It doesn't take a Wharton MBA to diagnose the problem facing the USPS. All you need to do is spend time interacting with clerks at your neighborhood post office. If ever there was a more inefficient, disinterested, and lazy collection of workers than those who often staff the counters at a USPS post office, we have yet to have the misfortune of meeting them. Finding a friendly, competent postal clerk is a miracle on par with finding an extinct tree frog in the Amazon.
(The dullards who work at Rite-Aids could maybe make the contest interesting. We often wonder what sort of employment screening process goes into the hiring of Rite-Aid workers. No matter what location you visit, the workers are lost, confused, and always seem startled to have to work the cash register. Luckily, we now live in a Rite-Aid-free-zone and enjoy CVS and Walgreens. But we digress.)
Here are our observations about post office clerks.**
* Lazy - Why work quickly to make a transaction fast and snappy when you can move ever so slowly and drag everything out? No one's in a hurry here. It's not like we have a limited lunch hour to eat and run multiple errands. Take your time. Reach over there... and then reach over there... now thumb through the stamps - not too fast! Whatever you do, don't exert yourself. Bonus points for having to walk "in the back" to get something or ask a question, thus allowing customers to witness your laborious shuffle-step in excruciating half-speed.
* Chatty - You may have regular customers like Norm from "Cheers," but most people in line don't know you or your nephew or your crazy mother-in-law you like to talk about. Most people in line would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than spend one more moment in your drab, airless lobby staring at out-of-date sales posters featuring Looney Tunes stamps. No one wants to watch you catch up with the lady who comes in once a week with sixteen packages for her boss. And your willingness to chew the fat with customers is always in direct proportion to the length of your line of customers.
* Stubborn - Speaking of long lines, no matter how long the line may get, please do not take the initiative to call for additional workers to come help you. You'll get to us when you get to us, right? More galling are the peals of laughter coming from the back as your coworkers dick around while we're forced to look at the back of the bald man in front of you for the 16th minute and wonder how he thinks he's going to ship a shoebox that isn't taped closed. Why can't your coworkers come out for a few minutes to chip in? Are they not properly trained in the sophisticated art of cash register button-pushing? That goes double for you, too, post office worker who actually walks by the counter, sees the long line, frowns, and then keeps right on walking.
* Upseller - If we want insurance or proof of delivery or any other damn stupid service you attempt to provide (seriously, the only difference between first-class mail and Priority Mail is the fancy red and blue envelope, right?), we'll ask. How many millions of collective minutes in this country are wasted each week by postal clerks running through their lame laundry list of additional services that you have to say "no" "no" "no" to? I'm mailing a letter to the Gas Company. Why would I want to insure it?
We suspect by now you sense a theme: bureaucratic short-sightedness and sedentary inefficiencies and a complete disinterest in customer service. Slow workers displaying little productivity will of course undermine an organization's profitability. The work of one motivated employee is spread out among three unmotivated employees, all of whom get paid the same. How about cutting loose some of the dead weight? Maybe the workers left behind might put a little bounce in their step. No, that won't work. Instead, let's just raise the postage rates. Or cut back to five days of delivery. That makes sense, right?
Some may argue that we don't understand the complex systems at work here. The problem is not so easily resolved. True, but all we can go by is what we see. And we see big problems. Most legitimate companies do everything they can to hide those problems. The USPS will let anyone take a look for little more than 44 cents.
**A disclaimer: post office mail carriers out lugging those big mail sacks and driving trucks from the passenger seat are a completely different breed, often helpful, energetic, and proactive in ways their in-house coworkers could never be.