USPS: Where The Customer Is Always Last

Posted: Sep 22, 2014 12:01 AM

Bang! Lee looked up from addressing a package while she waited in line for service at the post office. Despite a lobby packed with customers—without notice—a postal worker slammed down the service window gate and went to lunch, leaving Lee and the other patrons to fend for themselves.

The U.S. Postal Service excels at treating customers poorly. My friend Lee’s story is but one of many nightmares of churlish postal workers and deficient USPS customer service. Many government workers get away with behavior that would get them fired if they worked at a private company like McDonald’s or Apple.

There should be a “Yelp” for government services. We deserve an open place where we can rate the “customer service” that we receive from the post office, as well as the EPA (which has distorted scientific data), the Federal Reserve (which inflates our currency), and the IRS (which hires employees like Lois Lerner who are admittedly “bad at math”).

Salaried workers in the private sector often skip their lunch break and shovel down a sandwich while preparing for an afternoon conference call with a big client. But government workers will take their lunch break whether they have a long line of businesspeople, senior citizens and parents with young children waiting in line—or not. Certainly not every postal worker is slothful, yet massive reform is necessary.

Elderly residents in the Brooklyn, NY neighborhood of Borough Park recently had to fight to regain mail delivery service after a mailman complained about having to stoop down to drop letters into mail slots. Based on a single whining mailman, the post office told Borough Park residents they would have to install higher mail slots or pick their mail up at the post office. The Brooklyn Eagle reported: “senior citizens [had to] stand in long lines to get their medications and other vital deliveries that used to come directly to their homes.”

You just can’t make these stories up. I was at the post office around 5:45 p.m. on a recent weeknight. The post office officially closed at 6:00 p.m., but many people were in line. (Some Americans actually work during the workday.) My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when one of the postal workers loudly complained for all to hear: “Everyone always waits to come in at 6:00 p.m.”

He wasn’t finished barking. He shouted at me, as I hurriedly taped up a package: “Are you going to be finished soon? We close at 6:00 p.m.” I felt like saying: “You can see I’m rushing and you don’t close for another fifteen minutes. If this were the private sector, you’d be happy to serve a paying customer instead of pushing them away. You’d also have business hours that were more conducive to your customers.”

Last week, I opened my P.O. box to find a clear plastic bag containing a ripped piece of my outgoing mail, along with a note from the post office: “WE CARE. Dear Postal Customer: We sincerely regret the damage to your mail during handling by the Postal Service.” There was also a sticker: “SENDER. Affix correct postage and remail.”

The ripped envelope contained a check that I had sent out to pay a bill. Apparently, the postal machine had removed my postage and shredded the envelope and check. The next day, I brought a new check and envelope to the post office and asked them to reimburse me for the postage and make sure that the envelope arrived by the check’s due date.

After checking with her supervisor, the clerk told me: “No. We can’t do anything other than what we’ve already done.” I said, “You mean other than ruining my mail?” She said: “Well, we put it in a plastic bag for you.” At this point, I realized that logic and reason were pointless and simply re-mailed the envelope and left.

Last strange but true story: my mother bought a roll of stamps. When she returned home, she noticed that the roll of stamps was unusable because the stamps were affixed together. She immediately returned the roll to the post office, explained the situation and asked for a replacement. The postal worker told her: “Are you kidding? We can’t give you your money back or exchange it. Would you go to a grocery store and buy a loaf of squashed bread and then try to return it? How do I know you didn’t glue those stamps together yourself and then come back here?”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out that the aforementioned excuse is full of holes. Why would someone intentionally damage stamps and then ask for a fresh set? They would have nothing to gain, except an inconvenience. Also, who buys a loaf of bread that is obviously squashed? The roll of stamps looked perfectly fine and there was no way to tell that they were glued together until my mother tried using them.

“Postal workers, kindly reform yourselves. Your company is dying because your reform-resistant union has saddled the organization with onerous, draining policies. Your jobs are protected by an implicit guarantee from the government, but remember: the customer should always be first."

This column has been updated to reflect the budgetary process of the USPS. The original column stated that postal workers' "salaries come from the taxpayers' hard-earned money." The USPS is not directly funded by federal government revenues.