A Lament, a Resolution, and a Great Idea

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIn my recent blog entry “Express Mail is Urgent and Should Be Delivered Immediately – Unless Fuel Is Expensive” I complained about a perplexing development from the United States Postal Service (USPS).

A Lament: Each month the USPS sends me two Express Mail deliveries. Each contains a CD of address changes, one for this magazine and the other for its sister publication, AnswerStat. It is a service that I happily subscribe to in order to keep our mailing lists as up-to-date as possible, helping ensure deliverability.

I really like the service, but I dislike Express Mail because I am required to sign for the deliveries. If I’m on the phone or out of the office when the mail arrives, then I have to wait until the next day. Moreover, signing for the packages always interrupts something seemingly more important.

When my deliveries arrived this month, I was out of the office. The carrier left my other mail and a card notifying me about my Express Mail packages. I expected them to be delivered the next day as was always done in the past, but they weren’t – or the day after that, or the rest of the week. I wasn’t concerned. Even though “Express Mail” sounds urgent, in my case it’s usually not. All I need to do is make sure that I have processed the updates prior to submitting the mailing list for the next issue; in this instance I had a three-week cushion.

Eventually, my local post office called to say that if I didn’t pick up my packages, they would be returned to the sender. Before I could ask them to simply deliver them, the postmaster explained that because of high fuel prices, they would only make one delivery attempt.

That’s nonsense – because they deliver mail to me every day. It’s not really going to take extra gas to drop off my Express Mail at the same time. How idiotic – and ironic, given that the package says, “Extremely Urgent – Please Rush to Addressee.” They should be encouraging people to use mail, not discourage it. But not delivering Express Mail in order to save fuel is a great reason for people to seek alternative carriers. Even more puzzling is that my carrier drives her own vehicle, and I understand that she pays for gas; the USPS merely pays mileage, so in this instance their costs don’t change, regardless of the price of gas.

A Resolution: When I picked up my “Extremely Urgent” Express Mail Packages the next week, I tactfully complained. “I can appreciate that it’s a hassle for the carrier to have to get my signature, but it’s also a huge hassle for me. It’s there any way to work around this?”

I was excited when she quickly acknowledged a remedy; I was just as quickly dismayed when she explained it. The solution was simply asking the sender (in this case, another part of her own organization) to not require a signature. I tried not to snicker; I had made that request years ago only to be smugly told that a signature was a mandatory requirement of the address change service.

Nevertheless, out of sheer frustration and slightly encouraged by my postmaster, I tried again. I expected it to be a long, daunting task. The first dilemma was where to begin. I looked at my bill – yes, the USPS charges me for each address change notice that they send me. I called the number on the bill. The person who answered was challenged at comprehending my question and perplexed about where to even transfer my call. To her credit, she did spend time trying to obtain a baseline of comprehension so she could correctly route my call. After we played “Twenty Questions,” she transferred me.

The second person comprehended what I wanted but confirmed that she was not the person to help me. She transferred me to a third person.

This individual was in the correct department. She understood my question – and told me that suppressing the signature requirement wasn’t an option. Her confident solution was for me to simply tell my carrier that it was okay to leave the package in my mailbox without a signature. I countered with the words of my local postmaster. With a somewhat restrained sigh, she halfheartedly promised to check into it and call me back. I was seemingly no closer to a solution, but at least I wouldn’t be transferred again.

To my surprise, she called back that same day with good news. The signature requirement could indeed be suppressed. All I needed to do was send her this request via email. I quickly dispatched the message, and she soon replied with a confirmation that the change had been made. To my delight, she also told me the name of my account manager – in six years, I never knew I had one!

A Great Idea: Despite being transferred twice, receiving wrong information, waiting for a callback, and being required to confirm my request in writing, there were many good things that happened.

First, my problem was resolved – let’s not lose sight of that. Next, I was given useful information (the name of the person managing my account). Thirdly, although the initial person I talked to misrouted my call, she did make an admirable effort to understand what I was calling about and who should handle it. Then, the final person I talked to did what she promised, promptly called me back, and confirmed everything in an email.

What I haven’t yet mentioned was something the second person did. After carefully listening to me and asking clarifying questions to ensure she understood what I wanted to accomplish, she astounded me by saying, “If the person I transfer you to can’t help you, call me back, and I will work with you until we find the right person.” She then confirmed her number and repeated her name.

She took ownership of my problem when she didn’t need to, giving me assurance that she would work with me in navigating her organization’s bureaucracy. This action was so customer-centric and soothingly comforting, but I’ve never had anyone else do it.

I think it’s a great idea that every organization should adopt; how about you?

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine October 2008]

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  1. Pingback: The October 2008 Issue of Connections Magazine | Connections Magazine

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