Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Going Postal

I have to take a pause from other important topics to have a small rant about the US Postal Service. If this was the first time I'd had such a poor experience, I'd chalk it up to a bad day and/or my usual impatience. Unfortunately, I have had so many run-ins at this particular branch, I just have to vent a little. (You'd be right to ask why I go there, and I try to go to other branches or cities when I'm out and about, but today I just didn't have time to go to one of the more distant branches.)

I'd first like to say that I consider myself a good postal customer. I pick up my mail, don't expect my postman to take my outgoing mail and always suspend delivery when I am gone. I don't have unrealistic expectations about waiting online or the level of service. In other words, I hold up my end of the bargain.

But the USPS does not.

So I go today to mail a small box to my parents (mom and dad if you're reading this, package is on the way!) and there's the usual line, but that's okay, I'm feeling pretty patient today. There are two postal clerks and five or six folks in line ahead of me, some picking up mail others mailing packages, nothing out of the ordinary. As I stand on line I begin to notice that the clerks are having rather long conversations with the customers at the counter while we all wait. It's okay to be friendly, but when the clerk begins to talk about the weight-loss program he is on and how much he likes it--while the uncomfortable customer tries to extricate himself--it begins to wear a little. The other clerk goes to the back room to pick up held-mail for another patron and he saunters along, taking his own sweet time. And from the back room you can hear him conversing with another postal employee about their approaching lunch break. My compatriots and I are still waiting and begin to exchange looks as nearly 5 minutes pass while clerk B has his chat about lunch. Clerk A is by now trying to up-sell a customer from a simple package mailing into an overnight delivery. (The customer, upon arriving at the counter, said quite plainly he wanted to send it the cheapest way and no extras, yet the clerk took the time to run through all the options and how much each would cost and how long each would take.) I know the USPS needs money, but *sheesh* no one wants the hard sell at the postal counter.

By this time I've been in line for 10 minutes and only one person ahead of me has been helped. The next customer speaks broken English--it's understandable enough--but clerk A can't seem to understand him until one of the people on line ahead of me says what it is the gentleman is asking for. (Mind you, clerk B is still in the back looking for the held mail.)

Clerk B does eventually return, but without the mail because the postman has apparently taken it with him and will deliver it to the patron today. (This has happened to me at least three times, where I check the "I will pick up held mail upon return" box only to find that my postman has the mail with him and I've just stood on line for 15 minutes to find that out.) The woman was understandably upset after having spent her break waiting on line for mail that wasn't there. She gave clerk B a piece of her mind and I think all of us standing there wanted to applaud when she finished.

All told, I was at the post office for 26 minutes from leaving my car to getting back into it. All to mail one little old package. And I was treated to hearing clerk a's weight-loss trials and tribulations told to several more people, with varying levels of detail. Don't get me wrong, good on him for taking control, but really is it necessary to share with all your patrons?

I think all this came to a head for me because of the news of so many postal stations closing and the possibility of cutting out one delivery day. It just became very clear to me that part of the reason that the postal service has no money is that they really don't provide very good service. The level of inefficiency is positively EPIC. I know not all postal workers are like the two I describe here, but I've seen such a pattern of really crummy service at a few different post offices that I guess it's no surprise that as an organization they are failing, from both a service and deficit standpoint.

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