickest, safest method possible, and being treated like a leper for even attmepting to get anything like advice, finally I took guidance from another customer paid and left. I went for a coffee in a local coffee shop and then returned via the post office which I noticed was deserted, the door was open and my package and several others remained on the counter in open view for anyone who fancied having a look. I waited for staff to return - a good five minutes - and asked them if they thought it was a good idea to leave the mail out; their response, a quick shrug and back to the exertions of Candy Crush.

Sarah 5 years ago

I once had a Emirates Post employee hang up on me when I asked her to repeat something. That said, the worst is my management company, Kingfield Management, who received THREE notifications from Emirates Post for a package but failed to inform me. The package was sent back and the company just passed the buck nonstop. The whole process was a nightmare.

Nick 5 years ago

Yes, I think Jeremy's comment says it all really - thanks for your comments but we will continue as we are under the illusion that we are offering a satisfactory service.

The postal service here is terrible and everyone knows that, the post offices are staffed by people that have little interest in their jobs and as one other commenter stated, seem to be engrossed in their smart phones, usually with one headphone in their ear, followed by a look of annoyance that you are interrupting their social media update / whatsapp messaging or phone call.

As for his comment that in Europe the service is paid for by taxes, this is completely untrue, and if he spent some time benchmarking against these postal services, he may learn a thing or two.

I suggest next time Jeremy is abroad, he posts himself a parcel, and then can experience first hand the lottery that is receiving your parcel through Emirates Post