Friday, November 19, 2010

Why the U.S. Postal Service is going under, especially in Wake Forest NC

Ok, this post is not really an analysis of the U.S. postal system. But...I had an experience at my own local post office and after relating the event to my wife, her response was: "That's why they're going under. All they have to offer is service and if they can't offer then what good are they?"

Here's what happened. We have recently relocated to our new home which is a restoration of an old craftsman home, dating from the 1920's. We don't have a mail box on a post in the yard, but, rather, we have one mounted to the side of our front door, which is fairly common. Several days ago, I placed three envelopes in the outgoing mail tray that hangs just below the actual box for incoming mail. It stayed there for at least two days.

Puzzled, I mentioned this to my wife and speculated that, perhaps, since the house hadn't been occupied long and since we weren't getting much mail there yet, the postman hadn't thought to check our outgoing tray. To this, my wife responded "the white mail envelopes in the outgoing tray are very visible from the street; sounds like we didn't have any mail those days but also that he didn't feel like coming up to get our mail".

I thought, no, that can't be the case. After all, what about in sleet, and rain, and snow, and all that jazz. Surely, if the mail in the tray can be easily seen from the street, the mailman would feel compelled to collect it and get it on its way to its various destinations. Based on this rationalization, I thought I should visit my local post office and see if there was a problem in mail collection.

And that's where it got very interesting. After notifying the window clerk (they don't really have a window) of the problem, she asked that I wait for "Supervisor Joe", a guy with dark hair, about six foot, and somewhere in his late 30's to early 40's, to appear. Supervisor Joe did appear, and quite seriously informed me that, unless I have incoming mail, the postal carrier is under no obligation to come get my outgoing mail.

I said, "You're kidding me. Even if I don't have incoming mail for three days? He'll just let what I'm trying to mail out sit there?". To that, Supervisor Joe pointed out that there's a stand-alone mail box one street over and several blocks away that I can hand-carry my mail to if I don't find it expeditious to wait on my mail carrier to get my outgoing mail.

I have to admit I was a little stunned to hear all of this. After all, you would think that a decent mail carrier would actually go up to your door to collect your mail if, in fact, he saw that you had mail to collect. And perhaps most carriers would. Perhaps it is simply the case that this particular mail carrier has a much higher disregard for the traditional expectations of the U.S. postal service. After all, he is the same carrier who, in my prior neighborhood, routinely delivered my neighbor's mail to me by mistake (which I also informed Supervisor Joe of, with not comment from him).

However, more stunned than hearing all of this from Supervisor Joe, was my current realization about what is arguably one of the most time-honored institutions of our society, the American postal service. And that realization is this: with policies and attitudes like this, if they continue to decline and lose business, it will be entirely their own fault and their own doing. After all, as my wife said, all they have to offer these days to significantly separate them from other means of transmitting information and their other competitors is...service.

And I left out the word "good" because that is usually implied, though I wonder if, in the case of the Wake Forest North Carolina Post Office that would have to be explained to them, or, at least, to Supervisor Joe.

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