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Monday, August 15, 2011

Why the U. S. Postal Service is failing


Recently we’ve again heard that the U. S. Postal Service is hurting financially.  Articles have been written saying that they face “hurdles” to return to profitability. I didn’t know they were in a track meet.  I thought they were trying to run a business. If their problem is hurdles I’m sure a good track coach, new athletic shoes, and lots of practice will take them a long way.  And, using the hurdle analogy, since the postal service really has no competition they don’t have to worry about winning a race, they just have to finish it.  They don’t have to be Olympic-class at overcoming those hurdles.  They just have to successfully get over them and they will be succeeding.

However, setting aside my typical sarcasm, I don’t think their problem is hurdles.   In my mind hurdles represent relatively small obstacles than can be overcome by a moderate amount of work.  In the case of the postal service the problem is so big that the entire government is in denial.  Of course I’ve come to understand that the term “government” must come from some ancient word that really means “denial is the way we live our life.”  The fact is that the USPS has a terrible track record on efficiency and good management. 

Any business that was run like the USPS would have been out of business years ago.  Walk into virtually any post office in any major city in the U. S. and you’ll see what I mean.  The employees often move at a pace that would make snails laugh.  In fact, I think that in a race between a snail and the average USPS employee the snail would leave the USPS employee in the dust.

Just this last winter I had a package that was delivered to me that was insured.  It was a purchase of some items totaling over $300 in value.  When I received the box it had been opened and of the dozens of items that were supposed to be in the box, only a few were there.  With them were some empty USPS Priority Mail envelopes (not sent by the shipper) and a few small pieces of packing material.  The items that were there were rolling around inside the box and a note was affixed to the front of the box that the box had been resealed by the USPS and I would have to contact their St. Louis office to discuss any damaged or missing items.  Fortunately the box was insured.

I started the process of filing a claim and to make this relatively short I will simply tell you that the USPS really proved that they have no idea what they are doing.  To start with, I learned that the St. Louis office is not who I had to contact but Atlanta instead.  Then I tried to file the paperwork but was told I had to wait three weeks before I could file it.  After waiting and then filing I went through all of their hoops and was told that I should receive a check for the missing items within a few weeks.  Well, it took five months and every step along the way the USPS lost paperwork and information and I had to refile and recontact them to get things processed. 

In their defense I did finally get the money but the experience just reinforced that the way they run their operations shows very clearly why they are in financial trouble. 

If a company or organization is incompetent in one area it virtually always translates to other areas, too.  And when it’s in an area where you are trying to help customers with problems it always represents core problems in the organization.  That easily explains why the government is considered one of the poorest run organizations today.  And that refers not just to the USPS, but to all areas of government.  The only exception I see to that are some local municipalities that are exceptional at how they handle things.  It’s a shame they have to be called government and carry that negative label on their operations.

There is nothing more important than how you handle customer problems.  Every problem should be handled as if it was the most important problem you have to deal with.  If you handle them that way, you build a rapport with your customers as a caring and service oriented business.  Anything less than that, even in the smallest of problems, weakens your image in the eyes of the public. 

Companies that understand the importance of putting customer service and satisfaction as their number one priority are the ones that people continue to return to and send others to.  In economic times like we face in this Recession (or Depression as some call it - it's certainly not a Recovery) the most effective way to increase your chance of business success is to become the best at customer service.  Customers do have a choice who to do business with and service is what keeps your customers from going elsewhere. 

While electronic communication like email has certainly impacted the USPS, the fact is that many people who have moved to it have done so, in part, to avoid dealing with the USPS any longer.  It’s not just an embracing of new technology, it’s rejecting something that doesn’t work very well and in this case that is the U. S. Postal Service.  

Make your customer's problems your biggest concern and you will dramatically increase your chances of success.