Category Archives: Postal Consumer Advisory Council

USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 5

Love stamp 1992At our January Council Meeting, we continued to discuss the customer service surveys. (Some may say we were beating a dead horse with our continued belaboring, but others found the information useful.)

Postmaster Crawford was back in attendance and he brought some statistics regarding the surveys. Survey responses increased from 16 in the October report to 71 in the January report. This makes sense because so many more people are frequenting the post office during the holidays. The only negative responses on the surveys were related to the clerk’s attitude. Other questions include clerk’s knowledge, wait times and staffing. Postmaster Crawford said he was open to hanging signage in the post office to inform customers of the surveys, but needs to stay within the standard prescribed by the USPS.

Oak Park will be one of the first on the list to receive new vehicles and new scanners. The new vehicles will be better equipped to handle the large amount of packages the USPS will handle. The new scanners will have GPS to aid in delivery patterns.

Now that the holiday rush is over, the Postmaster needs to schedule a meeting with the village of Oak Park to discuss the education and enforcement of the snow removal ordinances. Suggestions from the Council included a note in the VOP Newsletter, a mention during Village board meetings and a piece on the local TV station. Members also suggested that the post office reach out to residents by hosting a booth during A Day in Our Village (a community event during the summer) and having an information table at the Farmers Market (which runs May-November).

We were reminded that as council members, it is our jobs to help to educate the public about the USPS. So here’s my PSA: Please keep your walks and stairs clear of snow and ice to help make your letter carrier’s job a little bit easier. And if you have elderly neighbors, give them a hand with clearing their walks and stairs. Your letter carrier will thank you for it.

Even though–at the time of the meeting–our area had not seen a large amount of snow or severely cold weather, Postmaster Crawford said he felt very confident that this season would be much better than last season* because of increased staffing and training. We had a huge snowfall on Sunday, 17+ inches and blizzard conditions. My building did not receive mail on Monday but delivery resumed on Tuesday.

That’s all we were able to cover since we spent such a large portion of the meeting discussing the surveys. Hopefully next month will be more productive.

As always, if you have any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear it!

 

*Last season’s mail delivery issues, chronicled here, were the catalyst for starting the council.

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meetings 3 + 4

vintage postal stamp, USPS 100th Anniversary of Mail Order stampOnce again, I am behind on my reporting for the USPS Consumer Advisory Council! I decided to combine the last two meetings of 2014 and I will recap our latest meeting next week. (To see the other Advisory Council notes, go here.)

During our November meeting, the Post Master went through line by line and addressed the committee’s concerns:

  • It was announced this month that Megan Brennan would be named the first female Postmaster General.
  • We asked for a suggestion box in all post offices so customers could anonymously leave complaints, suggestions or compliments for the Post Master.
  • We suggested that the Post Master’s office door be open when he is available so that customers know they can approach him. (But the Post Master also wants customers to know that they can always ask for a supervisor in each post office.)
  • We all agreed that more communication and enforcement needs to come from the villages in regards to keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice. The Post Master is going to set up a meeting with the village to share these concerns and to discuss communication and enforcement strategies.
  • Even though it is something that every counter window associate should be doing, we all agreed that no one ever points out the customer satisfaction survey at the bottom of the receipt. The USPS feels the survey is important, even though the rate of return is low…all supervisors should be proactive with counter employees, reminding them it’s part of their jobs to mention and circle the survey information.
  • A council member shared a story of a friend who went to the Oak Park Main Post Office to renew her passport. Even though she went during the stated passport hours, no one at the counter would help her because “the passport person was not there yet.” The Post Master stated that everyone who works at the post office counter is trained and able to do passports. If this ever happens again, ask for a supervisor.
  • 1st Class mail is shrinking, but thanks to the new contract with Amazon, package delivery is way up. (But sadly, the eventual goal of Amazon is to have their own package delivery system.)
  • We brought up the USPS website and its problems. 1) You have to go very deep in the website to find out how much a regular first class stamp it worth and how much it costs to send a letter internationally. (I totally agreed with this complaint. When I can’t remember, I go to the Letter Writers Alliance website for this information because it’s so much easier!) 2) Getting from the shopping cart back to browsing the stamps is very tedious. Actually navigating the whole site can be tedious. 3) Vacation holds often don’t sync properly with the local post offices and holds are missed or messed up.
  • Mailbox placement: committee members would like to see more drive-up “snorkel boxes” around Oak Park. The USPS uses a density test to determine which boxes are necessary. Mailboxes are taken out of service if they don’t generate mail. (Tip: If you like your neighborhood blue box, use it!!)
  • Some blue boxes are looking shabby, will need to be overhauled in the spring.
  • Lack of parking around the Oak Park Main Post Office is an urban issue…sadly there is nothing the USPS can do about lack of convenient street parking.
  • Window clerk customer service issues are being dealt with.
  • Letter carrier cell phone usage issues are being dealt with.

