Royal Mail = Royal Fail

The good thing about keeping a blog is I have somewhere to rant every now and then.  It makes no difference that nothing is likely to result from said rant but it gets it out of my head and that’s good enough for me.  I warn you in advance this is a long post so make sure you’re settled before continuing and with that out of the way, here goes…

I ordered a box of cigars from a company in Switzerland on Friday 15 January, I’ve ordered from them before so they were not unknown to me.  I received confirmation of my order and notification that they would be posted to me on the next working day, on Monday 18 I received a further email saying the package had been sent together with details of the Swiss Post tracking number, I logged on the next day, Tuesday 19 January and there it confirmed that it was in the system. So far, so good.  Then it all went wrong…

After being posted on 19 January my package went on a bit of a mystery tour

19.01.2010      10:32   Mailed – (Swiss Post have got it)

20.01.2010      02:14   Arrival at border point of country of  mailing Zürich (Here it arrives at the Swiss Border)

20.01.2010      02:14   Departure from border point of country of  mailing Zürich (Here it leaves the Swiss Border)

20.01.2010      15:16   Arrival at border point of destination country (Here it arrives in the UK)

At this point I have a look on Royal Mail’s tracker and get very confused when it advises me that Royal Mail has received my package and is preparing it for delivery abroad. Huh? NO! I shout at the screen, I don’t want you to deliver it abroad, I want you to deliver it to me! Suspecting those highly efficient postmen at Royal Mail had returned it, for whatever reason, to Switzerland I kept an eye on Swiss Post’s tracker, sure enough it was updated again.

24.01.2010      13:21   Arrival at border point of destination  country (Here I suspect it arrived in Switzerland)

Figuring those smart Swiss postman would realise that the delivery address was in London UK and not Switzerland I waited for it to return and sure enough the tracker was updated.

27.01.2010      17:57   Arrival at border point of destination  country (Déja-vu? Here it arrives back in the UK)

OK, so now I figure it’s back in the UK and Royal Mail’s tracker tells me it’s been received but them more confusion when I look at the Swiss Post site because it tells me that…

28.01.2010      07:50   Delivered (Delivered to where? Certainly not my office!)

I have a look at Royal Mail’s site over the weekend and it seems to suggest it’s been delivered to the delivery office but I wait a few days and still nothing so on Wednesday 3 February I brave Royal Mail’s customer service telephone line and endure 6 minutes of button pressing and inane announcements until I finally get to speak to a real human being.

The incredibly helpful gent I spoke with looked up the package number and confirmed what I had suspected, it had arrived in the UK and for some reason had been sent back to Switzerland before being sent back to the UK.  Why he couldn’t explain but he could tell me it had been delivered that day.  Hold on a minute I said, It can’t have been delivered because  I haven’t received it hence my telephone call?! It’s in your PO Box he told me.  A PO Box I don’t have… Swiss Post’s tracker was updated that evening…

03.02.2010      11:54   Delivered (To the EC OFFICIAL PDO)

As far as he could tell no one had collected the package so he would make a request that it went from the office that was holding it to the delivery office, he gave me a call reference number and the telephone number of the delivery office.  It seemed that I was getting close, close but no cigar!  I called the delivery office who stated they should have it the following day, if I call back then they’d be able to tell me if they had it.  I did, they didn’t.  It was still in the PO Box in the Mount Pleasant sorting office they told me, give them a call.

I then called the Mount Pleasant office and spoke to a relatively helpful guy who complained that the delivery office were always giving out the sorting office number to the public when they should be dealing with the queries themselves. He punched in the tracking number only to tell me it didn’t exist, despite me entering it at the exact same time on the Royal Mail website and reading out to him that it had been delivered to the EC OFFICIAL PDO the previous day. Yes, that’s here he said but my system isn’t recognising it, call customer service and they’ll be able to track it down… At this point I had to go make a cup of tea as I was getting just ever so slightly annoyed.  Little did I know what was to come!

Here’s the screen shots from both Swiss Post and Royal Mail’s tracker, sadly Royal Mail’s overwrites itself so I can’t show you the earlier messages.

So, at this stage I know my package is sitting in a PO Box, probably the Custom & Excise Departments, in the Mount Pleasant delivery/sorting office.

Google Maps estimate that it would take me 24 minutes to walk the 1.2 miles to get there, probably the same time as the 38 bus from Charing Cross Road.

