Are executives hiding from their customers?

There she is, on the FedEx blog, so tantalizingly close.

It says Sheila Harrell is the vice president of customer service operations. It says she’s responsible for overseeing 31 call centers in the Americas and Canada and more than 5,500 customer service representatives. It says she’s responsible for “ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction” through the use of the latest customer service and technology.

It even offers a glimpse into her management style — that she’s both “nurturing” and wants her “team members” to be inspired.

And yet, Harrell doesn’t seem to want to hear from any of the customers she supposedly serves. I know, because I tried.

A few weeks ago, with the help of researcher Andrew Der, we began compiling executive contacts for FedEx. Not an easy task. Email addresses at FedEx are not intuitive. More troubling, for all the company’s talk about great customer service, its executives are virtually impossible to reach — starting with Harrell.

“I’m starting to see a pattern,” a reader named Joe wrote to me after we redoubled our efforts to find executive contacts in late 2014. “Many companies do not want anyone in their company contacted.”

“I could lose my job”

Just yesterday, I received an urgent call from a lower-level employee at a cruise line. She’d been the assistant to a VP in charge of customer service and her number had been listed on this site. By the way, we’re very clear about when a customer should appeal to someone like that, but we are equally clear that it is your right as a consumer to pursue a grievance.

No one should ever tell you that a decision is “final” unless he’s wearing a judge’s robe.

“Please,” she begged, “remove my name from your site.”

I did. But I also asked her for the name of the new VP.

“I can’t tell you that,” she said. “I could lose my job.”

That’s a firing offense?

Come on.

But yes, I’ve spoken with other employees who tell me the same thing. Leaking a direct-dial number or an email address for a VP of customer service could land them in hot water, or worse. As my Amtrak Deep Throat, who leaked these insider contacts to us, said, “You didn’t get these from me.” Of course not.

Oh, Sheila!

My search for Harrell began on a cold January morning after Der sent his initial file. While the FedEx site was proud of Harrell and her many achievements (active member of the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board through the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and service on the boards of the American Society of Training and Development, the National Oral School for the Deaf and the Diversity Council), it offered no clue as to how to contact her.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me say this: We always strongly recommend that any complaint start at the bottom, through the FedEx web form, and then work its way up if it doesn’t get resolved.

A quick online search for Harrell’s name revealed that while rare, these cases existed. Wouldn’t Harrell want to know when this “dazzling customer service” she promises isn’t living up to its billing?

The first clue that she might be hiding came when I searched for her email address. The FedEx standard [email protected] was getting kicked back to me by my email verification service. I tried the alternate — [email protected] — and it, too, kicked back as a bad address. Ditto for [email protected]

Three strikes.

How about a phone number. Beyond the main number — (901) 818-7500 — there was nothing online. I felt as if I was chasing a ghost.

I can only imagine how a frustrated FedEx customer might feel. Say a package goes missing and for some reason the usual suspects staffing the FedEx social media desk or toll-free number can’t help. So you go online, type “FedEx” and “VP customer service” and see Harrell waxing poetically about her nurturing customer service and her Harvard leadership service, but no email, no phone number and no direct way to reach her.

I would hit the roof.

I did a deep dive, using every trick in the book to find her contact information. And finally, almost an hour into my research, I located an email address ([email protected]) and a direct phone number (901) 861-1955.

Can’t blame you for hiding

I get it. With a gazillion packages being delivered every day, someone in Harrell’s position can’t afford to handle every complaint that comes to her. But that’s no excuse. If you have the word “customer service” in your title you can’t hide from your customers. Get an assistant to answer the emails, but for goodness sake, don’t disappear.

Do you really need me to say it? OK, I will: That’s not good customer service.

“I don’t think there is anything nefarious about it,” says Joe, my concerned reader. “But I suspect it is more practical, in the sense of maybe not being able to handle the volume of contacts, since it’s more convenient to make one’s dissatisfaction known.”

It’s even easier to hide from customers when you don’t think of yourself as being in the customer service business. What if you’re a typical airline or cable company, instead of FedEx, which almost always takes good care of its clients? Then you have no choice but to build walls around you to block all the complaints.

The premise of this site is that you shouldn’t be allowed to hide — ever. As long as you’re in a customer-facing position, you have to face your customers. And if you try to hide your contact details, we’ll do everything we can to prevent it.

Should executives with the words "customer" in their title be allowed to keep their company contact information private?

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