I might be the United States Postal Service’s biggest fan. Our bond is strong; my favorite museum in Washington D.C. is the National Postal Museum. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, I may be the only happy survivor of those who have seen the 3-hour cinematic flop, The Postman with Kevin Costner. Some ex-girlfriends have expressed how jealous they were of my love for the Post Office. But like my exes and the USPS know, some of our most passionate relationships are driven by wanting to change your partner. I love you, snail mail, for who you are, but I can’t help wanting you to be better. I want you to want to be better. For you…for me…for us.
I want to fix the postal service so badly. The idea of writing a letter in Denver and leaving it in my mailbox, only to have it travel thousands of miles to New York City, land directly in someone else’s mailbox…two or three days later…for a total cost of 49 cents…is mind-blowing. Absolutely mind-blowing. That part doesn’t need fixing. But an inability to adapt to the world of the internet caught the USPS off-guard. Online bill paying, e-mail, scanning documents and sharing them via Dropbox or another cloud service – all of this put the “forever” in “Forever Stamps” at risk.
Stories of cutting service to four or five days per week, steadily increasing postage prices, shutting down locations and bankrupt pension funds plagued the news over the past few years. Rumors surfaced of UPS and FedEx taking over and letting the private sector handle mail delivery operations. Of course, UPS and FedEx let their true colors shine through this holiday season, and I don’t think they’re ready to handle more volume.
So, why is the Post Office losing money? Every time I’ve been to a post office branch (and I go frequently), there is a long line and the wait sometimes takes up your whole lunch hour. Without fail, there is one or two tellers processing customer shipments and one person shouting off to the side, “Anyone here for pick-up? Anyone have a peach slip?” And out of 15 people in line, maybe one needs that service. Instead of catering to the 14 people who do NOT have a peach slip, the Post Office uses its resources (time and salary) to cater to the minority. And these tellers move so slowly. Am I wrong here? 95% of the time, they rightfully earn the title “snail” mail.
Changing the culture to one focused on customer service is priority number one. I always get the feeling that because there is no real alternative, they don’t have to care about repeat business, and I leave feeling as if I inconvenienced them. So I’m going to suggest a few simple changes to help efficiency and improve the customer experience.
- Take a lesson from the airline industry. Want to board first? Pay extra. Want to choose your seat? Pay extra. Want to have a meal? Pay extra. Want extra leg room? Pay extra. The USPS needs to offer an elite service. Call it The Pony Express Club and for a monthly subscription, you receive some great benefits: bypass the lines with an express window at the Post Office, discounted rates or special pricing on bulk orders, free tracking on every piece of mail, junk mail reduction service and a way to charge your account every week or month instead of processing payment each time.
- Expand and improve the self-checkout stations in the lobby. First, provide one that only Pony Express Club members can use. Frequent customers know how to use these stations quickly and get annoyed when they wait behind someone who has never seen a computer before. So many times, I just want to push them aside and say, “Let me do it, it’ll be faster.” Also, let me print Media Mail postage. You trust people to not ship bombs with these Do-It-Yourself machines, but for some reason, you don’t believe I’m shipping a book!
- I’d never thought I’d say this, but the “Take A Number” process might be helpful. Don’t make old ladies stand in line and people with heavy packages navigate through your lobby. Have customers take a number when they arrive, and then go have a seat! Maybe a place to finish addressing your letter, apply the correct labels and seal your packages with tape while you wait and maintain your place in the queue. No more, “Sorry, I was in line, I just needed to write something or grab a certified label or help that old lady who fainted from standing in line for three hours to mail her grandson a birthday card.” Now, this process would only need to be implemented during peak hours and holiday seasons. It might not have to be implemented at all with the new Express Line I suggested earlier.
These aren’t the only solutions, and I will continue this quest to save the Postal Service. We’ve hit a rough patch, and I appreciate all of you giving us your support and privacy while we work things out. And remember…