Again, I punch buttons, listen to messages and finally get a human voice.  This is voice was one of the rudest, arrogant and dare I say most obnoxious people I have spoken to in a number of years.  I started to explain the problem, I gave him the call reference number of my previous call and asked him if he could contact the Mount Pleasant office to find out what was causing the delay with my package.  The voice then proceeded to tell me that there was nothing he could do for me as I wasn’t Royal Mail’s customer! I was a little taken aback and tried to reason with him, I should have known better, by repeating that I had spoken to numerous people, had the problem logged in the system but the voice was adamant, “How much did you pay to post the package from Switzerland?” When I stated I didn’t post it, he repeated mantra number 1, “As you are not our customer, you need to contact the sender and have them contact Swiss Post who will then contact us and we’ll discuss it with them.”

I got tired of going around in circles so I asked to speak with his supervisor, here came the voice’s mantra number 2, “That’s not gonna happen” Huh?! I was gobsmacked, so I asked why to which the voice repeated mantra number 1.  I then asked for the call reference number for my conversation with him to which I got mantra number 2, “That’s not gonna happen” I then foolishly asked for his name so that I could make a complaint to which he replied, can you guess? Yes, I kid you not… “That’s not gonna happen” when I queried this he told me he was not obliged to give me his name.

Now, I should explain that I once worked for Royal Mail, in their customer service call centre in Islington no less and I had the misfortune of working alongside people just like the voice. They knew they could pretty much get away with saying anything they liked to customers because they were only obliged to give out their first name and most staff used false ones, technically frowned upon but a blind eye was usually turned on those rare occasions when they were found out. You might call it an abuse of power, I couldn’t possibly comment.

So, when I told the voice that he was required to at least give me his first name he told me it was Ben, true or untrue is anyone’s guess.  When I stated that I fully intended to make a complaint, in the vain hope that the much fabled ‘recorded calls’ existed, I could hear the smirk in his voice and he was no doubt thinking, “That’s not gonna happen!”

Now, I do know that the recording of calls are kept but without knowing which call centre your call is passed to you’re really hoping for miracles that anyone is going to listen to the hours of conversation to find yours, nevertheless I pressed on. I recalled how the call centre managers hated having to listen through them when complaints were made so nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say…

After another cup of tea I searched the Royal Mail website for a way to make a complaint and eventually found an online form which I completed, going over the whole sorry saga, giving them the package number, the call reference number and the approximate time of my call to Ben on 5 February.  On 8 February I received the following reply:

Thank you for your recent e-mail about an item you are expecting from overseas.

I would like to explain that under the Universal Postal Agreement, any enquiries regarding your item have to be initiated in the country of origin. May I therefore suggest that you contact the senders and ask them to provide their postal administration with the posting details. This will enable an investigation to be made from the point of posting.

My colleague was correct to advise you that he could not log your call as we cannot investigate items that are sent from abroad as the tracking information and posting details are held with them.

I’m very sorry to hear of your recent experience with one of our colleagues. Our employees are trained to a high standard and receive continuous coaching, with a strong customer focus – so I apologise if you did not receive the high standards of service that we attain to on this occasion.

I have passed the details of your complaint onto the relevant manager to action accordingly.

Please be assured that we take our customers feeling let down seriously and will use this information to make further improvements.

Thank you for your e-mail and if we can be of any more help, please contact us again.

Nicola Gavin
Customer Service Advisor

So it seems Ben was right, even though Royal Mail’s system shows it has been delivered to a Royal Mail controlled PO Box in London, Royal Mail don’t have any tracking information on it because it was sent from abroad and as such the call can’t be logged, which would of course have indicated just who Ben was. However feeling a little hot under the collar I replied the following day, Tuesday 9 February:

Dear Nicola

Thank you for your email in response to the complaint I logged via your website.

I note with interest your comments that I should refer my query regarding the whereabouts of the package sent to me to the sender in Switzerland. I find it difficult to accept that when Royal Mail’s online tracker shows it has been delivered to a PO Box within London (only after Royal Mail attempted to deliver it back to the country of origin the same day it arrived) that no one in Royal Mail is ‘allowed’ to assist me in tracing it.

This is all the more apparent as it would seem that 4 or 5 staff members have breached these guidelines when they assisted me in tracing it and also logged it onto the system, under the reference number xxxxx that I previously mentioned.

