• on Jan 20th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 4 comments

    Add “upkeep of postal facilities” to the list of tasks that get increasingly difficult to do under a budget crunch. Yet, Americans are passionate about their post offices, so it seems maintenance should be a priority.

    However, the U.S. Postal Service’s financial challenges have made it hard to maintain facilities. During fiscal years 2009-2012, the Postal Service experienced a $382 million decrease in its budget for facility repairs, alterations, and capital improvements, resulting in incomplete repairs or unmet capital improvements. Our recent audit report found about half of the incomplete repairs represent safety or security issues and potential future major repairs. 

    Future costs for these unfunded repairs could reach $1.4 billion. In addition, our work determined that some of these repairs were potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.

    The Postal Service operates 32,000 facilities throughout the country with 280 million square feet of space, and it includes post offices, mail processing facilities, and annexes. The Postal Service’s Facilities Department says employees and customers are not in danger, as it prioritizes repairs based on the safety and security of Postal Service property. Still, the Postal Service’s capital spending freeze initiated in 2009 has clearly had an impact on the ability to upgrade and repair facilities. The Postal Service spent 29 percent below the industry average on facility repairs in FY 2012. Lower priority repairs and improvements are less likely to occur, potentially leading to a longer-term cost.

    Our audit found the Postal Service lacking in developing a strategy to complete all necessary repairs and it did not always accurately prioritize repairs. We recommended it develop a strategy, reallocate funds to complete repairs, and reconcile its prioritization list annually.

    We welcome your thoughts.

    • How best can the Postal Service make the necessary repairs to its facilities while operating under budget constraints?
    • Will people be interested in buying or leasing Postal Service buildings that haven't been well maintained? Or could it affect the value of the properties?
    • Are there issues other than decreased funding that prevent the Postal Service from completing necessary repairs? 
  • on Dec 23rd, 2013 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 1 comment

    Holiday mailings are as much a part of the American tradition as kids’ letters to Santa.

    We’ve talked a lot about the growth in packages, including those all-important holiday gifts. But the Postal Service is also doing its bit to make sure Big Red knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. As in years past, families with young “believers” have been taking advantage of the Postal Service offering that ensures letters from Santa have a North Pole postmark (so long as the request was made by December 10).

    Still others go to greater lengths to get in the spirit of the season. Each December holiday enthusiasts travel to the quiet town of Christmas, FL and visit its local post office, so their Christmas cards will be postmarked from Christmas itself. And for early planners, the Postal Service offers postmarks on letters and cards from other “Christmas-themed” towns, including Santa Claus, IN; Rudolph, OH; Antlers, ND; and any number of places called Bethlehem. Click here for the full list. 

    Whether you are mailing your holiday greetings and goodies from an exotic locale or putting them on the front stoop for your local carrier to pick up – Pushing the Envelope wishes you a wonderful holiday season and a very healthy and prosperous New Year.

    We also want to remind you to check back with us on Monday, January 6 when we will post our list of Top 10 Stories of the Year. As always, we welcome your feedback. 

  • 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.

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