Two weeks ago our postal advisory council met for a combined February and March meeting. (Our February meeting was postponed at the last minute.) Postmaster Crawford missed the meeting due to a death in his family, but we had four representatives from the post office present and plenty to talk about.
Our main agenda topic was the handling of passports at the Oak Park Main Post Office (the only post office in the three communities that offers passport services.) One council member experienced a very long line on a Saturday morning while mailing a package. Apparently the passport line was long and filled with (naturally) impatient children and both the lines for mailing services and the line for passports were running very slowly. The council member wondered if there could be better staffing for Saturdays, which are busy passport days because it is the only opportunity school children and people who work normal 9-5 hours have to get their passports. The post office representatives said that this is a particularly busy time for passports because people are preparing for spring break and summer trips. They offered that some post offices have “passport fairs” once a month/every six weeks when the window is open longer and is more heavily staffed.
The passport discussion was the perfect transition to my own experience in the passport line last month. I was renewing my passport (which you can do without going to the post office passport line) but I had a question about my documentation (my name changed since my last passport) so I stood in the passport line at least six to eight feet behind the customer being served. (For the record, the customers in line for stamps were standing closer to the passport customer ahead of me.) The passport clerk looked up and yelled, “IF YOU ARE IN LINE FOR PASSPORTS GET BEHIND THE LINE!” No signage in the post office directs you to stand behind a line. I didn’t even see a line…there were rugs on the floor, but no visible line. I was not breathing down the proceeding customer’s neck or lurking at the counter. I could not hear anything they were speaking about. And again, the customers in line for stamps were closer to the passport interaction than I was. If passports involve such private information that customers are getting yelled at for standing “too close” why are passports being handled in such a busy room? Of course everyone in line turned and looked at me and I was completely embarrassed. When I told my friend about the experience later that day she said that every time she goes to the Oak Park Main post office, somebody is getting yelled at by an employee. To me this type of behavior is unacceptable and the reason so many people despise the post office. I don’t think anyone expects a parade and a free gift for visiting the post office, but customers deserve courtesy. In any other retail/customer service job, this type of customer “service” wouldn’t fly, so why is it so common at the post office?
I debated about sharing this story during the meeting. It felt like “tattling” on someone. I didn’t use her name, I used her clerk number (from the receipt I received when I mailed my passport renewal.) But this is what I’ve learned from six months on this committee, making very little progress:
We cannot just complain about the post office. We have to direct our complaints to the post office. If you experience really bad customer service at the post office it is okay to ask for a supervisor. If you are constantly getting your neighbor’s mail, it is okay to call the post office and mention it. If your Amazon Prime package says it’s out for delivery but doesn’t show up for two more days, it’s okay to call and see what’s going on. If anything, the USPS needs to get an idea of where their customer service is at in order to begin the road to improvements. (And, just as importantly, if you have a compliment about the professionalism of your clerk or your carrier, the post office needs to hear that, too. They need to know that good service is appreciated!)
Moving on to another topic… We discussed the snow removal issues plaguing the mail carriers. In Oak Park, the homeowner’s snow removal ordinance only covers the public sidewalks, not the home’s walkway and stairs. Carriers find it difficult to navigate icy walks and stairs. The post office has printed notices to place in mailboxes of homes that have dangerous walkways and stairs but these are often ineffective. A mail carrier could skip delivery to these homes, but that means carrying all of that undelivered mail back to the post office and dragging it all back out again the next day…it’s often easier to just risk the ice and deliver the mail. The USPS has sued home owner’s in the past when carriers were hurt on the job due to falling on icy walkways and stairs (and injuries from dog bites.) Other than continued efforts at education customers, this seems like something the post office has little control over. One manager brought over a dozen pictures of houses with stairs and walks covered with more than a foot of snow and ice. The pictures were taken almost two weeks after our last big snow and were from a single carrier’s route in Forest Park. Homeowners should be doing better.
We also discussed the fact that the mailbox at the Oak Park Main Post Office was still surrounded by a few feet of snow. The committee wondered why the post office hadn’t done a better job of clearing its own box for its customers.
And lastly…the best part of the meeting was the public relations discussion. The committee is encouraging the post office to participate in Oak Park’s Day in Our Village and the Farmers’ Market. There is a mini “post office on wheels” that can be used at outdoor events to spread the word about post office services, sell stamps, and just spread good PR about the post office. The postal representatives mentioned that they could tie in the Farmers Market stamps with a special postmark at the Farmers Market. This idea was met with great enthusiasm…I hope it happens!
Our next meeting isn’t scheduled until April 22. In the meantime, fellow mail lovers, feel free to comment with your thoughts about the post office.