Post Office

Post Office Gets Lousy Customer Service Ratings (But Who Still Sends Mail?)

The future for the USPS involves competing to deliver packages, or dying.



Updated Feb. 4 to note that the Postal Service does not receive direct allocations from the federal budget, but benefits in other ways.

When my father worked a Post Office job during college, there was a four-person crew in the local black hole of correspondence to which he was assigned in the Bronx. Well, two of them were actually in the office at any given time—the other two were down the street at a bar. They took turns, which is only right. Given that context, reports of increasing customer dissastisfaction and lousy management from the U.S. Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General don't seem that bad after all.

Then again, maybe we should move beyond a bunch of drunks losing mail during the Eisenhower administration as our reference point for expectations about mail delivery. Because if we don't we'll be eternally resigned to responding, "damn, I didn't realize they were doing that well" when we discover that 20 percent of Postal Service customers say they were treated worse than at other retail operations.

The Inspector General's audit report, released last week, concludes:

Between FYs 2012 and 2013, an increasing number of customers expressed dissatisfaction with the service they receive at retail facilities. While the Postal Service's goal is 90 percent customer satisfaction, in FY 2013 more than 20 percent of customers who responded to surveys stated they had been treated "worse than other retailers" at Postal Service retail counters.

Dissatisfied customers exist, in part, because procedures for improving customer service are not functioning as intended. Although management communicates with sales associates periodically via service briefings known as "stand-up" talks and provides video instructions, there is a lack of continual, formal customer service training. Further, sales associates are selected based on seniority rules, rather than suitability for the position, as suggested by best practices. In addition, the Postal Service does not have a mandatory process to ensure managers regularly observe sales associates and provide feedback. Regular observation would help sales associates recognize where they need to improve their performance.

Why the slow progress toward improvement? Surely, it can't be the government monopoly on first class mail, which relieves the horrible bureaucracy of the pressure of competing for customers, or even of achieving some sort of basic efficiency. Of course it is. The monopoly loses billions of dollars, year after year, subsidized by American taxpayers*.

Surprisingly, though, the Postal Service is the public's least unfavorite government operation, especially among the young. Eighty-one percent of those under 29 say it's doing at least a "good" job according to Gallup, compared to 65 percent among those over 50.

Gallup attributes the difference to the fact that younger Americans don't actually use the Post Office for mail. Correspondence, for them, means email and text messages. Their experiences with the postal behemoth are largely confined to "last mile" delivery in which workers drop off a package actually transported across country by UPS or FedEx. "Receiving packages purchased online may be a more positive customer experience than performing interactions in person at postal locations— thus providing a reason why younger Americans have a more positive view of the Postal Service."

In fact, first class mail volume is declining, and expected to continue doing so into the future—taking the Postal Service's income along with it.

This, at long last, may be the key to improving those lousy retail customer service ratings for the Postal Service. As the folks who actually walk into offices and deal with postal employees die off, the first class mail and retail side will wither and cease to be relevant. That will leave the Postal Service delivering packages in a competitive market, or ceasing to exist.

And who wouldn't be rendered happier by not experiencing my old man's beery breath at a Post Office counter?

*The Postal Service hasn't received direct allocations from the federal budget in several decades. It does, however, receive federal loans at below-market interest rates. It also enjoys exemption from taxes, tickets, fees, etc.

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  1. Small businesses.

  2. Maybe it was an aberration, but this year at least, for Christmas mailing the Post Office beat the living hell out of UPS. UPS wanted $120 to send three packages for me and couldn’t guarantee it would even get there for Christmas. The post office did it priority mail for less than $20 and got it there. I was shocked. I haven’t gone to the post office in years. I assumed it would just suck. Instead, it is UPS who jacked their rates for the holidays and provided shitty service. I will never use UPS again. Who are they fucking kidding with those prices?

    1. UPS’s retail prices are insane. Their primary market is business customers who pay substantially less than the sticker rates. FedEx is almost universally cheaper for any given package than UPS.

  3. I use the USPS quite a bit because their small flat rate box and click-n-ship works very well for what I need (haven’t actually been inside a PO except to pick up a package in years), but the thing about the post office is that when they do fuck up, they fuck up spectacularly, and trying to deal with them to resolve their fuckups is so unbelievably miserable it will put most normal people off from ever using them again. High value items, anything that needs to be insured, or anything you can’t live without seeing again shouldn’t go USPS.

  4. Pretty good business model, delivering mostly physical spam.

  5. We use the postal service for work, letters only.

    I hate sending packages through the postal service. It is my experience, that they are rude, and if you don’t buy the insurance they will magically misplace expensive packages.

    1. “if you don’t buy the insurance they will magically misplace expensive packages.”

      If you DO buy the insurance, you will NEVER have all the forms necessary to prove loss to their satisfaction; USPS is cheap and worth every penny of it.
      We use USPS for packages only where the customer accepts 100% responsibility once it leaves our hands.

  6. The future for the USPS involves competing to delivering packages, or dying.

    J.D. you ignorant slut.

    Do you think for a second that a government agency that employs around a half a million career (read: on track for taxpayer-funded retirement) employees of which an out-of-proportion-with-society are minorities, has never been efficient enough to compete with the private sector yet has grown in size and scope even as technological advances say it should shrink dramatically will need to wither compete or they’ll die? You’re out of your fucking mind.

  7. When we moved to Fort Worth, we moved onto a new street with only three houses on it, and only one was occupied. It took me a month of going to the post office every few days and complaining for them to assign a carrier for the street. My neighbors didn’t speak english so they weren’t able to go and resolve the issue, but they were apparently there for two months before us.

