Trends in Print and Mail

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Retail Counters at the U.S. Postal Service – A Modest Proposal

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 13, 2018 2:10:00 PM

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I often visit my local post office on Saturdays. There are several reasons for this habit. First, I travel during the workweek, so it’s convenient to pick up my packages, drop off mail, and sign for any Certified Mail letters. Next, it reminds me of being a kid and stopping by the Woburn Post Office to say “Hi” to my father, who was usually working the window on Saturday mornings. And lastly, I enjoy watching my fellow postal patrons interact with the clerks.

The first 2 reasons are obviously personal, but the third reason is practical. As consultants, we help corporate mail centers provide better service to their internal customers. Watching the public interact with service professionals of all types provides valuable insight. This includes the wait staff at restaurants, hotel clerks, coffee shop baristas, and – of course – the clerks of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

Last weekend, there were 2 people in front of me when the windows opened at 9:00am. The first person was sending out a couple of packages. A frugal New Englander, she was reusing boxes from a certain Internet retailer. The clerk politely pointed out that she needed to either remove or black out the original shipping label. He let her borrow the black magic marker he kept at his station.

Meanwhile his coworker was helping a gentleman with a box of large, flat envelopes. He had looked up the size requirements, and folded the envelopes, so they were just under the 15” x 12” dimensions to remain First-Class Mail pieces (the clerk used her handy Notice 3-S template to verify). However, he’d only secured the flap with a small piece of tape.

The clerk explained that he needed to put tape across the entire flap, or the envelopes would probably get torn by the machinery. Like the other clerk, she was ready to help, and had a large roll of shipping tape at the counter. Together, they re-sealed the envelopes, while the clerk also explained how the customer might consider Every Door Direct Mail in the future.

Waiting for my turn, it was easy to understand why customers complain about the lines at the post office. Each transaction took much longer than they should, even with the helpful clerks. The delays were caused by the customers not knowing enough about how to ship or mail with the USPS. However, few commercial mailers read the Domestic Mail Manual, so we can’t expect retail customers to know all the rules and regulations.

The USPS website is easy to use for online transactions, like ordering stamps or using Click-N-Ship. It’s also great for the Informed Delivery application. The next step is to better prepare customers who will be visiting their local post office. But complicated, technical regulations won’t resonate with the general public.

What will? Videos. Brief – 90 seconds or less – easy to follow videos of the most common problems clerks face. People love to watch videos and seeing is a lot easier than reading. There are probably less than 10 issues that cause the most hold-ups at the counter.

For example, the ones I often see during my trips to the post office:

  • Preparing a package to ship.
  • Understand the difference between Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express.
  • Shipping a package overseas, including military personnel.
  • Completing a Certified Mail form.
  • Filling out a Change of Address form.

The videos could be added as a tab on the top toolbar of the website. In addition to polling the clerks to build the list, management can use actual clerks in the videos. The USPS already includes their employees in their commercials and should continue the practice. The videos could be promoted by a physical mailpiece sent to every household – demonstrating the power of mail to connect people to online content.

While E-commerce continues to grow, people still need to bring their mail and packages to their local post office. “How-To” videos are one way for the USPS to improve the customer experience.

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