• on Apr 9th, 2013 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 0 comments

    “Mystery shoppers” sounds like a new reality television series, but it is actually one of the tools the U.S. Postal Service uses to gauge customer service. Mystery shoppers are customers unknown to the retail staff and who fill out evaluations on their shopping experience, which helps determine how well retail units are performing.

    The Postal Service’s Retail Customer Experience (RCE) program uses mystery shoppers to objectively collect data on retail customer experiences. This information is used to drive behaviors for improving customer service, increasing retail revenues, and correcting unfavorable conditions. What kinds of things are these mystery shoppers evaluating?

     

     

    • How long did they wait in line? Was it over 5 minutes? This makes up 40 percent of the RCE score.
    • Were forms and supplies available? Were promotional messages neatly displayed? This makes up 25 percent of the score.
    • Was the Postal Service employee attentive and did he or she interact pleasantly with the mystery shopper? Was the retail area neat, clean, and well maintained? This “image” part of the survey makes up 20 percent of the score.
    • Did the Postal Service employee ask the mystery shopper if the package being shipped contained hazardous materials? This represents 15 percent of the score.

    Although not factored into the overall score, mystery shoppers also record their experience in these categories:

    • Product offering – To what extent were mystery shoppers offered certain products and services?
    • Product explanations – To what extent were benefits and features of products and services explained?
    • Overall experience – Mystery shoppers provide their view on the overall experience, including whether their expectations were met and their likelihood to return.
  • on Oct 1st, 2012 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 29 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service has made improving the customer experience a priority. Postal officials see a positive customer experience as a key to revenue generation because customers are more likely to return if their experience was good. As Deputy PMG Ron Stroman noted to a gathering of postal officials in August, “Our customers have choices, they don’t have to come to us. How people are treated makes all the difference in the world.” Customer service strategies could include something as simple as a menu of services and prices on display in each Post Office. Or, a quick resolution of a customer complaint can turn a negative experience into a positive one. Other efforts might require more substantial changes, such as reconfiguring the retail space or offering extended hours in some locations. In some cases, the Postal Service’s goal of rightsizing its retail network might run counter to the customer experience, at least initially. For commercial customers, a positive customer experience might be entirely different from the retail customer. A simplified or more automated mail acceptance process may appeal to bulk mailers. Changes in service standards might not please all commercial customers, while others may be able to adapt to the changes more readily. New dropship points for mail entry and the changes these can cause to internal processes might stress some mailers. For other mailers, fewer mail entry points might help them gain efficiencies. Given the different needs and expectations of customers, the first step to a successful customer experience would be to know your customers. “One size fits all” might work for the Snuggie®, but not for the Postal Service. Commercial mailers, in particular, have urged the Postal Service to get to know their businesses and operations better. The Postal Service has worked hard over the past few years to reach out to customers and engage them in discussions on improving operations. How can the Postal Service build strong relationships with its customers and encourage customer loyalty? Would consumer and business mailer online rating systems, similar to Yelp, be a useful tool for gleaning information about customer experiences?
  • on Jul 2nd, 2012 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 11 comments
    Could post offices be redesigned to improve their appearance and ease of use, perhaps modeled after the pleasant, comfortable designs of other retail outlets? The business world has seen a recent explosion of interest in design. Apple is a great example of a company that has reached an astounding market capitalization based largely on its focus and skill in design, both of its products and retail spaces. Starbucks has successfully positioned its retail locations as a “third place”— neither home nor work — where customers can savor a cup of coffee and enjoy a comfortable atmosphere for work or leisure. Retail bank lobbies use smart, neat designs that facilitate efficient customer transactions. Post offices, for the most part, do not seem to inspire the same feelings. Although some retail outlets are more attractive and functional, many post offices are nondescript and lack visible customer tools, such as a list of services and prices. Their absence can cause unnecessary delays and frustration. Post Office counters sometimes appear cluttered and disorganized, and generally unappealing. Post offices in classical older buildings are an exception, and they often serve as an attractive part of a town’s landscape. However, the interior design doesn’t always match the elegant external architecture. As Apple and Starbucks have demonstrated, design is not merely an aesthetic issue; it has consequences for the financial performance of a consumer-facing business. Should the U.S. Postal Service redesign post offices as part of its retail optimization plan and make them more appealing and user-friendly? Could such design improvements yield appreciable commercial or financial benefits? Or would design improvements be too cost prohibitive in the Postal Service’s current financial condition? Tell us — and show us — what you think. If you love the design of a particular Post Office, let us know where it is and post a picture if you can.

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