    And it’s not like there’s not a cross street right there 200 feet away where they have been delivering mail for over a year now. The carrier was just too lazy to tell his boss that there were houses built with cars in front of them on the new street.

    Also, we had no issue getting packages from Amazon delivered by the USPS through that period, as they were using contract deliverymen as opposed to the normal route drivers. So even when the public sector was able to somewhat “succeed”, it was only at the direction of a private sector who caused them to use contract labor.

    Fuck the post office.

  8. “there is a lack of continual, formal customer service training”

    Yeah, that’s the problem. It couldn’t be that they hire assholes who know they have zero chance of getting fired ever.

  9. In the interest of peddling anecdotes:

    When I’ve needed counter service at a PO in the last, I dunno, several years, its been decent. No complaints at all. Except with their staffing – why they don’t staff up, instead of down, for the lunch hour I do not know.

    And, yeah, as far as I’m concerned they have outcompeted UPS for my package business. Cheaper and fast enough.

    1. Not exactly the fairest of comparisons though. The USPS operates with a daily mail delivery monopoly (and the accompanying logistical infrastructure that entails), and is allowed to operate a money-losing operation as a going concern. A private sector actor doing that would have restructured or liquidated 30 years ago.

      I, too, appreciate the relatively low cost of the USPS services of which I avail myself, but I understand that a big part of the reason I’m paying less for the services is because of built in competitive advantages for the USPS, and the fact I’m also subsidizing USPS with my tax dollars.

  10. Who still used the Pot Office? Freakin FedEx and UPS, that’s who!!

    They ‘subcontract’ some home deliveries now to them. Every single package of mine so far that has been handed off to the PO for final deliver has been lost, misplaced, and late.

    1. *Post Office. But an amusing typo, I must admit.

    2. In 2000 I worked on a gig building a package tracking web app for a company that did package consolidation.

      The USPS offers discounts to shippers who are able to drop packages deep into the system. For example if you drop a bunch of packages off at a bulk mail center (first two digits of the zip) you get 5% off posted rates. If you drop them off at the local level (4 of 5 digits matched) then you would get 15% off.

      My client had created a business out of collecting packages from a lot of businesses and then doing the pre-sort and figuring out which level it made sense to deliver to.

      It was an interesting business model.

    3. Quibble: How can they be lost, misplaced and late? Wouldn’t the first or second of those render the last one impossible?

      1. Good question. Is “never” late?

  11. In our travels around much of the U.S. the old lady and I have occasionally dealt with post offices in small towns. We’ve always had good, friendly service. But in St Augustine, though technically a small town, good service and simple civility is unknown. We HATE going to the PO.

    1. I have only visited big-city PO’s and while the service is usually unremarkable (neither good nor bad), the absolute worst customer service I have ever received was at a PO. Followed very closely by a DMV.

  12. Even if you don’t use the USPS to send mail, why in the hell would you rate them as satisfactory, considering that they stuff your mailbox with an entire old growth forest’s worth of junk mail every week?

  13. Unfortunately for me, Amazon has been using USPS and I hate it. If they can scrunch it up and cram it in my mailbox they will. If it’s too big for that. I better hope is sunny, no rain, no snow, no ice, no wind. Other wise they’re are going to mark it as delivered and try the next day, or if a signature is required they’ll say no one answered the door, even if my wife and I were sitting in the next room the entire afternoon and no one knocked or ran the bell.

    1. When my parents would have there mail stopped when they went to Florida, whenever they had a sub carrier which evidently was every other day, he would leave the mail. When they called and complained, they regular carrier put a sign on there mailbox. Snowbirds in Florida, do not leave mail. Luckily I got it before someone cleaned out there house. These people should be working somewhere under direct supervision, not delivering anything. Assholes.

      1. I’ve never had an issue withe UPS or Fedex

  14. I occasionally use the post office.

    There is a nice, impersonal machine right next to the door that is fast and efficient.

  15. You know how this problem can be solved? Repeal the Private Express Statutes.

  16. Let’s not forget another issue with the U.S. Postal Service that prevents changing its status quo: It is heavily unionized. The leaders of these unions are actually fighting an effort by Congress to ensure that the postal employees’ pension is fully funded on the grounds that this is actually a plot by the GOP to privatize the service. The thinking — such as it is — is that by being proactive and devoting the necessary funds to pay down the future pension obligations the service’s bottomline is being made to look worse than it otherwise would. A lot of Democrats are echoing this. Nevermind that the union is arguing against securing the retirements of its own members…

    With that level of disfunction going on, is it any surprise the USPS struggles?

  17. Why the slow progress toward improvement? Surely, it can’t be the government monopoly on first class mail, which relieves the horrible bureaucracy of the pressure of competing for customers, or even of achieving some sort of basic efficiency. Of course it is. The monopoly loses billions of dollars, year after year, subsidized by American taxpayers.

    The USPS has a business model that’s so good that they put a gun to your head to force you to subsidize it.

  18. my old man’s beery breath

    Hey, cut that out! ? Tooch

  19. It’s not just the customer-facing people; I recently stopped by to pick up a certain size small Priority Mail box (I just needed one), and was told that they are not allowed to keep them in stock — customers must order them (at no cost, but still a waste of time and a higher cost to the USPS to provide them).

  20. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  21. As to “who still sends mail”, you might be surprised.

  22. At a time when they know they are hanging on by a prayer, the local deliveries missed about 3 of the 5 days after the recent blizzard. You’d think they’d be trying to remind folks that they still get through, regardless of the situation, and get the job done. Instead, they seem determined to prove to everyone just how little they are actually needed.

    The individuals may be fine, but the system is Broken, with a capital B.

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