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Friday, January 13, 2012

Post office offers weekly reminders why it's failing

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The U.S. Postal Service was forced to close 500 under-performing post offices in 2011 and has 3,000 more on the chopping block. Current U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donohue has proposed eventually shutting down half of the nation's post offices and canceling Saturday mail delivery to cut costs. And next weekend, the USPS will raise postal rates for the seventh time in the last 10 years in a desperate bid to stay solvent.

It would, however, be much easier to muster sympathy for the post office if it weren't for asshole postal workers.

Take my experience this morning at the West Peachtree Street post office. When I finally made it up to the counter — the single employee helping people rang a bell for assistance when the line of customers stretched to eight or nine people — I took part in the following exchange. (I should preface it by revealing that, as a weekly post office customer, I'm familiar with all the standard questions and upselling tactics.):

Me: I'd like to send this package First Class. And, no, it doesn't contain anything liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous.

Lady postal worker: Does the package contain anything liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?

Me: I just told you it didn't.

LPW: No, you don't tell me — it's me who asks you!

OK, maybe I was a bit of a dick as well. But when you're standing in line watching postal workers leisurely going about their duties as if none of their customers had anywhere else to be, it gives you plenty of time to formulate theories as to why the USPS is going down the tubes.

Believe me, I don't think all postal workers are jerks who move in slow motion. The other day, I was waited on by an exceedingly pleasant, patient, and efficient woman — and I'm not holding her out as the rare exception. Also, I've never had a bad experience with a letter carrier; those people earn their paychecks. But I visit the post office often enough to have become convinced that lousy customer service is an enduring problem that, unfortunately, seems deeply ingrained within its culture.

That's why I'm saddened by nagging doubts about whether any amount of cost-cutting can save the post office from oblivion. I'm just glad I picked the right dying industry for my career.

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