Thursday, June 16, 2011

Reasons to (Not) Go Postal

For today's entry, we have a rousing end to a story that started back when I was about to go to Sacramento to debate Richard Carrier.

No, it has nothing to do with him. Nor with the debate.

I had arranged with the debate organizer to send a rather heavy box of books out there by media mail, to be offered for sale after the debate. The box had about $150 worth of my books in it, plus a few DVDs by someone else. I sent it off a week early to make sure it would get there on time.

But it never showed.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. The debate organizer and I checked with our local post offices on each end, hoping for direction in recovering the box, but each time we hit a wall of singularly unhelpful postal employees. In the past three days I figured to try the "last resort" -- the so-called dead letter office in Atlanta. I got a call back from an employee there just yesterday who was very polite -- and very unhelpful. No, sorry, we can't help you unless you bought tracking on the package.

Huh? You mean you guys don't have an indexing system for lost packages? I mean, as a librarian, I can design an indexing system in less than 30 seconds that would do the job and enable any caller to describe a package and its contents and have you able to find it immediately.

But as it turned out, they didn't have it anyway. Two days ago, one of the editors at the Christian Research Journal emailed me to say that one of the sponsors of the Battle for the Bible conference last year had a box of books of mine left over from there, and wondered what they should do with it. Yes, I know: I immediately figured it was my lost box, too. They said it didn't fit the description, but lo and behold, I met the sponsor rep yesterday afternoon and...
yep. My lost box. Whaddya know.

So what happened to it? Well, in spite of the fact that the debate organizer's address was still CLEARLY on the box...on the same side as the postage mark...apparently some brilliant postal employee decided that an older FedEx label on the box's bottom side, from the conference sponsor, was where the thing ought to go. So they (or someone) crossed out the postage label AND part of the zip code on the label to Sacramento (!). Now I have to admit I hadn't seen that older FedEx label, but really much intelligence does it take to get that the postage label is NOT on that side, so that's NOT where it should go? And that it is a FedEx label, not a USPS label?

The post office wonders why they're losing money? My beloved Mrs H and I get misdelivered items at least once every three weeks, intended for the house on the street parallel with ours with the same address number. Different resident name, different street name. I'm sure readers could multiply examples of incompetence. But where does it all come from? It happens too often to be honest, human mistakes done at a normal pace.

Here's where I think it comes from. I'd describe all the postal employees I dealt with as polite but unhelpful. I'd also use those two words to describe nearly every encounter I've had with a postal employee the last ten years. Why, for example, waste my time with the interrogations asking if I want stamps, insurance, delivery confirmation, or any one of ten dozen other things? If I wanted any of that, wouldn't I ask? And why ask all this when there's a line of 10-20 people and only 1-2 clerks?
Why, also, does the post office sell money orders? When people come in for these things, they invariably take far too long to produce, making the line longer and increasing the wait exponentially. It's a post office, for pity's sake. Not a bank or a convenience store. Ben Franklin would roll over in his grave if he knew that USPS had compromised the mission of mail delivery to make sure some bonehead didn't have to spend an extra 69 cents at the 7-11.

All of this -- the extra services, the extra questions -- is pretty clearly related to something I posted on a while back. This is kissyface customer service, designed by extroverts, for extroverts, and designed as well to soothe the whiny consumer in an economy balanced on comfort and convenience. The balance is grossly tipped in favor of such things as being nauseatingly polite while also not being able to be in any sense helpful when there's a problem. Meanwhile, we waste money, we waste time, and we get deeper and deeper into the hole while we're being asked if we want any stamps.

Maybe the introverts ought to have a rebellion of some sort -- start our own postal system, our own grocery stores and service businesses -- and show 'em how to do it right.

1 comment:

  1. I hardly ever use the postal system anymore and honestly can't remember the last time I was even in a Post Office. We pay most of our bills online, use Fedex for packages and e-mail for correspondence.