USPS Service Claims Require Readers’ Scrutiny

For the last seven months of 2021, the Postal Service’s public relations office has issued weekly releases touting service performance improvements.  However, a closer look at those releases suggests that, while the authors’ purpose seems to be to create a perception of improvement, that scenario isn’t supported by their own data, and shows a trend that actually isn’t as impressive as they want readers to believe.

Contexts

On the one hand, going back to early 2020, the USPS has suffered many external adversities that impaired its service, notably pandemic-driven variability in complement, transportation disruptions, and package volume for which its operations weren’t prepared.  However, by the second half of 2021, those pressures began to ease, meaning service should be expected to improve naturally, and better scores later in the year should be viewed accordingly.

On the other hand, the USPS also helped itself.  In May, over halfway through fiscal 2021, the Board of Governors lowered the 2021 service targets, to 84.88% for First-Class Mail and 86.62% for Marketing Mail and Periodicals.  Then, on October 1, the agency trimmed the service standards for First-Class Mail and some Periodicals (the dotted line on the chart below).  (The service target is the level of achievement of the service standard.)  By these measures, the USPS made its performance look better – perhaps hoping that achievement of easier targets would be equated with truly better service.

Beyond that, as previously reported, the current “census” method being used by the Postal Service to measure service is reliant on a unique intelligent mail barcode on each piece.  So, by definition, the universe of mail that’s measured and reported is mostly automation-compatible mail bearing an IMB – the easiest and fastest to process.  Conversely, excluded mail is more problematic, may take longer to process and deliver and, accordingly, is a drag on service scores.  As a result, the service that such mail receives is neither measured nor reflected by the scores reported by the USPS.

The agency’s weekly claims are based on carefully selected data that it neither explains nor reveals.  Looking at the quarterly scores reported to the Postal Regulatory Commission at the end of PQ IV (July-September) for example, it appears the USPS derives its weekly single score per class by weighting and blending component scores to yield a gross average.  Doing so conveniently obscures sub-par performance in some areas or for some categories – like flats.

The caveat

Whether a consumer, commercial mailer, or media reporter, a reader of the Postal Service’s weekly PR should not take what’s claimed at face value.  Rather, the releases are essentially unsupported promotional assertions, at odds with the data they present, meant to create a perception of improving service despite little if any real change.  As do all USPS releases, the PR also promotes the Postmaster General’s 10-year Plan, crediting it for the alleged improvements.

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The Postal Service is unlikely to relent in its efforts to hype its service performance hoping, as was once stated, that “if you say it enough and keep saying it, they’ll start to believe you.”

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