• on Apr 23rd, 2013 | 29 comments

    In today’s mobile society, people socialize, shop, work, and play anywhere and everywhere. Yet even as many aspects of communications and commerce have gone mobile, the physical address has remained static. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could direct your mail to meet you wherever you go? So, instead of going to your mailbox, your mailbox came to you.

    In our recently released white paper “Virtual Post Office Boxes”, we consider a concept that would offer portability to your address, just like email and phone numbers. The Virtual Post Office (PO) Box gives customers control over where, when, and how they receive their mail and packages. Much like the venerable PO Box service, the Virtual PO Box would provide users with an alternate address instead of their residential address. Virtual PO Box customers could log into their www.usps.com accounts to link this address with any physical address, including a home or business address, a nearby Post Office, a physical PO Box locker, or even a gopost® parcel locker.

    The paper suggests users could accept or redirect letters, flats, and parcels online or from their smart devices to an alternate address, a temporary address, or even a parcel locker in their desired location. Customers could receive immediate notification via email or text message when new mailpieces have arrived. They then could determine where they wanted them delivered. For example, a person on vacation may request that his or her packages be delivered to a nearby gopost parcel locker. In today’s increasingly digital and mobile world, the service would provide a “just in time” element to the flow of mail and give customers numerous options. They could choose from many delivery options, however, destruction of the mail would not be an option.

    The capabilities and features of a Virtual PO Box could:

    • Give a physical dimension to email and smart devices by linking a customer’s email addresses to his or hers Virtual PO Box address and residential address for parcel fulfillment and other activities.
    • Validate the identity of users for merchants and in peer-to-peer sales, while concealing home addresses and personal information.
    • Allow foreign customers to shop online and provide merchants with a U.S. address for parcel delivery and returns.
    • Provide small businesses the ability to possess a vanity address and use the Virtual PO Box as a micro-warehouse.

    Some challenges of a Virtual PO Box, range from operations and technical issues to preventing fraud in international shipments. The paper also contemplates some possible future enhancements and best ways to pursue the concept, such as partnering with companies that now provide similar services.

     

    If offered, which services would you use? Would you be willing to pay more for premium services, such as international shipments and returns? Do you see any problems with offering or implementing such a service? Share your thoughts below.

  • on Apr 16th, 2013 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 1 comment

    Some of our recent blogs have considered the customer experience from a number of different angles – from the mystery shopper program to the reliability of underlying systems that support customer service. This week we ask if technology might have a role in improving the customer experience.

    From watching traffic flow on major roads to monitoring home security to Skyping with a friend, webcams have become a regular part of everyday life. What was once seen as Big Brother behavior is now something that most citizens accept as part of living in the technological age. The U.S. Postal Service started using cameras in some Post Office lobbies about a decade ago to help manage wait time in lines, which is part of its larger strategy to improve the retail customer experience.

    Employees can monitor the lines at several offices from a central computer screen and when they see a line grow, transmit that information to the affected Post Office. The Postal Service has indicated that participating post offices then address the wait times by directing lobby assistants to help customers or encourage them to use the self-service kiosks, thus speeding up the transaction. Another option might be to open a new counter slot, if staffing allowed it.

    What if customers also could view the webcams and see postal lobbies in real time, so they would know which post office in their general area had the shortest lines and find the best time of day? Would it be possible to convert the webcam technology into a phone app that revealed similar information? With access to this information, some customers might time their visits to post offices differently, or choose to use one with a self-serve kiosk, or perhaps request carrier pickup service. The District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles uses webcams to give customers a live “look in” at all of its locations, which lets customers see where volume is heaviest and then choose their site.

    On a broader scale, observational research is a tool that businesses are relying on to analyze the customer experience. Using cameras to observe how people behave and interact with the spaces through which they travel businesses are gaining insights on how best to serve customers. Market research companies tout the benefits of seeing customers’ behavior in their natural environment, not getting the “memory” of their experience. The Postal Service could use the cameras in its lobbies as a tool in such research, providing it with data on how people conduct their tasks within post offices. This might help the Postal Service rethink design and layout and lead to new product or service ideas, all of which could improve the customer experience.

  • on Apr 9th, 2013 in Products & Services | 11 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service has a wide spectrum of customers, from businesses and organizations to every household in the United States. Balancing the needs of these customers is no small task, yet satisfying them is essential to the Postal Service’s success. With that in mind, the Postal Service has made improving the customer experience one of the key elements of its strategic goals.

    For consumers, customer service ranges from wait time in lobbies to letter carrier service to interaction with postal staff at a Post Office. Business mailers might focus on different aspects of customer service, such as delivery performance, interaction with acceptance personnel, or how quickly a service problem is resolved. What customers might not realize is that the Postal Service relies on a number of systems to support customer services and to improve a user’s overall experience. These systems can also reduce manual inputs, increase efficiency, and streamline operations. Often seamless to customers, these sophisticated systems have helped to make mail a reliable method of communications. However, when they go down or work inefficiently, it can lead to negative customer experiences, which might impact future business opportunities.

    For example, business mailers use the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST) system to set up appointments to enter mail at postal facilities. FAST collects and monitors appointment data for the facilities, which improves the efficiency and effectiveness of appointment creation for both customers and Postal Service management. Business mailers also rely on PostalOne!, a suite of web-based business capabilities that allows mailers to integrate their mail planning and production processes with those of the Postal Service for “seamless” and efficient mail induction.

    Consumers are more likely to use the Postal Service’s website usps.com to research or access services, such as purchasing postage, looking up ZIP Codes, printing shipping labels, or submitting a change of address form. And although retail customers might not realize it, their customer experience hinges on the Point of Service (POS) Retail system, which automates retail transactions at post offices and other retail counters.

    When these systems are working properly, customers may not think about them at all. But if these systems experience an outage, the customer experience could be entirely different. Our office is reviewing these systems as part of an audit and would like to hear from customers. What have your experiences been when using FAST, PostalOne!, usps.com and other types of services? Are they consistently available? Or have you experienced system availability problems?

    For business customers, has system availability or slow response times affected your own internal processes, such as transportation schedules or other mail entry issues? For retail customers, have you had problems accessing information or services on usps.com? We also welcome comments of Postal Service employees on their experiences with these applications and the services they support.

    While the scope of our audit is limited to systems review, we welcome input on the entire customer experience.

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