It seems absurd that in order to try and have it delivered from the delivery office that is holding it I have to contact the sender in Switzerland who in turn has to contact Swiss Post in order to contact yourselves. Quite where the customer service benefit lies in this is anyone’s guess.

I note that your response does not make any mention of your colleague’s refusal to allow me to speak with one of his supervisors. Am I to believe that this is also Royal Mail’s customer service policy?

In short I am still not satisfied with your response to my complaint and if this email is not sufficient to ‘re-open’ it, please advise what steps I need to make.

On Friday 12 February I received the following reply:

Thank you for your further contact with Royal Mail.

I am sorry to learn that you were dissatisfied with my colleague’s previous response.

Having reviewed the details of your claim, my manager and I feel that our colleague dealt appropriately with your complaint. Therefore, I cannot change the original decision or take any further action outside of that already taken on your behalf.

If you are still unhappy with this decision or have any other questions regarding our complaints procedure, you can access further information any time via our website at, where you can also view the terms and conditions of our services.


Evelyn Thomson
Customer Service Advisor

So, I’ve contacted the sender to ask them to contact Swiss Post to have them contact Royal Mail to find out why my package has sitting in one of their PO Boxes since 28 January.  In the meantime I’m building up the courage to navigate Royal Mail’s complaints procedure though I’m not sure why I’m bothering as they’ll no doubt send me a reply consisting of a few copy and paste standard paragraphs assuring me that they have taken my complaint seriously but at the end of they day they have done no wrong…

To be continued…


  1. Interestingly I tweeted it to Royal Mail’s official Twitter account last Friday and again today and no response…no great surprise there!

  2. Smokey McPot

    Who knew cigar smoking could be such a (mental) health hazard!

  3. Reading how they’re treating you makes me angry! I had a birthday gift sent to me from America, a laptop, and everything was going smoothly until it reached Customs. It sat there for over 3 weeks! Nobody could help me or weren’t willing to help me. Finally I got lucky and was given a number to the sorting office that the public aren’t supposed to have. The guy answered and was really nice, but complained about people not doing their jobs and leaving customers to do it. He found my package and said there was a problem with the address. Gave him my address and I had my laptop within 3 days.

    Who knows how long my package would have sat there if I hadn’t of gotten lucky by getting that number.

    It’s so annoying when you think of all the people out of work and these guys lucky enough to have a job, can’t be bothered to do it properly.

    Hope you get your cigars soon. :)

  4. I should have updated my blog by now but I’ve been so busy doing this and that I’ve neglected it.

    After posting my blog and linking on Twitter I was contacted by the Royal Mail Twitter team who tracked down my package and I was able to go and collect it, after coughing up for duty. I wasn’t able to enjoy the cigars straight away as 3 weeks in a cupboard had dried them a little but a few days care in the humidor and they were/are perfect.

    I’ve found the best way to reach companies like Royal Mail, who hide behind 0845 and 0870 numbers, is to use

  5. I’d just like to clear a few things up if I may. The reason the cigars would have originally been returned to sender is because they’re prohibited from import into the UK unless the sender has paid UK duty on them. If they were returned again to the UK, it’s likely customs (who operate out of Mount Pleasant and use a PO Box number for anything that is seized) have destroyed the cigars along as they did with 10 million other tobacco products last year. Did you check with the sender to confirm they had paid the UK duty? Chances are Royal Mail never even had it to be able to deliver it. Everyone is quick to come down on Royal Mail but the tone will change when things are privatised. I’m not sure but I think we’re the cheapest in Europe and we receive a delivery 6 days a week if we have mail, whereas some countries in the EU get 3 per week and pay upwards of 1 Euro to send a letter.

  6. I’m not sure if you read my last comment. The cigars were obtained after I visited my local delivery office and paid the duty that was owed. The sender does not have to ‘pre-pay’ the duty, it is the responsibility of the recipient. Most people assume that the intention is to avoid paying duty, this is not always the case although it may be an occasional side benefit. Very often, the cigars purchased are still cheaper after paying import duty than if purchased from a UK retailer.

  7. I’m not sure if you read my last comment. The cigars were obtained after I visited my local delivery office and paid the duty that was owed. The sender does not have to ‘pre-pay’ the duty, it is the responsibility of the recipient. Most people assume that the intention is to avoid paying duty, this is not always the case although it may be an occasional side benefit. Very often, the cigars purchased are still cheaper after paying import duty than if purchased from a UK retailer.