• 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 Products & Services | 11 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service has a wide spectrum of customers, from businesses and organizations to every household in the United States. Balancing the needs of these customers is no small task, yet satisfying them is essential to the Postal Service’s success. With that in mind, the Postal Service has made improving the customer experience one of the key elements of its strategic goals.

    For consumers, customer service ranges from wait time in lobbies to letter carrier service to interaction with postal staff at a Post Office. Business mailers might focus on different aspects of customer service, such as delivery performance, interaction with acceptance personnel, or how quickly a service problem is resolved. What customers might not realize is that the Postal Service relies on a number of systems to support customer services and to improve a user’s overall experience. These systems can also reduce manual inputs, increase efficiency, and streamline operations. Often seamless to customers, these sophisticated systems have helped to make mail a reliable method of communications. However, when they go down or work inefficiently, it can lead to negative customer experiences, which might impact future business opportunities.

    For example, business mailers use the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST) system to set up appointments to enter mail at postal facilities. FAST collects and monitors appointment data for the facilities, which improves the efficiency and effectiveness of appointment creation for both customers and Postal Service management. Business mailers also rely on PostalOne!, a suite of web-based business capabilities that allows mailers to integrate their mail planning and production processes with those of the Postal Service for “seamless” and efficient mail induction.

    Consumers are more likely to use the Postal Service’s website usps.com to research or access services, such as purchasing postage, looking up ZIP Codes, printing shipping labels, or submitting a change of address form. And although retail customers might not realize it, their customer experience hinges on the Point of Service (POS) Retail system, which automates retail transactions at post offices and other retail counters.

    When these systems are working properly, customers may not think about them at all. But if these systems experience an outage, the customer experience could be entirely different. Our office is reviewing these systems as part of an audit and would like to hear from customers. What have your experiences been when using FAST, PostalOne!, usps.com and other types of services? Are they consistently available? Or have you experienced system availability problems?

    For business customers, has system availability or slow response times affected your own internal processes, such as transportation schedules or other mail entry issues? For retail customers, have you had problems accessing information or services on usps.com? We also welcome comments of Postal Service employees on their experiences with these applications and the services they support.

    While the scope of our audit is limited to systems review, we welcome input on the entire customer experience.

  • on Apr 9th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 10 comments

    In 1963, the ZIP Code was introduced by the U.S. Postal Service as a means to deliver mail faster and cheaper. Fifty years later, this system has grown to provide unforeseen benefits as an infrastructure that enables commerce and organizes information. However, the ZIP Code was not universally accepted at the onset. To overcome skepticism from consumers and mailers, the Postal Service launched a creative outreach campaign led by a character called Mr. ZIP. This mailman caricature served as the primary advocate for the ZIP Code and increased public support for the idea enough to overcome the initial resistance from stakeholders. Below we interview Mr. ZIP to hear the story of the ZIP Code.

     


    As Mr. ZIP mentions in his interview, the Postal Service Office of Inspector General Risk Analysis Research Center has worked with IBM to issue a white paper entitled The Untold Story of the ZIP Code. This white paper explores the lessons learned from the creation of the ZIP Code and estimates an economic value for the ZIP Code of about $10 billion annually across the entire economy. Most importantly, the paper presents two enhancements to strengthen the ZIP Code’s placement in the modern world:

    • Combine the ZIP Code with the precision of geocodes (latitude and longitude coordinates)
    • Improve the ZIP Codes value in targeting by linking demographic information with the ZIP Code and Utilizing the full ZIP +9 or some variation to offer smaller mailing groupings.

    Combining the ZIP Code with geocodes could allow easier reconfiguration of delivery routes in real time as well as help align government in assisting disaster recovery efforts, tracking population “flight paths” to unaddressed areas, and increasing the capability to link demographics to unaddressed areas. Linking demographic information with the ZIP Code and offering smaller mailing groupings would improve target mailings. This would increase the value of mail for senders and receivers by connecting recipients with mail they want to receive and reducing less valuable broad mailings.

    What ideas do you have for enhancing the ZIP Code to meet the demands of today’s ever-evolving society? How might the Postal Service enhance the ZIP Code to gain internal benefits? What enhancements would place the ZIP Code in a better position to provide the innovators and entrepreneurs new capabilities to meet today’s demands?

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