• on Sep 23rd, 2013 in Products & Services | 22 comments

    Until the early 1970s, citizens applying for passports had to wait in long lines at one of 10 U.S. Department of State passport offices or at a federal or state court. The traveling public was not happy about the inconvenient locations of these offices or the hours’ long wait to submit an application, and they let their elected officials know. The solution allowed post offices to accept and process passport applications on behalf of the State Department. The passports were then mailed directly to the applicants.

    This arrangement has proven to be a highly successful marriage of government services. With many post offices offering passport services, it has become far more convenient for citizens. Today, customers can go online to find the nearest post office with passport services and also find the number to call to make an appointment. (Most post offices require customers to make an appointment for passport service.)

    The execution fee for a passport is $25. In fiscal year 2012, the U.S. Postal Service processed 5.7 million passport applications for revenue of $142 million. With the additional services it offers, such as passport photos and return postage, the Postal Service’s total revenues from passport services in 2012 was $182 million. It is a nice chunk of change for a service the Postal Service does not need to market aggressively. Still, the Postal Service has seen a significant decline in passport revenue over the past 4 years. In 2008, it earned $283 million from passport services.

    The decline in passport revenue could be attributed to a few things. First, the weak economy has undoubtedly reduced international travel over the past 4 years. It could also be that 2008 was an especially strong year for passport revenue because changes taking effect in 2009 required a passport to return to the U.S. from travel to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. However, postal staff reduction and facility closures could also be playing a role. Customers have complained about waiting too many days or weeks for a passport appointment at their Post Office or about being directed elsewhere for service.

    Why do you think passport services revenue has declined so dramatically in the past few years? Is there a way the Postal Service could improve the process? What changes could it make to maximize passport revenues?

  • on Sep 9th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 1 comment

    Anyone who would argue that social media is not a critical communications tool for businesses and organizations probably still listens to 8-track tapes and uses an abacus. Social media – when done right – can increase transparency, facilitate collaboration, promote brand awareness, build community, and help an organization solve problems. A recent audit report from the Office of Inspector General recognizes the U.S. Postal Service’s early efforts in social media, but also cites opportunities for the organization to strengthen its social media presence.

    Social media is generally recognized as online tools that integrate technology, social interaction, and content creation. Social media pioneers, such as American Express and Nike, found the best way to reach customers was to engage them directly and have a “conversation” with them. A number of federal agencies have found success with social media in promoting their missions or particular programs, or alerting citizens to important events and activities. Early adopters such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with its spectacular space imagery, and the Transportation Security Administration, with a clever use of Instagram, have large and loyal followings.

    The Postal Service entered the social media scene in 2009 with the launch of a popular Stamps Facebook page. From there it broadened its social media presence with Business and Human Resources recruitment pages on Facebook and LinkedIn efforts, our report noted. The Postal Service finally ventured into Twitter, YouTube, and smaller social media sites, including its philatelic Stamp of Approval blog, in 2011. Today, it has a web presence on 18 social media web pages, but it is still developing a centralized blog about wider Postal Service policy, mission, or products.

    The Postal Service could use social media to better communicate with stakeholders, our report determined. In particular, the Postal Service could solicit input from stakeholders, or tailor a conversation with specific industry groups using targeted creative blogs or other social media sites. The Postal Service could also link its various social media sites for easy customer navigation. Our report recommended the Postal Service consider designating a social media liaison in each of its product and services group to provide more dynamic response to customer feedback.

    For an organization grounded in hard copy communications, the Postal Service is highly supportive of social media. It has a plan in place to ramp up its social media presence and engagement, and strengthen its sharing of feedback and analyses. Do you see areas the Postal Service could explore? As a postal stakeholder, are you inclined to use social media to learn about Postal Service products and services? How does your company use social media to engage customers?

  • on Sep 2nd, 2013 in Labor | 4 comments

    For many Americans, Labor Day marks the end of summer and a day to grill hot dogs or enjoy the pool one last time before it closes for the season. Labor Day’s history is often overlooked. It was started to salute the social and economic achievement of American workers, and to pay tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength and prosperity of the country.

    The Labor Department says on its website: “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

    So we take the opportunity in our annual Labor Day blog to salute all the postal workers who keep the mail moving and ensure the Postal Service fulfills its mission of binding the nation together. We also note the Postal Service is the foundation that supports a larger $1 trillion mailing industry. Keeping the mail moving means another 8.4 million workers are enjoying Labor Day as well. Among the other industries that rely on a healthy Postal Service are the paper and printing industries and their suppliers, direct mail design, fulfillment companies, private delivery services, and mail management departments across all industries.

    While the Postal Service is the engine that drives a major industry, it is also often an important part of the local community. The annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive is so effective because of the Postal Service’s presence in every community. Postal workers are often the first people back at work in areas affected by a natural disaster, providing critical deliveries of medicine and checks even when power is out and roads are blocked. Every year, postal employees around the country risk their own safety to save the lives of customers they serve. In 2012, the Postal Service recognized 313 of these employee heroes. The Carrier Alert program relies on the presence and awareness of letter carriers to monitor the well-being of elderly and disabled customers. And so many other deeds go unheralded.

    So on this Labor Day we salute not only America’s postal workers, but the American workforce.

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