Customer Service #Fail : How the USPS Nearly Ate My $100

Posted: April 23, 2010 in Bad publicity, best practices, corporate responsibility, customer service
Tags: , , , , ,

I recently ordered something pretty important to me. It was an eBay purchase, a painting to be precise. The post office left a notice on the 16th because apparently I was out when they delivered. What’s more, aside from the fact that if I’m going to pick the package up at the post office, I’ll need to make a 2-hour trip out of it, as my post office is an approximately 45 minutes drive (one guy I talked to there last year on the phone said it’s only 30 minutes with all the slow speed limits and stops, but they’ve never made the drive, which is always over 40 minutes–one way–for me every time).

In times past, under similar circumstances, I’d had artwork shipped from Japan. AT that time, they told me they held such items for 2 weeks. So I’m thinking, “I still have plenty of time.” Keep this in mind…

Fine, so I’ll just call them to re-deliver, right? Wrong. I can’t, because the phone number on the form…isn’t the right number. Either that or no one answers. eventually, after an entire week of the phone ringing every day I call them, I realize that they’re not answering the freaking phone, ever. I check the number on Google maps. Nope, it’s correct. I call the post office 1-800 number today, amidst the 1,000 things I need to get done today before 5pm, and guess what? The rep kindly tells me that my $100 package has been returned to the shipper…in China!

Great, so now I’m on the phone with the rep at the 1-800 number and she not only isn’t listening to what I say, but she has to read a scripted reply to each of my responses that is quite frankly the most annoying thing I’ve ever been asked to listen to, not to mention that it is like saying “okay, just hold your horses while I frame each of my responses in about 1,000 syllables”. I try not to vent at her for being the person answering the phone. But I just about can’t help it, after all, it’s USPS, their employee and their script, not to mention their foul-up to begin with. Still…I keep it cool as possible.

Eventually….and I mean eventually…she gives me the NEW (aha!) phone number to my post office, you know, the one that is over 45 minutes away (we’re not even counting the drive back or the 1-hr waiting line, are we? nah…). And she’s still apparently talking to me, reading a scripted, framed lead-up to asking me something apparently crucial, just as press the hang up button out of broiling impatience at this point…

I call the new number. Only this number doesn’t ring incessantly without anyone picking it up, it simply gives a 24-7 busy signal. Change? Yes. The right kind of change? No.

So now I can’t even vent about my problem to a USPS rep, let alone get my $100 shipment back. Crestfallen, disheveled, angry, bitter, I turn to you and shake my tiny fists toward heaven.


JUST as I was about to publish this bad boy, the new number for my post office actually answers the phone. And now guess what? They STILL HAVE MY PACKAGE! A few time in my life I’ve felt both exhausted, elated, and somehow bitterly confused…and this is one of those times. And if I had assumed, based on my lengthy disappointing attempts to connect with the last phone number, and the several failed attempts already experienced today to reach them via the new phone number, that my package had indeed been returned to China? Let me tell you something. I’d have been one unhappy camper (with a blog about marketing and all things branding and customers service)!

So in the end, my package didn’t go back to China. That’s a win. The hot line did give me the correct number. I guess you can call that a win for USPS. The fact that my post office is leaving notices for Richmond, TX addresses with an expired phone number (that there is no effective way to discover, due to the wrong info online, as well)? Well, that part is not a win for USPS. And it doesn’t help much that the USPS hot-line gets me worked up by telling me definitively that my package has been already returned (again, to CHINA).

Now, I guess you could call this a case study #Fail for USPS, true. But I hope the company is listening. Why? Because this is also an opportunity to not only correct the 2008-circa notice they leave on people’s doors, but to change the protocol and procedures to ensure that this type of thing (which you can bet is going on a lot–same notice for all, remember?) doesn’t happen to a recipient of a delivery every again. If I was the CRM contact for USPS (a functional company, BTW, no longer a government service), I’d want to know about this incident and I’d want to get it fixed so that it won’t “almost” happen to anyone else, or worse yet, “actually” happen to anyone else.

