• on Feb 22nd, 2014 in Products & Services | 3 comments

    Postal customers took fewer trips to the Post Office this past holiday season but that doesn’t mean they spent less on postal products. They just conducted more business through alternative channels, such as online at USPS.com and self-service kiosks. Over the 2013 holiday season, transactions at brick-and-mortar post offices were down 8 percent compared to last year, but transactions through alternative access were up 17 percent, postal officials reported.

    The movement to online postage transactions certainly mirrors the larger societal shift toward e-commerce and mobile commerce. But the big shift over the holidays to alternative access could also be the result of reduced hours at some post offices. Customers will shop where they find it most convenient, and in some locations post offices are opened only a few hours a day. This certainly makes Village Post Offices and contract postal units, self-service kiosks, and online purchasing more attractive. Many of these options are available 24 hours a day.

    The U.S. Postal Service recognizes that it needs to be where people find it most convenient to buy postage or other mailing services. The Postmaster General stated as much at the recent Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee meeting when addressing alternative access, including the Postal Service’s decision to partner with Staples. But alternative access retail options have limitations, which if not addressed could frustrate customers and leave some money on the table.

    Our recent audit of self-service kiosks found that customers are not using kiosks as much as anticipated for a few reasons: they sometimes are located in hidden parts of the lobby; kiosk signage is not always visible; and lobby assistants are not always available or fully trained to help customers help themselves. In addition, self-service kiosks are generally housed in retail outlets with the highest mail volume, primarily urban and suburban areas. Low-traffic retail outlets, often in rural areas, get a double whammy. They are not likely to have a kiosk and their Post Office hours are reduced.

    How can the Postal Service ensure that customers receive suitable services while reining in operating costs? Does the Postal Service need more self-service kiosks, or should it redistribute the 2,500 now in service? What incentives might the Postal Service offer merchants to house Village Post Offices? Or should the Postal Service restore hours to its own post offices, even those that are not profitable? 

  • on Feb 18th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 19 comments

    There’s no lack of opinions in Washington about what the U.S. Postal Service should do to get out of its precarious financial situation. Cut this, add that, restructure these, and so on. But what about the public? What do Americans want - expect - from the Postal Service?

    Our office commissioned focus groups across the nation, speaking with scores of people young and old, from rural areas and big cities. The goal was to gauge perceptions of the Postal Service to understand what Americans not only want from the Postal Service, but also need from it. The results are compiled and analyzed in our new white paper, What America Wants and Needs from the Postal Service.

    One key finding was that (a), many participants mistakenly believed that the Postal Service receives taxpayer funding, and (b), when they learned the Postal Service is in fact self-funded, much like any other business, nearly everyone’s views and expectations began to soften, allowing for greater flexibility and compromise on service.

    Overall, we found that Americans were most willing to accept a reduction in a particular service they are currently pleased with. For instance, most rural participants were open to – even excited by – the possibility of shifting to cluster box delivery because it could provide more security in locations where mail theft and mail box vandalism are common. Reduced number of delivery days was also acceptable to almost all participants.

    Among other key findings, all but two of the total 101 participants said they would, in general, be affected to some degree if the Postal Service were to disappear. And rural participants viewed post offices as community centers, while urban participants saw them as a convenience.

    The big take-away: We found that what Americans need from the Postal Service is much less than what they want, and they are willing to make trade-offs to maintain a certain level of service. What America Wants and Needs from the Postal Service [link] details the trade-offs, highlighting some of the different preferences that emerge when urban and rural populations are compared. And yet, among the differences, a common theme is also evident – Americans still value the Postal Service.

    Tell us your thoughts:

    • What do you need and want from the Postal Service?
    • Did you know that the Postal Service is self-funded?
    • Does that knowledge affect your opinion or expectations regarding Postal Service services? 
  • on Feb 3rd, 2014 in Products & Services | 16 comments

    Most postal pundits agree the U.S. Postal Service can’t cut its way to prosperity. It needs to generate new revenue to succeed over the long run. But whose job is it to sell the steak as well as the sizzle? The postmaster general? The Postal Service sales staff? Postmasters, clerks, carriers? Yes, yes, and yes. It would seem everyone has a role to play in reaching out to potential new customers.

    Think about it. No one knows the Postal Service’s products and services better than postal workers. They also have daily contact with customers and they know their local communities extremely well. These factors present a huge opportunity to tap burgeoning markets, such as the 23 million small businesses in the country, as our audit indicates.

    The Postal Service has established a variety of initiatives to target small businesses, such as Every Door Direct Mail, the No Business Too Small online portal, and Business Connect. Every Door Direct, which encourages mom-and-pop stores to use mail to expand their customer base, has been extremely successful. On the other hand, Business Connect, an effort to harness postmasters’ knowledge and connections in their communities to generate sales, has had a harder time gaining traction. Our work suggests there’s a lot of potential for revenue growth from Business Connect that has yet to materialize.

    One problem could be incentives, or the lack of them. Postal employees, like most workers, are probably more likely to prioritize their tasks based on what their managers emphasize and reward. In that respect, many postmasters feel enormous pressure to keep workhours and costs down while keeping service up. So this might be their primary focus. Without the right incentives to encourage sales and customer outreach, motivation might be lacking.

    Another problem could be training, or the lack of it. Many employees have never been trained in sales and still others are probably not particularly comfortable with that role. Is the Postal Service providing employees with the training and skills they need when they are asked to reach out to customers in programs such as Business Connect?

    Selling the business is to the advantage of everyone who works for it. But if the Postal Service wants to institutionalize this responsibility and require that its employees reach certain targets, then proper incentives, training and support are critical.

    Should postal workers be required to “sell” the Postal Service? Would a system of financial incentives, such as those used in the private sector, work best, or would another type of reward be more effective? 

Pages

This site provides a forum to discuss different aspects of the United States Postal Service and how it can be improved. We encourage you to share your comments, ideas, and concerns.

This is a moderated site—we will review all comments before posting them. We expect that participants will treat each other with respect. We will not post comments that contain vulgar language, personal attacks of any kind, or offensive terms that target specific individuals or groups. We will not post comments that are clearly off-topic or that promote services or products. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted.

We ask that reporters send questions to the USPS OIG Media Office through their normal channels and refrain from submitting questions here as comments. We will not post questions from reporters.

We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. Given the need to manage Federal resources effectively, however, we will review comments and post them from 9:00 a.m—5:00 p.m Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. We will read and post comments submitted after hours, on weekends, or on holidays as early as possible the next business day.

To protect your own privacy, and the privacy of others, please do not include personal information or personally identifiable information such as names, addresses, phone numbers or e-mail addresses in the body of your comment.

Except when specifically noted, any views or opinions expressed on this forum (or any other forums available via an RSS feed) are those of the individual bloggers. The views and posted comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, or the Federal government.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy and disclaimer. We plan to blog weekly on as many emerging new media topics as possible. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.