Monday, December 5, 2011

Making More By Providing Less?

You have to give the U.S. Postal Service credit for attempting to “think outside the box.” Only I can’t figure out which box they’re trying to think outside of.

Conventional business wisdom tells us keys to success and prosperity include providing quality products and/or services, along with generous doses of customer service. But it seems the Postal Service isn’t worried about appearing to be “conventional.”

Officials have announced that as bankruptcy looms, by next spring customers can expect less service – including elimination of any assurance that first-class mail will be delivered within one day. And delivery might be reduced from six days to five. But not to worry: Service may be slower and less satisfactory, but at least they plan to charge more for it!

The historic old post office in downtown
Charleston, S.C. is an artist marvel.
Forget about the motto, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Instead, it seems the new postal mantra will be, “Whenever!” (On a side note, Greek historian Herodotus coined the adage more than four centuries before the birth of Christ – and from all accounts, the economy in Greece is in dire straits these days. So I guess that means it’s okay to ditch the motto.)

Years ago I heard a speaker comment on the railroad industry, which for years had been the long-distance travel choice of Americans. However, railroad magnates got confused: Rather than recognizing their job was to provide efficient transportation, they focused on running trains. As a result, railroaders eventually lost their preeminent position to airlines, motorcoach companies and other modes of mass transportation.

I suspect the Postal Service has fallen victim to the same narrow thinking. Rather than recognizing their job was to deliver communications, they concentrated on the transport of written and printed materials and parcels. As a result, the quasi-government entity has steadily lost ground to UPS, FedEx and other delivery services, not to mention e-mail and the Internet.

While in college, I worked at a local post office for a couple of summers, but I’m certainly no expert on how to fix the Postal Service. I do recall, however, that even then there seemed little or no incentive for working hard – or working well. “Why bother, the union’s got your back” was a prevailing attitude I sensed.

Too bad the so-called “separation of church and state” is monitored so vigorously. I think if those who head the U.S. Postal Service were to heed some advice from the Bible, it could help a lot: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) and ”Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Cutting service significantly while increasing costs might seem like a good way to eliminate the postal shortfall, but in the process the USPS might ultimately cut off its nose to spite its face. Half-hearted effort wins no customers. That’s no way to do business.

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