And one PS: Dear USPS, the closest post office to me and my fellow Houston-hugging Richmonders is NOT the one you think it is. Frankly, we’re a bit exasperated that you think that’s a location for us, when we can drive just 5 miles away to get a convenient location on the main strip. Please consider allowing us to select which post office handles our mail. I know not every wish is doable, but this little switch toward one-on-one customer relations might really pay off huge dividends. As to the details of fitting this kind of (no doubt) significant request into your to-do list, I’ll quote Boss Hog from The Dukes of Hazard: “Handle-it handle-it?”

  1. J.J. says:

    Nice! USPS is the worst. UPS beats the crap out of USPS. Not they couldn’t probably fix that?

    • Mark Brimm says:

      My thoughts exactly. UPS has seldom failed me. USPS has seldom succeeded. Still, the point of the post is partly to notify decision makers, who do not make it possible to be reached in a normal phone conversation, just what the heck the company is doing.

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  3. Can’t say that I have that issue. But I can relate to missing an international package due to a USPS screw-up. This country has probably the worst postal service track record of any I’ve lived in!

    • Mark Brimm says:

      I actually lived in China at one point, and I’ll have to say it was MUCH easier receiving a package from the US at the local Chinese post office than it is receiving one from anywhere in the good ole’ US of A (or China!).

  4. I agree that the post office you’re stuck with ought to be either close to you or the one you choose. What’s with out of your way post office locations that require you to pass much closer ones on the way!

  5. Thomas Rainey says:

    I wish USPS would start acting MORE like a REAL efficient, go-getting, forward-looking business, and less like a contented government agency of utterly safe labor. Those days are supposed to be over, aren’t they?

    • Mark Brimm says:

      Funny you should ask…

      For anyone out there who isn’t sure about this, under The USPS occupies a mighty queer position among companies in the pre-2010 world we live in now.

      On the one hand, Title 39, Section 101.1 of the United States Code is still in force, and it states the United States Postal Service is STILL an agency of the federal government, while taking on

      “some several very non-governmental attributes via the powers granted to it under Title 39, Section 401, which include:

      * power to sue (and be sued) under its own name;

      * power to adopt, amend and repeal its own regulations;

      * power to “enter into and perform contracts, execute instruments, and determine the character of, and necessity for, its expenditures”;

      * power to buy, sell and lease private property; and,

      * power to build, operate, lease and maintain buildings and facilities.” *

      * (Cf: )

      So, I think the problem here is one of motivation. Since government employees can bank on a safe employment regardless of performance, there may be no incentives in place while working for a quasi-agency/business whose aim is not to make a profit but, to “break even”. Little chance of being fired, and usually even less chance of being promoted–for decades!

      My advice to the USPS, become a full-on business whose task is to become profitable through innovative products and quality service that makes it once again the preferred mode of mail delivery. A control without productivity is no control at all. A government agency/business that doesn’t turn a profit is a wasted opportunity to lessen the tax burden on the average citizen. You don’t have to gorge on the consumer to be competitive. And the USPS is certainly NOT competitive in its current mode.

  6. Oh, that was really frustrating! If that happened to me, I’d feel the same way. I haven’t experienced it yet with USPS but I’ve heard a lot of bad things and testimonies from my friends and other people I’ve known about USPS. Hope they would do something to prevent such problems to occur again.

    It seems little wonder that some people stop using the United States Postal Services; their rates go up as their services go down. It seems, to me, worth the extra cost to use FedEx or UPS.

    • Mark Brimm says:

      Good point, Shane. the prices for USPS keep rising like always, but (at least my own repeat experience seems to be) the quality keeps sinking, fewer if any packages get through.

      While I’m also not big on DHL, for instance, still I’ve had instances where DHL got through to me, whereas USPS seldom (if ever…) has, and UPS always seems to connect my packages with me.

      I could probably do one of the best commercials for UPS they’ve ever had. I’ve probably had many hundreds of packages delivered in the past year or 2, always happy to see the truck pull up in the window, hear the bell ring, and know that they are going to drop it at the door and leave without batting an eye. It’s like they know I work from home and that I’m not coming to the door in 10 seconds or less cause I’m probably in the office working. Maybe the business name on the to address gives it away?

      And for the record, I’ve probably begged more vendors to ship via UPS, always offering to pay extra. It’s just always totally worth it to know you will get your package on the day it is delivered when your business depends upon it.

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