In December, the Post Master was ill, so our regular meeting business was put on hold. A regional postal manager led the meeting.

  • Suggestion boxes were installed in River Forest and OP South Station. The OP Main was delayed because it is a historic building so finding a useful place for the suggestion box that didn’t involve hammering into marble has been a challenge.
  • The Oak Park Post Office was an Amazon hub for Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Schiller Park, and Franklin Park Sunday deliveries.
  • The USPS is getting new scanners that will have GPS to help with package delivery and routing.
  • The mail trucks will also be replaced with a delivery vehicle that will be better for accommodating package delivery.
  • One of the biggest challenges of the post office right now is getting counter clerks to see themselves not as a government entity but as customer service associates.
  • One of the other business challenges of the USPS is the requirement from Congress that the USPS pre-fund their healthcare 75 years in advance.
  • Retail managers have been told to remind clerks to point out the surveys at the bottom of the receipts. Our homework for the month is to visit a local post office and to see if this is happening. The post office will share some survey results in January.
  • Relay boxes (the green ones that sit in our neighborhoods) are for mail carriers with foot routes (routes with no mail trucks) so they can pick up their next batch of mail.
  • Blue boxes can only be picked up after the posted time(s) and must be picked up every day. There are bar codes inside each box that must be scanned during pick up. If a box is missed, the regional supervisor gets a notification and someone has to go out and clear the box. (I’ve always wondered about this.)

I bolded a few things that were big takeaways for me. As I sit on this committee, I’m realizing how small things add up when it comes to customer satisfaction and how slowwwwwly things are going to change. I guess I just need to remember that even though the USPS survives without government money, it is still a government entity and therefore, is subject to a lot of red tape. And, our committee is here to help improve the Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park post offices, so focusing on that makes things feel a little more manageable.

How is your post office doing during these cold winter months? If you’re on the East Coast, have you gotten your mail during the big blizzard?

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 2

vintage postage stampsI’m a little behind in blogging about our second meeting of the USPS Consumer Advisory Council. We met last month to set a plan for our future meetings. We went around the room and each shared our personal list of three areas of improvement we’d like to see the Post Office focus on. We will devote the next meetings to tackling each item on the list. Here is the laundry list. Some items overlapped, but other items were unique to the individual council members. Items marked with an * are my responses.

  • customer service* (by far the most popular response and includes some of the items mentioned below)
  • facility maintenance
  • profitability
  • technology
  • supervisors/leadership
  • accessibility of management
  • signage
  • counter scheduling
  • placement of mailboxes
  • parking
  • partnering with village
  • passports
  • vacation holds
  • future of USPS
  • postal worker reputation
  • better advertising
  • worker health and safety
  • personal cell phone use by carriers during mail deliveries*
  • mis-deliveries*

We decided to tackle customer service in our November meeting (next week), working through counter scheduling, passports, vacation holds, cell phones, mis-deliveries, counter service and accessibility of management. Obviously, since we are working at a local level, it will be hard to tackle the entire list. For instance, regarding the postal technology point: we probably do not have enough pull to change the user-friendliness of the USPS website, but we can promote change with local package tracking. (If your package isn’t scanned by the carrier, the tracking is useless.)

Interestingly, the representatives from the USPS had their own list of top concerns:

  • misdelivery
  • worker attitude
  • product availability (The Oak Park PO is always out of stamps!)
  • worker safety
  • cell phone distraction

One member made a long speech about how our meetings were going to become “complaint sessions” and that we should be focusing on the positive. I personally feel like the committee was not created to sit around and pat the USPS on the back. The committee was created to fix the problems that are evident in the USPS and to help make the USPS better. While I appreciate the desire not to sit around and be a bunch of complainers, I think all of us on the council are very solution oriented and only have the post office’s best interest in mind. I’m looking forward to next month when we can finally get into the nitty gritty of our list.

