The Right Audiences Need to Get the Message

Over the past few months, and especially over the recent holiday season, there were many occasions on which a postal customer – a representative of a commercial mailer, a mailer’s client, or just a retail customer – delivered a message of dissatisfaction about service (to put it nicely) to a frontline postal employee.

Whether a retail window clerk, a city or rural carrier, an employee at the local BMEU or DMU, a customer service rep, or a call-taker at the Business Service Network, that person neither had anything to do with the reasons for the customer’s dissatisfaction and likely had little to go on to offer an explanation or information about the reported service problem.

Audience 1

For any commercial mailer – let alone a retail customer – the real challenge is finding someone who will not only listen but have the ability to actually get real answers or, better yet, ameliorate the mailer’s problem.

For organizations (like Mailers Hub) who deal with USPS headquarters on a regular basis, it’s less difficult to find and contact a knowledgeable or influential person but, even then, those are people, though sincere and committed to helping, are still removed from where the real corrective measures need to be applied.

When it comes to service performance, what really matters is what’s happening in “the field” – at the plants and post offices.  HQ issues instructions that get passed down the chain through the areas and districts, to plant managers and supervisors, before reaching the people who do the work.  Even under the “line-of-sight” structure implemented last summer by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the game of “telephone” remains – instructions are repeated or reinterpreted – as does the need for the workers to actually comply with them.

At last week’s MTAC meeting, the midlevel managers and functional area VPs who had to listen to service complaints from attendees also were good and decent people who want to help, but not even they can directly affect service performance.  To some extent, everyone who complained to the retail clerk through the MTAC representatives who complained to HQ VPs were all talking to the wrong audience.

In each case, there’s no lack of willingness to help; at MTAC there was no resistance to participants’ messages or a lack of resolve to effectuate positive changes.  Unfortunately, it’s the people not across the counter or listening to MTAC who can make a difference, and it is they who need to listen to what their colleagues are being told by customers.

Field and facility managers and craft employees are the people who can bring about better service – and who shouldn’t need a memo from HQ to provide it.  They are the ones who should follow procedures, use data for the purposes it was provided, and incorporate in their everyday thinking that their every decision and action will impact some customer’s satisfaction with the Postal Service, and the choice to use the USPS again – or not.

The postal craft unions – especially our friends at the American Postal Workers Union – like to wash their hands of any accountability, saying everything is “management’s” fault or responsibility as if “management” was who was moving the mail.  Such thinking typifies the union leadership that fails to understand (or convey) that their members’ jobs depend on customers’ willingness to pay for the service their members provide.  No-layoff clauses notwithstanding, poor service = less business = the need for fewer employees.

No postal executive would ever say it out loud, but service doesn’t result from an HQ memo, it springs from the attitude of the workers who really move the mail.  Many may care now, but more should, and their unions need to start encouraging it while there are still customers left to satisfy.

Audience 2

Another earful delivered to the postal executives at MTAC was about the possibility of a midyear price increase.

After the Postal Regulatory Commission provided the USPS with additional over-CPI rate authority, and after the potential total resulting price increase was calculated, some in the Postal Service seemed unable to wait to go after the additional revenue as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mailing industry, directly connected to ratepayers who also are aware of a potential price increase, raised obvious concerns that – especially after the last holiday season’s service debacle, let alone the suppression of business caused by the pandemic – ratepayers are not in a mood to now be told that they need to pay more.

At MTAC, the essence of the industry’s collective question to the USPS was “Looking at the circumstances, what could possibly lead you to conclude that any rate increase would be a good idea?”  No-one at MTAC from the USPS seemed to say it was; they let attendees know that it was under consideration and that all they could do was convey the industry’s message.  The people to whom they carry it, those at the top of the organization, are the ones who should have heard it directly; in this case, they’re the intended audience.

Legally, the authority to increase prices was given; financially, the need for revenue is clear.  To some in the postal hierarchy that’s all that’s needed.  Trying to get Congress to fix the real underlying causes of the agency’s financial mess is too difficult and problematic for a politically inept institution; tapping ratepayers is quick and easy.  As private sector business people, the PMG and the governors likely wouldn’t see anything wrong with the idea of charging more.  After all, as the PMG said at MTAC, in FY 2020 the USPS charged $70 billion for service that cost $80 billion.  It’s just that simple.

If only the truth were as such simplistic math suggests.

Here’s another simple equation: good service = greater value = customer willingness to pay more; as noted above, the reverse is also true.  To that, factor in those customers’ own business circumstances, their access to alternative channels, and their loss of confidence in USPS service.

Perhaps the PMG and governors should stop listening to advisors who are detached from customers, and who focus only on legal authority and financial calculations, and start listening to the people who know what customers – ratepayers – will or won’t pay for the service the USPS is providing.

The messages about service and prices are being sent; perhaps the intended audiences should start listening.

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