Service of Ho Hum

December 8th, 2009

Categories: Attitude, Customer Service, Indifference, Management, Responsiveness, Seasons, Staffing

New York-based editorial consultant and author, Mervyn Kaufman, sent this yesterday afternoon. It’s too great–and frustrating–not to share.

He wrote:

It’s the holidays.  Tourists are pouring into town, and stores are begging people to come in, use their supplied discount cards and buy something. Everywhere you go you find a holiday feeling. . . .

. . . Except at the post office. 

The U.S. Postal Service has repeatedly and shamelessly raised its rates while cutting back on its service.  One part of their enterprise is strictly business-as-usual, however: the people behind the bullet-proof glass are as indifferent as ever.  All appear to have been trained to move at a glacial pace, a deliberate attempt to engender anger and resentment.

Today, at my neighborhood branch, there was a serpentine line that almost reached the front door, but there were only two windows open, and the people manning them must have been champion exponents of post-office training:  I’ve never seen people move more slowly.

Yes, there was some attempt to manage the crowd, but whether you were a mother with a babe in arms or an elderly woman on a walker, you waited in an endless line while people were shipping off armloads of gifts to far-flung places.

Despite the fact that the holidays are predictably busy (and might I suggest profitable?) times for the U.S. Postal Service,  no additional manpower stood at the ready, and clerks went off willy nilly, to lunch or wherever, without so much as a nod to a woman-obviously a manager- whose earnestness was unmatched by any authority. 

Today’s visit (and 45-minute wait) registered as appalling and unnecessary.

There are plenty of competitors out there, plenty of firms eager to assume the lion’s share of Postal Service business.  Some, like UPS and FedExpress, are already doing so.  Others will surely come along to siphon even more post office business away.

Frankly, I couldn’t be happier.  I found today’s experience degrading…
and this is only the 7th of December.  What’ll it be like on, say, the 20th?  I’ll never know; I’ll restrain myself from setting foot in that place until some kind of desperation sets in.

Today I felt like a onetime Soviet consumer waiting in line for bread, for God’s sake!

What has your post office experience been of late–good or bad?

17 Responses to “Service of Ho Hum”

  1. EAM Said:

    Actually, I went yesterday to a PO in New Jersey. There are only 2 counters despite how long the line gets but the women at the counter did keep things moving and when I asked for those “Winter Wonderland Stickers,” she presented them and told me that they are actually stamps. But, I will concede that going to the USPS in NYC is a trip that almost everyone seeks to avoid during the holiday season. The other thing that I need to add is that people need to be prepared when they get to the counter even if that means preparing a list of what you need to get and having your money ready to pay, it’s also the customers that often slow down the line because they don’t have all their information together when they do send stuff out.

    EAM

  2. Linda Said:

    Well, I guess I was in the same line at the post office with Merv. Appalling! Not only did I wait endlessly while watching the snail’s pace movement of the few postal workers manning the windows, I was also subjected to listen to them “chat” with the customers they were supposed to be assisting. They had meaningless conversations, as if they were friends and we had nothing else to do. Then occasionally one postal worker would just wander off. Sometimes they eventually returned. Other times someone equally slow would show up and painstakingly “set up” their window. I finally reached my window with my list in hand for my holiday cards. I also asked for two books of Forever Stamps. The clerk had the audacity to lecture me that I should buy more Forever Stamps as the price would go up next May and I could use them forever! All I kept thinking was that with UPS, FedEx, and online payments and online banking, with any luck these two books would last me FOREVER!!!!!

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Thank you for your comments EAM and Linda, and for this post, Merv.

    I work in an office in which there are seven businesses and there are days in which we get a total of five pieces of mail, mostly junk and/or catalogs. This explains why the cost of mailing is increasing–volume is down dramatically.

    But this means that staff is also not overstressed—at least on the sorting and delivery end. You’d think that clerks would be thrilled to have something to do.