As always, if you have any questions or feedback to pass along, don’t hesitate to get in touch via the comments or email.

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USPS Consumer Advisory Council Meeting 1

Field Notes Shelterwood, Postal Consumer Advisory CouncilLast week I attended my first meeting of the Oak Park area Postal Consumer Advisory Council. As I mentioned in this post, the council was formed due to many, many complaints last winter involving delayed and missed deliveries in the Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park (Illinois) areas. Our group’s goal is to help the post office see and fix their issues from the customer viewpoint, to collect customer complaints (and compliments!) from others in our neighborhoods and to help the post office educate its customers on some of their limitations.

There were several “department heads” at our meeting, including the Oak Park area Postmaster, Phillip Crawford and eight other Station Managers and other staff who work for the USPS in regional marketing and management. There were about ten customer volunteers ranging in age from 30s-70s. Most of the volunteers were long-term Oak Parkers and I was the lone representative from Forest Park. It was clear that everyone in the room understood that the problems were severe, and no one was making excuses (though there were explanations) and everyone seemed to genuinely love the post office. It felt good to be in the company of other USPS lovers!

I have so many thoughts and learned so much already, even though our first meeting goals were limited to outlining the purpose of the council and introducing ourselves. I have a hodgepodge of things to share this time. I think over the next meetings, there will be more structure and our conversations will be more focused on individual problems and solutions (for instance: late deliveries, missed deliveries, counter service, post office building conditions, etc.) But for this time, I decided just to share the most interesting details. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’m happy to clarify.

  • These consumer advisory councils were very popular in post offices through the 1980s. In the 90s they kind of fell out of favor. The USPS is hoping that by bringing some councils back, the relationship and flow of communication between the post office and its customers will improve.
  • The USPS sees package delivery as the future of the post office.
  • Oak Park will become a Sunday & Holiday delivery hub for area Amazon Prime customers. (A council member asked why the USPS would take on a new, large responsibility while they are still reeling from a disaster of a winter last year. But again, if package delivery is the future of the post office, how could they not take this opportunity?)
  • During the 2013 holiday season, the USPS expected a 14% increase in package volume. The actual increase was 39%. Obviously the USPS was sorely ill-prepared for the volume of mail. To be fair, FedEx and UPS experienced a lot of problems too. The Postmaster believes that this year, with better staffing and systems, they will be ready for another huge holiday season.
  • All routes in Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest now have permanent carriers. When a route doesn’t have a permanent carrier, another carrier would have to finish her route and then continue her day to finish another route. This obviously leads to delays in mail delivery, mistakes due to unfamiliarity and fatigued carriers. The Postmaster seemed confident that just by being comfortably staffed, the USPS is ready for the upcoming holidays. Plus, they have a small team of back-up carriers in case some of the newer carriers don’t work out. “Delivering mail isn’t for everyone.”
  • The River Forest carriers, who had been working out of the Oak Park South Station for the past two years, are now back at the River Forest Post Office.
  • One volunteer council member brought up the broken-down state of some of the blue mailboxes and had concerns about building maintenance.
  • We asked to have a letter carrier and a counter employee at some of the meetings as we discuss specific topics.
  • We discussed villages’ and customers’ roles in mail delivery. Oak Park (and I assume Forest Park and River Forest) has an ordinance that requires homeowners to care for their sidewalks during winter. However, this ordinance is rarely (or never, according to some Oak Parkers) enforced by the village. Snowy and icy sidewalks and streets not only slow down mail delivery, but they also make conditions dangerous for the letter carriers. The Postmaster told a story of one letter carrier in south Oak Park who delivered mail to a house in spite of its icy stairs. He fell and broke his tailbone and was out of work for several months.

One thing that the Postmaster told us as members of the advisory council is that he’d like us to be a bridge of communication to connect the post office to the area customers. Part of this role is collecting complaints (or compliments!) from my friends and neighbors. If you live in Oak Park, Forest Park or River Forest, Illinois and have a comment, complaint or a question about your mail delivery, post office counter service or anything else USPS related, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via email or twitter (details on my About page.) If you don’t live in our area, please feel free to comment as well (always feel free to comment!)

And, if you ever want immediate feedback about a customer experience issue, this is a more direct route to your Station Manager or Postmaster:

1-800-ASK-USPS

hotline@uspsoig.gov

I think that’s everything…whew!

P.S. Pictured above, my council notebook, a doctored up Field Notes Shelterwood.

 

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