• on Sep 14th, 2009 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 50 comments
    Like most retailers, the Postal Service uses mystery shoppers — customers unknown to the retail staff who fill out evaluations on their shopping experience — to determine how well retail units are performing. Not every postal retail unit is visited by mystery shoppers. Only units with a certain amount of revenue are included in the mystery shopper program.

    Mystery shoppers record how long they spent in line, how the retail unit looked, how courteous the retail associates were, and other details about their visit. For example, sales associates are supposed to ask whether a package contains anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous. Mystery shoppers are asked to note down whether anyone asked them this about their package.

    Five weeks ago, Pushing the Envelope dealt with the topic of “upselling.” Some of the questions on the mystery shopper evaluation relate to which products sales associates promote to their customers. Given the variety of customers and types of transactions, the need for a uniform approach to customers is important. Is it appropriate, however, to include items generally viewed as “upselling” in the mystery shopper program?

    What about the mystery shopper program in general? Is it effective or can it be improved? What do you think is the most effective way to ensure postal retail units provide good retail service?

    This blog is hosted by the OIG's Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

  • on Aug 10th, 2009 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 42 comments
    The Postal Service has a long and proud history in public service. It has always been viewed as part of the federal government, yet has also been told to “act like a business” and to be self-sufficient. These distinctions can lead to interesting real-world implications, such as the degree to which retail associates should “upsell” or otherwise assist customers as they transact postal business. On one extreme, some claim that retail associates should do everything to find the lowest price for the customer. On the other extreme, some believe that retail associates should maximize the revenue from each transaction, and if that means selling more than a customer “needs,” then so be it. Of course, there is a wide area between these two extremes, and the Postal Service is challenged to meet these sometimes conflicting goals of providing public service and maximizing profit. But are these goals really conflicting? What balance should the Postal Service strike between finding the best value for the customer and maximizing revenue? What factors should be considered in striking this balance – transaction time (keeping the line moving), customer satisfaction (the customer feels good about the transaction), ease of use (keeping the transaction and choices simple), public service (an obligation to find the best deal for the customer), standardization of retail experience (providing routine guidance to retail associates), or other factors? There are a wide variety of transactions, so striking the right balance is difficult. Nonetheless, by looking at specific examples, one can see the implicit tradeoffs. For instance, if a customer is mailing a rather heavy box that the retail associate presumes may contain books, should the retail associate ask the customer if it is solely books and offer the reduced Media Mail price? Or should the retail associate encourage the use of Express Mail or Priority Mail, and suggest additional special services? What are your thoughts about how the Postal Service should serve customers while generating revenue? This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).
  • on Nov 19th, 2008 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 29 comments

    The Woodfield Station located in Schaumburg, Illinois is an innovative, new retail environment that tests the limits of how the United States Postal Service interacts with customers and sells products and services. Dubbed the “Retail Learning Lab,” this completely redesigned post office serves as a testing ground for new products, new methods of serving customers, and new models for partnering with commercial businesses.

    The site features specially designed, free-standing self-service shipping areas, an expanded retail product display, several Automated Postal Center (APC) kiosks--some equipped with barcode scanners--and a DVD rental machine. It also features a comfortable seating area with free WiFi access, conference room rental, and an OfficeMax IMPRESS "store-within-a- store" offering office supplies and print and copy services.

    A significant feature is the open retail environment which encourages associates to interact differently with customers. Most customers are greeted at the entrance by an associate who offers to help meet the customer's needs for his or her visit. If appropriate, the employee escorts the customer within the store and offers solutions or explains how to complete tasks.

    Would you be more inclined to visit the post office if it offered a greater variety of self-service options? What if it offered services like WiFi and DVD rental?  What other innovations would you like to see at the post office locations?

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