    I use the Grand Central PO on Lexington Avenue. Last time I was there at an odd hour, [well before the holiday rush], the line was short and the clerk went to every one of his colleagues trying to find me the black and white stamps of old TV shows that I requested. I was impressed at his effort [rather than the expected, “we don’t have any”].

    The NYC post office experience reminds me of the NYC Dept. of Motor Vehicles experience–the worst. Crowds must be the problem. On Saturday, at a small post office in Dutchess County, we came in with a bunch of boxes just before closing and there were no other customers. The lovely clerk welcomed us with, “Mr. and Mrs. Claus! How are you?”

    Similarly, going to the Motor Vehicles in this small town is a blessing. Even when it’s crowded it’s not busy by city standards. Linda’s description at the post office happened to me many years ago in lower Manhattan at Motor Vehicles, when smoking was allowed in buildings. I had an issue with lost license plates. I waited in line and when it was my turn, the clerk left his post, came around front where customers were waiting and took his cigarette break right in front of me. I will never forget it!

    The moods of customers must rub off on the clerks in the city and after 45 minutes, I can imagine that Merv–and everyone else on line–was beyond antsy.

    There must be something that might be done to change things in the city–a secret shopper system, for example. The post office secret shopper would award great prizes to post offices that ran smoothly. I also predict that as post offices begin to close, service will improve in the city. Clerks will become unctuous when faced with losing their jobs.

  4. Linda Said:

    I guess I should have been more clear…my experience was in a small suburban post office.

  5. Larry Said:

    Well, that’s one reason we stay away from that place when remotely
    possible…

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Wow, Linda!! I don’t know what to say or suggest. Having a steady job in a charming community in this economy is a blessing! Amazing how some don’t see it that way and can’t show their appreciation by being pleasant.

  7. Carolyn Gatto Said:

    My local post office is just a six-minute walk from my home, but the lines are so long–even during non-holiday periods–and the workers are so surly that I often get in my car and drive to the next town to use their postal facilities. That office is much smaller so it doesn’t attract crowds. It’s a monumental waste of gas, but that seems like a small price to pay for my sanity.

  8. Jeremiah Said:

    I’ve learned from experiences such as Merve’s to do my post office “shopping” at a rural post office in Dutchess County where the clerks know me by name and go out of their way to accomodate my needs.
    It’s first class service, but I’m pretty sure it won’t stay that way. The money isn’t there to pay for it.

    What to do about the post office is a highly complicated subject. A former federal bureaurocrat, my take is that for all sorts of reasons, mostly involving politics, social engineering, legal graft and an apathetic public, it will not be fixed. Rather, it will gradually totter into even further decline until it withers away into nothing much as the public adapts to increasingly using other means of communication to meet its needs. Unfortunately it will be an unnecessairly expensive decline which we the tax payers will fund.

    If anyone out there thinks the way to solve the medical mess is to have the government take over providing us with medical care, just imagine what it would be like if your appendix burst and one of those apathetic clerks at Merve’s post office was the guy the government designated to chop it out!

    Jeremiah

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Jeremiah,

    You are lucky you have a rural post office to go to and Carol is fortunate to be able to drive to one. What about everyone else in the city?

    And what do you propose that the public do to correct the apathy at the post office? Being grumpy and rude as a customer only tears your stomach to shreds and doesn’t get you what you need and makes the situation worse.

  10. Jeremiah Said:

    Jeanne,

    You ask what we the public should do to correct the apathy at the post office? I say junk democracy and get a good dictator. No congressman or senator in his right mind is going to mess with the Postal “Service.” For obvious reasons, it is not worth the political risk. Do you have a better suggestion?

    Jeremiah

  11. David Reich Said:

    Although semi-privatized, it still seems to reek of the civil service metality.

    There are always exceptions, of course. Our mailman at work prides himself on never making mistakes. The delivery guys at our previous office location a few blocks away were also good and seemed to care.

  12. Eddie Baecher Said:

    I go to our small rural post office often, and they seem to be a bit more personal than Mervyn described, but there is always that glassy-eyed look. What gets my goat is when the line goes out the door, there is no sense of urgency, freezing air is coming in the door, people are pissed and although there are three stations, only one is open,,, but why should they care? Their jobs are guaranteed buy us.

