If you are me, or in the stationery business or any business that relies on the United States Postal Service, the announcement they issued this week caused alarm.
“Why? After all isn’t the Postal Service dead?”
These are both valid questions, but lets take a minute to seriously consider a world without the United States Postal Service.
For those of you who only receive bills (although everything is electronic, including reminders, these days) or junk mail, you may have to think harder. But I ask you to think…
Think about the last time you received a package from someone who loved you.
Think about the last time you received a letter or card.
Think about how you felt.
If we were Harry Potter characters, I’m sure that the feeling would help you conjure a frighteningly strong patronus. And so that is what I want. I want us all to create a patronus that shields the Postal Service from a soul sucking dementor, or in real people speak, from bleeding money.
The question becomes how? How can we all help, but more importantly how can I, Sara Stroman of S2 Stationery and Design help the United States Postal Service?
Quite a tall order.
One not asked by the USPS or anyone else for that matter. One created specifically by me- out of my love for written mail and for the sake of my business and the all the stationers out there like me creating businesses that require a fully operating Postal Service. One that can provide mail throughout the country whether it be next day or within two-to-three days.
That’s not asking for much!
One of my favorite things about mailing something in the state I live in is that within two days, that piece of mail has arrived. With the latest wave of cuts, overnight mail will be stopped as a service and 487 processing centers nationally will be closed, making the journey for a piece of mail longer.
So what does this mean? Well, I’m not business expert per se, but I believe that the USPS has some deep problems. I would hope that their financial, marketing and development experts have done assessments to determine the origin of their problems. I find that in the here-and-now, the cuts will help them save money, but what about the long-term future? What about trying to find a way to stay relevant? What about finding a way to think outside-the-box and bring customers on board through that? What about working on customer service? (I’ve discussed customer service and the post office before.) More importantly what about working on efficiency?
Competition breeds in any industry and the USPS failed when it allowed holes the size of Texas to be visible to companies like Fedex and UPS. But those companies were going to form anyway and they were going to offer and provide services that the USPS already didn’t have. The USPS should have been aware and on their toes and they weren’t and still aren’t. We see this in the evolution of the electronic era.
The USPS was not prepared for the internet and email and cell phones and texting. Even though they are just tools, much like pen and paper, the Postal Service is still unprepared for them. And yet, there are markets for everything! Hallmark has managed to stay in business even with companies like Evite and Paperless Post.
Why? Because a text message does not in ANY WAY replace a letter or a package. An email only serves as an immediate messaging system. While emails can be long and letter like, there is still nothing about it that essentially replaces a real letter or card.
To some extent, I’m angry at the USPS because this is their problem and stemmed by their own fault. Much like an alcoholic, drug addict or food addict, they have to be the ones to decide that change is in the future. They’ve ignored how their behavior and actions affect their loved ones, instead reaching for whatever they need to feel good. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic here, but I shouldn’t feel like the Postal Service needs to be saved; the Postal Service needs to feel like it should be saved.
Their version of being saved is the retreat tactic. Rather than own up to their REAL problems, they are cutting costs. Okay, Band-Aid (I hope it is at least one of the decorative kind)- we’ll see how long it takes before another one and another one is added on. Let’s take the increase of postage the past few years as an example and lesson the Post Office has yet to learn from. You know Band-Aids only have a life span of about two days max.
As they cut their services and their processing centers, especially in places like Rural New York and smaller towns across the country, they’ll continue to lose money, customers, and most importantly trust. A customer’s trust is something you should never want to lose.
Yes, sometimes things happen. Sometimes mistakes are made and items get lost, but you still don’t want to lose that trust.
An example, if I may- I got an order early in November through Etsy for a personalized card I make. I needed to personalize the card, get it to the client for review, print, wrap and then ship to NEW ZEALAND before Christmas.
Communication between the customer and I were a bit slow and it didn’t help that I was at a work conference away for the whole first week of November, when I got the order. I emailed the customer and told her I was away, but would get to her order as soon as I returned home. It took probably two weeks before everything was finalized and I sent the card to be printed. Here’s where the fun came in. I promised the customer that the order would be mailed no later than the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
What transpired was that the printer printed the order on the WRONG paper. They got confused with all the paper I took to them for various projects. I never lost my cool, or my trust of the printer, because they were quick and efficient in fixing the mistake, but my date of mailing the order was off. I didn’t mail the package until Friday, December 2nd.
I mailed the package express mail, which is delivered between 3-6 days internationally, but can not be guaranteed (WHAT?!). I was able to add additional insurance AND had tracking on the package (just so you know according to tracking, the package is at the post office in New Zealand TODAY!), but I felt very anxious about this package. Not out of distrust for the USPS (surprisingly, I have a ton of trust in them), but out of anxiety that anything else that could possibly go wrong would as it already had.
During all of this, I had not told the customer about the paper mistake and my need to buy more paper, etc. BIG MISTAKE, SARA. I did email her, but only in response to an email she sent me first. It wasn’t a bad email, it simply asked if I had mailed the order to her. I apologized, explained exactly what had happened and told her that they were going out on the 2nd (which they did), and promised to follow-up with the tracking number to confirm that they went out (I did).
But that’s not all. I also sent her two sets of cards. She ordered a set of 25 and I mailed her 75 cards. Not only did she get more of the card she DID order, but she got an entire set of cards she didn’t order on a cream-colored paper FREE. I detailed all of that in my explanation email to her just before I mailed the package. The paper mix-up created an abundance of cards that I was never going to use, so I sent them to her instead. I wrapped each set up separately so she’d know which is which and in Christmas paper with ribbon in case she wants to just stick them under the tree.
I also paid $41 to mail the item to New Zealand express. The cost between priority and express wasn’t that large and the reality is that I needed to make sure it got there THIS week, not next week. So, I took a loss of $23 on shipping to make up for my mistake.
Today, I sent her a follow-up email letting her know that I checked the tracking and saw that the package is at her post office and that she should keep an eye out since she’ll need to sign for it.
Now, I don’t think that this makes me the best small shop ever. I did not live up to my promise. However, I believe by being honest and open and offering something to make up for the mistakes, I will have retained the customer’s trust. I can’t tell you this 100% because I won’t know until I hear from the customer, but I feel good in how I handled the order and the mistake.
I share that whole story with you because I wonder, can the post office say the same thing about their mistakes and their methods of correction?
I’m sure if they could, they’d have more customers and a sustainable business. I doubt, I’ll ever know the answer, unless they decide to hire me to fix their ailing business.
What I can do is develop a way for S2 Stationery and Design to try to help out the USPS. A way where I’d help increase the amount of first class mail sent across the country.
I know, I know, tall order. But clearly someone’s got to get creative here!
Stay tuned as I develop the particulars- hows, whys, and all that other jazz. I’m sure I’ll need your help, so I hope you can at least save a little space in your big heart to help me. As always, I’m all ears to your ideas and contributions- I’m in the beginning stages of plotting here and could use help!
I’ll keep you posted and hopefully, you’ll do the same with me.