Thursday, September 29, 2011

Saving the Post Office

On Tuesday, postal workers in Chicago held a rally outside the Thompson Center in the pouring rain.  They were protesting plans to close several Chicago area post offices and eliminate Saturday mail delivery in the city. 

Although I sympathize with any worker struggling to keep their job in this tight economy, the postal service isn't what it used to be.  I live just a few blocks away from a post office whose New Deal Era grandeur in terms of architecture is in stark contrast to the service inside.  No matter what time of the day you enter this branch, a line stretches nearly to the full length of the building.  To make matters worse, the postal service offers far more shipping options than FedEx or UPS and those options are not properly listed in a way deciperable by the patron. This leads to long Q&A sessions at the service window that could have easily been avoided by better signs.  And don't even get me started on the self-service machines.  Half the time they don't work and even if they do you typically need to give any packages over 13 ounces to a postal employee for visual inspection before it can be placed in the mail.

To make matters worse, employees at this branch are perhaps the rudest people I have ever met. When a customer has the temerity to ask for clarification about one of the mailing services available, they are greated with a mixture of scorn and disgust.  As if to say, "Didn't you read the sign?  How could you be so dumb?"  Well, my dear, we read the sign.  We couldn't figure out WTF it means.  How does First Class Mail differ from Priority or from Express?  How much does each service cost? (Don't bother asking that question, the answer is too confusing as it depends on weight, distance, and size.)  Do you want delivery confirmation or would you prefer to send it certified mail? 

In some areas of life, less choice is better.  I would argue that streamlining the services currently offered by the post office would make it much more pleasant and efficient to use.  And, perhaps, save the jobs of a few of those grumpy employees behind the brass cages.  How about a rate for shipping packages based solely on weight?  Ever consider charging for mail based simply on distance?  Just a thought.  Maybe then I'd know how much money to bring with me and what to ask for when I need to ship something across the county or the other side of the nation. 

So much ink and TV air time has been spent bemoaning the digital age's affect on the mail but the reality is that our current postal service is too arcane for average people to use and the employees rather than helping the customer navigate this bureaucratic maze simply make fun of them as neophytes.  It's time for a change and eliminating services rather than post offices is where it needs to begin.  People will use the U.S. postal service if the price is right and if they can easily figure out how to get their packages and mail where it needs to go on time.  Meanwhile, I'm still waiting in line, wondering about the difference between certified mail and delivery confirmation.  Hopefully the post office doesn't go out of business before I get to the window.


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