The Post Office – A Hate-Hate Relationship

Is there anyone that really likes going to the post office? I guess we all appreciate the ability to mail things personally, and as businesses, we rely on them for most communication. It seems to be more of a can’t live with them, can’t live without their relationship. If there is anyone reading this site that works for the post office, you probably like them for your providing you a job, so my apologies in advance for the rest of this rant. I have a friend that works as a postal carrier, so I guess I claim some leeway in my comments. Perhaps postal workers will agree with me, it is postal workers that have caused the “going postal” phrase to be coined, right?

In the age of electronic communication, I rarely if ever send letters. I find any reason possible not to go to the post office, often to my detriment. I have even procrastinated sending things well beyond reason because I can’t stand going someplace where I know there will be a (likely) extended wait in line to do such a trivial task. Fortunately, my lovely wife knows how much I hate going and usually takes care of anything that requires going there. There are times, though, that I have to make the trip. Twice in the last month or so I have been there with a co-worker because something had to be mailed with a signature receipt or certified, and we figured we take care of that while on the way to another errand. We should know better.

Both experiences were near identical. We arrive to find 5-6 people in line. With any rational service-oriented business, a line of that length should only take a few minutes. Heck, the local “Fresh Mex” outfits can churn through 20+ people in that amount of time. But there is a big difference, in other industries, there is usually an incentive to get more people through the line. At least, if you are not fast enough, they will find someone else to take your place and you will be on to another job. Not with the post office though.

In both cases, we were in that line for over 15 minutes. One time was over 25 minutes. Now I know this doesn’t seem like much, but when there are so few people in line and you are watching what is taking place, it seems like an eternity. I could be more understanding of the people in line had droves of packages all heading to various third world countries. That is a feat I can watch with some appreciation. No, most of those in line had on average 3 items to send with perhaps one item with special services needed. There are forms to fill out, procedures to follow. Do most people realize there are things to fill out – yes, we all know there are? Customs forms, waybills, signature forms, etc. Do we fill them out in advance? Of course not. We want someone to hand us what we need one, then we will do it. So part of it is our own darn fault.

These guys at the counter really have jobs that have no motivation to move things along. Why should they work hard to get people through the line faster? What is their motivation? None. Working faster just means more work. There is no package quota to meet and no counter showing who is the most stellar teller. If you think about it, the post office is often advertising for our business, so they want to increase business. Put some of those advertising dollars into incentive programs and I bet they would get better a better return on investment. On several occasions I have witnesses people jump out of line in disgust because they just don’t have the time to deal with the delay. I guess the post office has always figured “where else are you going to go.” In today’s competitive shipping industry that is no longer the case except for basic letters, which you don’t typically have to send in line for.

The next part is like adding insult to injury. In these two recent experiences, the tellers strike up long conversations with people in line, causing the wait to be that much longer. Again, I understand their jobs are not all that exciting, and a little casual banter is likely all they have to help pass the time. Think about it, their job involves doing the same thing for their entire shift. That said, we don’t have to have an additional five minutes of conversation time with people where you are literally doing nothing, not processing packages, taking payment, etc. Literally standing there talking. Argh! Have a pleasant day on someone else’s time!

Next, I take you to the understaffing issues. How often have you shown up to see a huge line, only to see two tellers working with 5 or more “slots” open? I know this comes down to cost-cutting measures, but during certain times of the day, they just need to be staffed better. On one occasion I showed up at 4:45, which I knew would be a very busy time with all the business customers at the end of the day. I had to be there and send something, so I was prepared to gut it up. I showed up and there were at least 20 people in line, but also four tellers, awesome. Nope, within five minutes two of the tellers closed up and went in back. I actually heard an audible gasp along with multiple “WHAT?!” exclamations. Tensions that was already high just went through the roof.

Now here is where it got interesting and I witnessed one of the best diffusions of the situation approaches by use of transference. Someone quite vocally and directly complained to the obviously senior tellers working. He shook his head and simply said, “I completely agree with you and feel for everyone one of you in line. Unfortunately, they had to leave because they were required with the reduction in staffing we received. If you would like to complain, please, please do. Here is a paper with the number and a web site address you can do so.” He then proceeded to hand out prepared papers with the info. Multiple people took them and had a look of fierce glee that they had somewhere to take out their frustration. How many did it, I don’t know. What I do know is that we still had to wait in line, but the bitterness at the tellers leaving the room was gone. Nice job Sr. teller guy.

So bottom line, though the price of the stamp continues to climb, the service sure isn’t getting any better when you have to be at the post office in person. I have never been at the post office and not had to stand in line for an extended time. As I mentioned before, I think the post office has just relied on the fact that we just don’t have anywhere else to go. With packages, that is no longer the case, so they have to compete on price. Perhaps that will happen with letters too at some point. One can only hope.