    USPS is $7 billion in the hole, and we the taxpayers refuse to let them go under. USPS workers, I imagine, are good people like we all are, but they feel no threat of job loss. Our USPS drivers, for the last 20 years, are like machines with a personality. All that is missing is the click of heels.

    If UPS or Fedex took over our postal service everything would change overnight because unlike the people who manage our tax dollars, private business has to turn a profit.

    Quick story: Our local DMV office was the most horrible and caustic place in our upstate NY community. Some time ago I had a small glitch with an insurance card and the nasty lady behind the counter was so degrading, she got me so upset, I had to vigorously hold myself back from spitting on her. If she had been a man, there was a possibility of my jumping over the counter to confront him. She snarled something about “getting my act together before coming in to DMV.” The attitude at the office was common talk around our community.

    Along came early 90s and the state cut back’s and NY was going to chop the Wappingers office. Out came the petitions for us to sign, along with a world of smiles–nobody could be nicer to customers. The state of NY did not cut our local office, and again I showed up with the wrong zip code on an insurance card. I was informed that insurance cards are allowed no more that three errors. Point taken?

    Edward Baecher
    218 Rte 9
    Fishkill NY 12524

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Come to think of it, lately, when I send a letter to someone living in an apartment, even if they have lived there for 10+ years, the letter is returned to me if I don’t add the apartment number. In many cases, I don’t know it, or, if I am not near my database, don’t remember it. And it’s not exclusive to NYC. This never happened to me before!

  14. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I live in the suburbs and have been having hit-or-miss mail delivery service since the day I moved in–9 years ago. After moving in I went 11 days without mail. I called the PO and tried to be nice, saying I wasn’t sure if the previous owner had stopped mail delivery but I wanted to let my carrier know we’ve moved in and that the mail slot is on the side of the house which can confuse people. The response I got was, “How do you know you’re not getting your mail?” I responded by asking, “When is the last time anyone went 11 entire days without so much as a single piece of mail? And my lawyer said he mailed me a check from the next town over 9 days ago and I don’t have it.” The next day I received a bundle of mail–including the check from my lawyer. Since then nothing’s changed except that now I get mail from all over the neighborhood. I’ve used this as a way to meet my neighbors. Recently, I delivered mail to 5 different addresses on 3 different streets.

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    Your experience reminded me of the time my Mom called the post office because no mail had been delivered to the entire apartment building [in Manhattan] in which she lived and she was expecting a check. She was told, “The mailman said there was nothing important…!”

    When we get someone else’s mail at the house, we just pop it in their mailbox though we should take advantage of the mistake to meet neighbors as you do!

  16. Nancy Farrell Said:

    Jeanne,
    There’s something to be said for your way of doing things. I can’t say that I made a good impression on the neighbors the last time I delivered mail (this was 5 addresses on 3 different streets). I had my 4-year-old with me and she was crying–screaming, really, because she wanted to stop walking and go home and watch TV. I guess the positive side of it was that she made so much noise I didn’t have to rung the doorbells–the neighbors came out to see if someone was hurt and in need of assistance! One neighbor went as far as to agree with her–that he, too, wanted to watch TV.

  17. Kay Degenhardt Said:

    My local post office is just one of the many reasons I enjoy living up here in Western Mass. While I loved being a New Yorker and miss much about it, can you imagine the surprise I had when I walked into our rather large post office and found all three stations manned. And the characteristic ambience follows you right out to the street. One day while out for a walk traffic actually stopped mid-block to let me cross the street. I thought it was because I’m now an older, white-haired women. Ah no. Cars, trucks, busses stop here for everyone. And while I think that’s dandy and have learned that this kind of graciousness is – dare I say – pervasive, I’ve had to pay a lot closer attention to my driving. I mean, are you ready to stop here there and everywhere for pedestrians? Frankly, I still find myself gunning it behind slow moving traffic. Guess you can’t take New York outta the girl.

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