Saturday, February 16, 2013


Let me start off my saying I'm a big fan of the United States Postal Service (USPS).  I sell a lot of record albums and I ship virtually all of them through USPS.  Overall the service I've gotten from USPS has been very impressive.  Until recently I felt like I was getting a bargain for most everything I mailed (the recent increases in overseas mail costs are simply dumbfound), and over the years I'd gotten to know many of the postal clerks at my postal office.  They're nice to me; treat me with courtesy and respect (even though many customers treat them like dirt) and I appreciate how hard they work while being employed by such a large and truly dysfunctional organization like the USPS.

My local post office is a fairly small operation.  Until recently they had four counter stations; one overflow station that also handled cards and miscellaneous sales, and one Automated Postal Machine.  For the most part they were well equipped to handle day-to-day customer volume.  When they got rid of the stupid take a number system, things worked fairly efficiently.  Yeah, the line could back up on Saturdays and during the Christmas holidays, but I seldom spent more than five minutes in a line.

So in a fit of managerial brilliance, USPS management recently decided that it would make sense to pull out one of the counter stations and the 'store' overflow station.  Those two stations were replace with two more Automated Postal Machines (APM).  Clearly USPS management is trying to cut costs and pushing customers to the APMs does that.  Unfortunately judging by my last two visits to the post office, they seemingly haven't thought this plan out very well.

The new "enhanced" machines offer little practical benefit over the older machines.  You can't use them for international mail and you can't use them for media mail.  As such, they have zero utility for me.  Post Office management also seems to have ignored the fact older customers don't want to use the machines.  I have yet to see anyone over 60 go out of their way to use one of the machines.  In fact, on those occasions I've wanted to use one of the machines, there have only been a couple of cases where I've seen a senior citizen successful navigate the machines.  It isn't that it's hard to use them, but there are multiple screens with lots of reading involved.  In can be a challenge it you haven't done it before.  Anyhow, I can count the number of times I've stepped forward to help someone using one of the  APMs just so they can finish their transaction and speed up the line.  

By the way, if you're young (say 30 or under), you're hardly ever going to use the Post Office anyhow - you use email, Twitter, etc. and already pay your bills automatically so you could care less about the new ATP machines.  Seriously, when I'm in the post office, the customer demographics are pretty clear and they are not skewing to the youth market.

This morning I counted 26 people in line when I got to the head of the line.  Watching the post office manager trying to steer people to one of the new APM machines was fascinating.  He only got two takers and one of them couldn't actually process the transaction because he only had cash (the machines want a credit, or debit card).  Everyone else either didn't want to use the machines, or had something they needed to see a postal clerk for.  By the way, one of the two new APM units is already broken.

So now that my local post office has taken out two of their postal clear stations, there are only three postal clerks available to deal with the same stream of customers.  Guess what ?  Same workload coupled with less throughput equates to longer lines. Longer lines equate to more pissed off customers.  Pissed off customers tend to be mean to the postal staff who they blame for the longer waits.  As for that five minute wait - well today it took me twelve minutes to get to the front of the line.  (When I got there the postal clerk said something to the effect she was praying that I didn't have any international parcels - it takes forever for the clerks to key in the data for an international package (another great process breakthrough, though I think the Department of Homeland Security pressured the Post Office into it.)

Yes, at least in my little neck of the postal world, this attempt to improve customer service hasn't turned out very well.  And that's without even getting into the issue of the massive jumps in postal fees, or even talking about the end of Saturday delivery.

A death spiral - yes, that's what USPS management seems to have created here.  Their attempts to improve performance have simply pissed of their workforce (seriously, does Post Office management have a clue as to how unhappy their workforce is), and they are about to do the same thing to what's left of their customer base.   Brilliant plan there guys.  

I'm thinking it's about time for Postal management to award themselves another round of big bonus checks.

It'll be interesting to see if these are just "kinks" in the road.  Perhaps this will work out well ?   Hum, I have my doubts, but miracles do happen.

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