• 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 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?

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