If you are wondering why the Post Office is dying a slow death, my experience today gives a glimpse into a culture that is helping bring the organization down. Yes, I realize that the Post Office is hamstrung by a lack of congressional action to allow it to fully modernize, streamline and reduce its operations. However, failing to provide the most basic of services—especially those services that businesses are required by law to use—is a fantastic way to ensure that you lose your customers to your competitors.
Here’s what happened: yesterday we received one of those orange postal notices in our mailbox. It said that we had a package at the post office and this was our “final notice.” That was strange for two reasons.
First of all, we hadn’t received any other notices. It seemed odd that our first notice would be the last. Second, we were sitting in our living room when we saw the mail carrier pull up to our building yesterday. So not only did we only get a single notice, requiring us to make a trip to the post office, but the carrier didn’t even attempt to deliver the package.
You can imagine I was very curious to find out what this package was and why delivery was not even attempted.
So I dragged myself over to the post office this morning to retrieve my package, hoping that it was something amazing, like a fresh pumpkin pie.
Instead, it turned out to be a notice from Columbia Gas Transmission informing us that they plan to build a 26” gas pipeline near our home (I’m assuming it will go in the right-of-way where they currently operate a pipeline). The notice came via certified mail—which Columbia is required to use to notify impacted residents of their plans.
I realized as I signed for the envelope that the person in front of me had come in for the same purpose and as I left I heard the guy behind me getting the same package and grousing about why it wasn’t delivered to his home. Turns out I wasn’t the only unsatisfied customer.
In fact, when I signed for the certified packaged, I asked if carriers were unable to deliver certified mail. No, I was told, they can delivery certified mail. They just didn’t feel like it.
I kid you not. The friendly person working the counter told me that they had “so many” of these certified letters to deliver that they didn’t even try. She told me that the postmaster just wrote up all the orange slips and had the slips delivered so that the carrier wouldn’t have to take the time to ring doorbells and get signatures.
I didn’t waste any time discussing the matter in more detail. It would have just got me more agitated.
What the local post office decided is this: even though Columbia Gas paid $4.85 per letter for hundreds, if not thousands, of letters to be delivered via certified mail in our community, the local carriers could not be inconvenienced to actually deliver the letters. The recipients would have to come pick them up themselves. If they didn’t within the allotted time frame, then back to sender they would go.
Implicit in this decision is the belief that the well-compensated letter carriers’ time is more valuable than the people they deliver mail too. Why else would they decide to not even attempt delivery and have hundreds of customers take the time to make a special trip to the post office?
This mindset is incredible. It’s like a pizza delivery guy calling all his customers to say that the pizzas they ordered for delivery are back at the pizza shop getting cold and waiting for the customers to pick them up because he had too many orders that night to actually deliver any of them. If I received a call like that from the pizza delivery guy, not only would I not pick up the pizza, I’d not order from that shop ever again.
What’s especially galling about this post office episode is that unlike the pizza analogy where I can buy pizza somewhere else, I can’t send letters or legally mandated certified mail anywhere else. Instead, I get to look forward to the next time the local post master decides that the time of his employees is more valuable than the time of customers who pay them. Talk about mailing it in.
P.S. The photo in this post is of the actual package we “received.” Check out the dates scribbled on it for when delivery was “attempted.” Is it mail fraud if the post office lies about attempting to deliver something?
P.P.S. I know there are plenty of diligent and dedicated postal workers out there. I hope they are able to turn this operation around one day.