Customer Service and The United States Postal Service

Last Friday night, I paid a visit to the post office. Yep, one of my favorite and least favorite places ever.

It was around 5 when I got there and the line was already 20-something people long. I figured that by getting there just around end of day, I’d miss all the people leaving work and visiting the post office. I was wrong.  Extremely wrong.  And so I ended up waiting. Waiting for 30 minutes because I didn’t walk out of the post office until 5:39pm. It is needless to point out that I was irritated.

I mean, who enjoys standing in lines ever?

I get that I have no control of the post office. I also get that I am not a USPS employee so I don’t understand their frustrations. This is the reason why I try to be courtesy and gracious to post office employees when I do visit. I know they’re stressed. I also know they’ve been dealing all day with people who aren’t prepared and ask a million questions that can lead to frustration.

YET, that is part of their job.

Much like it’s part of my job to think ahead for a potential client. It’s frustrating at times and yet, when someone gets superb treatment, they will more often than not become loyal customers and share their joy with friends, which may earn you more potential customers and tons of warm and fuzzies.  This concept is something that USPS employees don’t understand, or better yet, don’t pay attention to.

I want to share an incident I witnessed during my 30-minute wait. Close your eyes and imagine a large post office setting (better yet, imagine the interior of Gringotts, the Wizard Bank) with the counters along the wall of the main area.  You walk in and find 20 people in line ahead of you and grab your spot. You pull out a pen and start filling out the forms you’ve grabbed to write out (customs and insurance) while you wait.  You finish writing and you haven’t moved an inch. In fact, you’re so close to the back that you over hear the interaction between one customer and the USPS employee helping her.

You can hear the irritation and frustration in the customers voice, but what’s more another customer walks up to the same employee with a huge bin of mail that needs to go out and the employee says, “If you have more than 5 minutes worth of mail, you’ll have to go to the next available counter because I’m leaving in five minutes.”

The new customer, then walks back to the front of the line to wait for the next available counter and another new customer walks to the employee. As he wraps up with this new customer, the irritated customer who had been helped by this same employee walks over to him to finish the transaction and is told, “You’ll have to go get in line again, you can go to the front, but I’m not helping you because it is 5pm on a Friday. I don’t work overtime, especially on a Friday.” 

At this point the customer is outraged and starts stating very loudly that she’s never received such horrible customer service anywhere (maybe she hasn’t rode a bus in NY ever? ).

I felt really bad for her as well as extremely irritated that she had to go back in line because now not only was there another person in front of me, one of the four windows open was now closing meaning I’d be waiting in line again longer.

So what’s the problem?

Well there’s quite a few problems, but the biggest is that the employee not only said he wasn’t doing something, he was rude to a customer.

It got me thinking a lot about how I interact with customers.  In my personal business, I’ve never been rude to a customer. Even when I’m stressed out, I’ve always hid the stress. However, it’s a completely different animal at my full time. As I stood there mouth hanging open, I could only think of all the times my super fair and kind coworker has put me in place for stating my unhappiness at something. Of course, at the time I’ve always felt justified and gratified, but I’ve never paid attention to how it effects everything around me.

Yes, I may greatly dislike my 9-to-5, but I don’t have to shout it out. Which is why most recently, I’ve decided to just try and keep things quiet. I still most definitely vent to my coworker, after all, she’s not JUST my coworker, she’s my sister friend. One of my best, too! But now, if I’m unhappy or angry, I just don’t talk to anyone. I try to keep to myself and ride out the emotion. More than likely, I’ll put head phones in and listen to music as a way to find a happy, balanced place.

I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this. I know that USPS employees can’t, but it made me think of what may be the bigger issue – unhappy employees.  Is it possible that all USPS employees are unhappy at their job?

I don’t think all of them are actually. I’ve had some amazing postal service employees in my life time. I can recall the one who I met back in Chicago when I did my road trip with my little brother. She not only was super kind and helpful, but she told me stories about her daughter going to college, which I found charming. Not only was she providing excellent customer service, but she was engaging in relationship building with me.  Of course, it’s not the kind of relationship that is long term, but it was the kind of relationship building that will find me returning to the post office.

Which is why I know that it can’t be that all employees are angry, unhappy,  and pissed off. There has to be something more.

For every good customer service interaction I’ve had with the post office, I’ve had a bad one. I’ve even had fights with postal service employees that involved me calling their manager and complaining.  So really, I’m on both sides here -I get being the angry, unhappy employee and I also get being the frustrated, unhappy customer. 

The USPS needs to work on this and soon. While my brain also rapidly took on all of these thoughts in line, I realized that USPS employees get away with this behavior because they do. When the angry customer walked to the new window and started to complain to that employee, the employee just kept explaining that she was in the wrong for not having whatever form. While I would normally agree (most of the time that people spend waiting in line is due to the idiocy of customers who don’t have the proper forms filled out before getting called to a window), the reality is that the employee helping this customer previously was completely and totally rude.  Nothing can take away from that. By not listening to the customer’s complaints, or by not directing the customer to a manager to properly complain, the customer continued to stew and all the other customers in line witnessed the scene making judgement and opinions of something they weren’t directly involved with, but could potentially be in the future.

Since they are our only mail carrier, they know that even with suffering business, Americans still need to get their mail somehow and so they’ll put up with the antics and rude behavior because they have no real alternative. Which really sucks, doesn’t it?

I think so.

Please know that I say all of this out of a place where I want the USPS to be better. I want them to offer better customer service. Service aside, I have never had a package lost; mail has always gotten to places on time and sometimes even faster than expected; and regardless of how many times they increase the cost of stamps, I love the stamps they put out so much that I will continue to use USPS.  However that doesn’t mean that I don’t want them to be better and provide better service.

My industry depends on the post office, which is why they should wake up and realize that business structure over haul included, they need to work on their customer service.  Good customer service comes from happy employees.  Which is why, managers need to manage their staff and pay attention to their employees and their moods.  I’m not saying it’s the managers job to maintain personal mood swings, but if employees were better appreciated, cared for, and managed, the environment might be a completely different place.  

A place where they aren’t considering cutting Saturday delivery service and raising the cost of stamps again. An environment where customers can go in and leave quickly and happy knowing that not only did they receive the best customer service possible, they got the best value for their money.  That is what people want these days after all, to know that they are paying for a service that is quality and of value. Getting a piece of mail from point A to point B is only half of the value of the service the USPS is providing. The sooner they pay attention to this, the better off they’ll be. And I and every other stationer out there will, too.



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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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