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Young deliverymen can learn from 'old soldiers'

By Ma Si (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-09 09:50

Young deliverymen can learn from 'old soldiers'

The Singles Day festival, Chinese equivalent of Cyber Monday or Black Friday, is becoming an annual shopping spree falling on Nov 11 for online buyers. [Photo/IC]

The overall experience of online shoppers on China's Singles Day, the online shopping festival on Nov 11, wasn't as exciting as the record sales, mainly due to the poor delivery services.

Mind you, I'm not referring to the delays in delivery, which were perhaps inevitable. What got my goat instead was the attitude of deliverymen.

Within an hour, I had bought half-a-dozen fashion and food items. They were supposed to reach me in three days. Only three did.

The fourth one arrived a week later. The deliveryman called me first, when I was up to my neck in work. I assured him I would see him in a few minutes. But, for the "express delivery service" guy, time was money, never mind the weeklong delay.

"If I wait for five minutes, it won't be an express service. You might as well call us slow deliverymen," he said curtly, and hung up on me.

Well, I can see their job can get harrowing. They wind through busy traffic on their three-wheeled goods-laden mini-wagons, and have to contend with pesky pedestrians and crazy customers seven days a week.

But I have seen lower paid and more stressed out deliverymen who nevertheless serve with warmth, sincerity and a sense of service. They are the "Bang Bang Army", porters in Chongqing who use bamboo poles on their shoulders to carry heavy loads.

They come from rural areas, are short, stocky, and ready to carry your goods in Chongqing, a hilly city full of sweeping staircases. They wander around street corners, train and bus stations, and piers, in search of potential customers.

For a load of luggage, goods and such, they charge up to 20 yuan ($3), depending on the distance and the weight. They routinely carry stuff weighing up to 50 kilograms, negotiating staircases, their shoulders bowed under the weight of crates, and their calves bulging, as if baseballs had been tied to the backs of their legs.

Peter Hessler, an American author, observed in his book River Town: "To see them work is to understand why they so often rest, because in a hard city there is no harder job."

But, the Bang Bang Army offer quality services beyond most customers' expectations. They are considerate, never resent waiting and swear by their motto - it's better to be a pauper than a promise-breaker.

A video that went viral tells the story of a Bang Bang who lost track of the businessman who had hired him to carry two huge bags of down coats. A week later, disregarding the chilly winter, the porter crisscrossed the city to locate the businessman and return the freight.

Modern deliverymen contrast with the Bang Bang Army. Yet, they are better paid. Salaries range from 3,500 yuan to 10,000 yuan a month, and they are more efficient. Last year, they delivered about 14 billion parcels, almost 38 million units a day, according to the State Post Bureau.

But complaints against couriers are rising. Last year alone, there were 240,000 about couriers' poor attitude, the second-largest category. The issue is so rampant that Beijing has proposed imposing fines of up to 50,000 yuan on courier firms if their deliverymen are caught handling packages roughly.

There were no such issues with the Bang Bang Army, who appear to be slowly becoming extinct. Most of them are middle-aged farmers with no marketable skills and minimal education. When alternative employment is available, they tend to shun their traditional jobs because Bang Bang, despite their honesty and hard work, are often looked down on by others.

The numbers of modern deliverymen are rising. More than 300,000 have joined the ranks of part-time couriers at Inc, China's second-largest e-commerce player.

Modern deliverymen, I think, would do well to imbibe some of the work ethic of the Bang Bang Army, which is marked by respect for customers and a commitment to honesty. A popular joke says Chinese husbands can turn their wives' tears into a smile with just one magic sentence - "Baby, the courier is knocking at the door." I assume he is a pleasant one, too.

Besides, Bang Bang must have internalized knowledge about logistics and intra-city movement, just like Mumbai's dabbawalas who transport color-coded lunch boxes to millions of office workers without using any computers. Western business schools have studied their remarkable memory system. Perhaps, Chinese e-commerce firms should consider sponsoring similar research into the Bang Bang Army?

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