Sunday, August 24, 2008

USPS: The Yin and Yang of Customer Service

Within one hour last week, I had the BEST and WORST customer service experiences with the United States Post Office (USPS). [I'm not sure Yin and Yang is the best way to describe this, but it's close enough.]

The situation:

We went away for two weeks. We used the online form at to hold our mail for two weeks. When the form asked if I wanted it delivered or if I wanted to come pick it up, I chose "pick up" because our mailbox is a useless 3" x 3" tube that doesn't hold anything more than a post card. [This is because our home owners association and ARC seems to feel that large mailboxes are unslightly and not in keeping with the colonial feel of our neighborhood. Of course, electricity doesn't really match the colonial spirit, either, but don't get me started on this topic.]

Then, I talked to a friend who said that they'd bring the mail in one of their big boxes and put it on our doorstep. Hey! That sounded great! Especially since my car was going to be in the shop when we got back from vacation, and I wouldn't be able to drive to get the mail. So, I decided to call my local post office to see if I could have them bring the mail to us.

First: the BAD

I went to the website to lookup my office in Springfield, Virginia 22152, and get the phone number. Well, they don't publish the local numbers; they only show the main 1-800-ASK-USPS. Sigh. So, I called this main line.

The USPS automated voice system is a BEHEMOTH. It is monstrous to behold, like that multi-tentacled beast in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Mere mortals dial into this phone system to test their mettle and bravery in battle against forces greater than themselves.

After some amount of 'battle,' I got to the part where I could get a human being on the phone, and after waiting for some amount of time, a woman picked up the phone and said in a curt voice,
"The system is down, call back later" and hung up on me.

Hung up on me.

Didn't even find out why I was calling. What if she could have answered the question without the 'system'? What if she already knew she couldn't help me? What if what I wanted was on the web site and she could just send me there? What if I was calling to say that the building that the call center was in was ON FIRE? Would it have killed her to at least give me a chance to speak and then apologize that she couldn't help?

Man, I was ANGRY.

I dialed back and did battle with the phone system again. By taking a different fork in the path, and then another and another and another and another, I DID finally manage to get the local number of my office. I suspect that with enough patience, one could actually find out just about anything.

Now: the GOOD

I called my local post office and spoke with "Diane," who didn't know me from Adam, so to speak. When I explained the situation, she offered to drive out our mail, right then, personally, herself. I couldn't believe it. She said that she could use a break from the office and that there was indeed a lot of it. So, 10 minutes later, there was Diane on my doorstep, with a big smile and a huge box of mail.

WOW, you're amazing Diane. Talk about exceeding customer expectations. Speaking as a former Disney employee, I can tell you that there is a place for you at that company. You are a super-star of customer service!

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