The United States Postal Service recently announced it would suspend Saturday mail delivery in an attempt to save about $2 billion—and its own skin. That’s sad, but I’m not surprised. The organization is fraught with bureaucratic and pricing structure problems, which are its primary issues. But when an organization also has institutionally poor customer service—well, it’s another nail in the coffin. I’m not talking about the individual employees who serve customers each day; many of them are wonderful. I’m referring to the way the institution thinks about meeting customers’ needs.
Here’s an example. Recently, I needed to send out an event mailing for a client that involved a book and an invitation. The mailing required 12x15 padded envelopes. I called the local post office to ask if there were 60 such envelopes there. The lady who answered said she was busy but would call me back.
She did not call back. As I was on a tight timeline, I called her back later that afternoon. I was informed that they did not keep this size of envelope in stock, but that I could order them online. Hooray, I thought, and went to the USPS website.
Whereupon I learned that I could order a maximum of one package of 10 envelopes. Not the 60 that I needed. No explanation was given for this limit. In addition, the envelopes would arrive in 7-10 days. On the bright side, the envelopes were free. Well, that’s because they have “United States Postal Service” plastered all over them, so you have to go the post office to use them.
Fair enough, except that I couldn’t use them, because I needed 60, and soon! I called the USPS customer service line to see if any exception could be made, but who was I kidding? Inflexible government-style regulation all the way. Rules are rules.
In short, the USPS literally made it impossible for me to do business with them. So I called FedEx. The woman who answered put me on hold while she went and hand-counted how many 12x15 envelopes she had in stock, and then told me that she would call around to other local stores to gather the rest. They would be available the next day.
She called me the next morning to let me know that my envelopes were in. I went in, and the envelopes were actually there, bundled and with my name on them. Easy. Business 101.
This is a clear example of how the USPS violates basic customer service practices—especially this number one tip from Arnold Sanow at Customer Service Manager:
- How can we make it easier for our customers to do business with us? The USPS made it impossible! FedEx did everything possible for me to give them my business.
A few of Sanow’s other customer service considerations:
- Do what you say you are going to do. If you say you’ll call back, then call back. This seems like common sense as well as common courtesy, but…Lack of follow-through says, “You are not important to us.” It also suggests, “We are not a reliable organization.” Or even, “We are a sinking ship that can’t afford to hire enough people to take care of our dwindling customer base.” I am not keen to work with organizations sending me any of these messages.
- Good, timely response. This goes for your call center, HR department, website—any point of contact with your “customers.” For good or ill, we live in a 24/7, high-speed world. Whoever your stakeholders are—employees, clients, the public—they have been weaned on microwave dinners, drive-through custom coffee and Instagram. Everything is available instantly all the time. If you keep people waiting, they will go elsewhere.
And one of my own:
- Rules were made to be broken. Of course you have to create standard operating procedures. But beware the dangers of inflexibility. I’m sure the post office thought it was delivering awesome customer service by offering “free” envelopes to customers but its inability or unwillingness to meet my particular need cost them hundreds of dollars. The larger rule to keep top of mind is, “If our customers don’t get what they need, they will leave and our enterprise will fail.”
I hate to see Benjamin Franklin’s dream die, but that seems to be what’s happening at post offices across the country. Of course poor customer service isn’t the only reason why the USPS is doomed, but it doesn’t help. Don’t be like them.
Labels: customer service, Heath Havlick