The Post Office versus McDonald’s

First let me say that overall I am moderately satisfied with the Post Office in Wayzata, and I know that Terry, Les, and the others there work very hard. However, that being said, what happened today left me needing to vent with regard to how the Post Office nationally is set up versus McDonald’s.

It was a beautiful, sunshiny day today after the couple three inches of snow we got last night. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and I could feel the warmth of spring in the air. I walked up the cleaned dry stone steps of the Wayzata Post Office, and proceeded into the wonderful brick and stone building. The amount of mail that has passed through this point over time is staggering to think about.

Once I got inside, there was a line of two or three people in front of me. I looked at my gold and silver watch to become aware of the time, and it was 12:50 — the lunch rush, one of the busier times of the day for the Post Office in my estimation. There was one window open, and it seemed a tolerable wait at first glance. Little did I know that would not be the case.

The first woman at the window took her time, asking a range of questions about stamps, and postage questions that don’t really matter, and I’m paraphrasing: “When are stamps going up?” “How much are they going up?” “If this goes Priority Mail, will it get their Tuesday or Wednesday?” Taking too much time to mail the Birthday Card a week early and fretting as to whether it will arrive on time. By the way, if your letter or package is time sensitive, go ahead and ship it FedEx or UPS, not the Post Office. You get a tracking number, a guarantee as to when it will arrive, and competitive pricing. If your letter just needs a date stamped on it, go to the Post Office.

I looked at my gold and silver watch and the hands told me it was 12:53. I thought to myself “If I ran the Post Office, I would have two or three attendants on during lunch rather than sending them to lunch as a convenience to the customers who require postal services.” Now I don’t know if someone was out sick, or if there was a family emergency that required one of the other Postal Workers to be somewhere else, but it is frustrating to have to wait to have someone put a sticker on a box and swipe the Visa card.

The next guy in line has a number of priority envelopes with return receipts and announces he has some company check to the Postal Worker for $100.00. The Postal worker and he begin to discuss strategies for adding $.65 worth of postage to each of the 5 envelopes he is holding and how many stamps can he buy with the extra. It takes 15 minutes of intense negotiations buying $.47 cent stamps, $.05 cent stamps, $.02 cent stamps, etc. The postal worker can’t give any cash back on the check, and he can’t give out more postage than $100.00.

Meanwhile there is another worker in plain clothes hanging up signs, my guess these signs indicate the new rate increases. The guy hanging them is using a well worn aluminum ladder. The top step is dented and dinged, indicating that this is the ladder that is used to hang the signs. The plain clothed worker works his way up the ladder and proceeds to stand on the worn top step with his worn brown leather work boots. The woman in line behind me vocalizes my thoughts with a chirp of “OSHA wouldn’t approve of your standing on the top rung.” He shrugs and proceeds to move up and down the ladder, adjusting the sign and standing on the top rung as he moves the ladder back and forth to hang a wide sign. He didn’t fall, but he should have. Had he it would have been difficult to be sympathetic based on his earlier indifference when someone suggested a change in his behavior for his own safety.

I have time to let my eyes wander around the Post Office, seeing the gold flaked letters strung together that spell “Postmaster” on the door at the far end which had been installed during a time over half a century ago when quality and speed mattered in the United States. I have time to read about Sargent so and so from Medina who is stationed in Fallujah, and how his family wishes his was home. I have time to look for the FBI Most Wanted posters, but they are nowhere to be found. I have time to notice the automated postal station which I tried once before, but required to much effort, punching and clicking to actually ship a package.

I have time to read bubble wrap is available behind the counter. Tape and envelopes need to be paid for. The letters for the slots where mail goes are crooked. I have time to admire the granite floor installed originally, and notice as well there are blue commercial carpets over a good portion of it. I wonder who got the contract to clean the rugs, when do they get changed, what does the truck that delivers them look like. I have time to read that both parents have to sign off on a passport application as of such and such a date.

Meanwhile, back at the window, the fool on a company errand doesn’t have any change, no cash, and doesn’t offer to use a charge card. The Postal Worker who is finally at his wits end with this customer, reaches into his own pocket to settle the $100.15 worth of postage, and adds to the kitty to finally pay for the stamps. I look at my watch, it is now 1:12. People behind me are grumbling, and rightfully so. The errand boy from the company who doesn’t trust him to write in the correct amount lingers too long, taking steps back from the window but not fully disengaging. Finally he walks out the door, with a quick glance towards the line he has helped to create all holding their brown packages and white envelopes with long faces. He puts his eyes down seeing the glare from the unhappy Postal Patrons in line, puts on his sunglasses, and walks out the door into the sunshine.

The guy in front of me carries two large packages up to the counter and inquires about shipping them overseas, presumably to India. The postal worker indicates that surface mail has been discontinued, and that only Priority is now available for the modest fee of $70 minimum per package. The man collects his packages and walks out the door. I would too.

The gold and silver watch on my hand indicates it is now 1:20, and I finally step to the window. I slide the card to a relative across the counter in an attempt to verify it is not over sized and does not require additional postage. The postal worker looks at it casually and flings it in the box behind him. The package I need shipped costs $6 to to North Carolina, and suggestions for insurance–in case the Post Office loses it, or upgraded speed are rejected. Total time to ship, stamp and pay for my package, 2 minutes 30 seconds, and 27 minutes and 30 seconds, with total revenue to the Post Office $6.50 cents.

On the way back to the office, I stop at McDonald’s to grab a bite. I walk in the door, similar line with a different result. This McDonald’s has been rebuilt within the last year. It is clean, there are employees everywhere you look. People order by number, swipe their cards, and stand off to side so as to not impede the progress of the serving of lunch. I wait what seems to be 2 or 3 minutes, grab my burger and fries, and go. Total time invested, less than 5 minutes, total revenue $4.50.

Maybe what the Post Office needs to do is adopt some of the systems and controls we have seen be successful in other businesses. Greet a customer within so many seconds, deliver the order within 2 minutes, put in a drive thru–with two lanes! Don’t make us fill out return receipts by hand, type the shipping address and return label on the postage–give a tracking number that means something. Don’t tell me to ship my packages myself at home–I came to the Post Office for some good old fashioned face time, customer service, and to reduce the threat of my mail being stolen as well as my identity. You and I don’t work for the Post Office, and self service is the end of Postal Employee Jobs. Wishing you happy mailings and a short line.

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