Our (Un)reliable and (In)efficient United States Postal Service

Why you cannot trust the USPS for your mail

07/16/14

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Back before the days of the Internet and email, we had (or used to had) a reliable service when you needed to write a letter or mail a check to pay that bill that came due:  The United States Postal Service.  Back in those days, just a postage stamp on a letter got it there in a timely fashion.  You used to rely on your friendly letter carrier to not only pick up your mail but to deliver your mail as well (unless, of course, you want to protect your privacy (as well as your residential street address from dabbling and nosy mail marketers) by renting a post office box).

 

With the recent increase in 2012 of the price of a First Class letter from 44 cents to 45 cents plus the news that the (un)reliable United States Postal Service wants to deliberately slow down the speed of First Class Mail, I decided to come up with a topic on the United States Postal Service, specifically as to how your mail gets from Point A to Point B and how postal employees unfavorably interact with the public.

 

One of my major responsibilities at my day job is the processing of incoming and outgoing USPS mail.  Over the years, I have seen things such as damaged mail as well as the poor customer service from the USPS when you have to interact with a USPS window unit employee to mail a certified letter.  As such, on my lunch break I jotted down some notes, a few based on what you see from the USPS when you receive damaged mail.

 

So, without much further ado, please let me introduce you to our (Un)reliable and (In)efficient United States Postal Service as we know it today.  Believe me, after you read this you'll know why you cannot trust the USPS for the efficient delivery of your mail.

 

PDF print format versions of this topic are available if you would like:   Part 1      Part 2

(Note:  PDF print format versions will open in their new window)

 

If you would rather view this topic in HTML, you can click on a link to jump to a part:  Part 1    Part 2   Part 3

 

Part 1:  Myths of the United States Postal Service

Just a 44 cent stamp will get it there quick!

Yes, a 44 cent stamp will get your letter there, but quick isn’t always.  It’s true that letters get lost or damaged in handling in transit while in the Postal Service.  The expression “the check is in the mail” just doesn’t cut it when your recipient calls you, especially if it’s a bill you got to pay.

Mailing from Point A to Point B in St. Petersburg will not be an easy route as you think.  All mail will have to go through Tampa which will magnify the chance of your letter getting lost or damaged in transit.

I’ll send it Certified Mail to prove it got there!

Of course Certified Mail gives you a signature record of proof, but it doesn’t happen about 75% of the time.  Return Receipt cards don’t get mailed back if at all, necessitating a trip to your Post Office so that you have to stand in a long line and speak with a belligerent Window Clerk who does not understand what you are talking about.  Once the clerk understands you then a duplicate return receipt is ordered, which you must bring your original Certified Mail receipt postmarked or else pay $6.60 (as of 2011).

I can track my Certified Mail on the U.S. Postal Service website!

Good luck!

Entering your Certified Mail article number to see if it has been delivered is a challenge.  Most of the time you enter your article number and you get a “no results” message, especially several days later when you think your certified letter was delivered.

If you want to really find out if your Certified Mail letter was indeed delivered, you will have to make a trip to your Post Office so that you have to stand in a long line and speak with a Window Clerk who does not understand what you are talking about.  Once the clerk understands you then a duplicate return receipt is ordered, which you must bring your original Certified Mail receipt postmarked or else pay $6.60.

I receive mail at my Post Office Box!

Post Office Boxes are great to have for security and privacy reasons (and to keep your residential street address off of the mail marketer's radar) and I agree with you.  However, more and more merchants ship their goods not through the United States Postal Service but through a private carrier such as FedEx, UPS, or DHL.  The caveat here is that you have to supply a street address, which nine times out of ten has to be your work street address because no one is home throughout the day.  You could have it delivered to your home street address, but you will have to take time off from work to do so.

 

Street address danger:  If you supply a merchant your physical street address so that they can ship your goods via FedEx or UPS, you have given the merchant permission to contact you periodically via the United States Postal Service - at your physical street address!  Here's what you can do to keep dabbling and nosy merchants out of your residential street address:

 

1.  Send a request to the merchant's customer service department.  Most merchants have a "Contact Us" link where you are given an opportunity to send a message to customer service related to your order.  Let them know that the merchant is shipping your goods via FedEx or UPS and that you have given permission for your street address to be used only for the purpose of shipping your goods and no other.  In other words, you have not given the merchant permission to contact you at your street address so that they can send you catalogs, etc. via the United States Postal Service.

 

2.  File a permanent change of address order with the post office that serves your residential street address.  This will place your post office of your street address on notice that all your mail is to be delivered to your post office box.  As these permanent change of address orders are on file for only one year, you may want to re-file your permanent change of address order once a year.  Also, if you change post office boxes, make sure that you file a new permanent change of address order that forwards all your mail to your new post office box.

Someone tells me “you will get it in the mail”!

That’s a good lie!

 

Someone says that he or she put it in the mail - or that you are asking for something (let's say you're a college student and you need to find out what your final grade in a class is so that you can plan for next term) and the response is that it will arrive in the mail - and it does not arrive, if at all.  Which is why the United States Postal Service cannot be trusted for sending items of a time and/or recipient sensitive nature.

 

For you college students out there:  There are times when you worry what your final course grade will be, and your instructor kept you in the dark even before the date to withdraw from a class without any grade penalty.  Believe me, it has happened to me a few times when I went to college (and that was back in the days before the Internet as we know it today).

 

Most colleges and universities today post your grades the moment they are received from your instructor.  That way, you can log in to your online student record to see if you have to repeat the course again due to a low grade (and help save your GPA).  Moreover, colleges and universities save a tremendous amount of money by not having to mail out final grade reports like they used to in the pre-Internet days.

 

If you happen to attend a college or university that still mails out grade reports at the end of a term, it is your right and your obligation to plan ahead for the next term, even if it means repeating a class due to a low grade.  The first thing to do is to contact your instructor to see what your grade will be preliminarily.  If your instructor balks - or if your instructor gets belligerent and surly with you despite your best efforts - your next step should be your college's dean of students or your academic advisor.

If I package with care and insure my package it will arrive in good condition!

Damage in transit is more prevalent within the United States Postal Service.

Even with regular First Class mail, mail pieces get damaged somehow during transit.  According to the statement from the Postmaster when you receive a damaged item in the mail occasional mishaps do occur.

As for insurance for your package, forget about it – nine times out of ten your claim for a damaged or lost package is denied for some reason dreamed up by someone in the United States Postal Service that adjudicates the insured mail claims.

It is much better to either deliver it yourself or, if it is not practical, use FedEx and put a declared value on the package.

If I move or change Post Office Boxes I’ll file a permanent change of address order – the United States Postal Service will take care of it!

Permanent change of address order = big privacy mistake.

 

When you file a permanent change of address order, you will not escape the dabbling and nosy mail marketers who continue their junk mail assault on you.  When the mail marketer uses your old address, the United States Postal Service simply supplies the mail marketer with your new address so that the mail marketer can correct its mailing lists.

 

If you have to file a change of address order, file it as a temporary change of address order and supply a date to stop forwarding – that way, at least you are outside the mail marketers’ radar.

 

Exception:  The only time you file a permanent change of address order is for when you have your residential street address mail forwarded to your post office box.  You may want to do this once a year to let the post office serving your street address know that you want all your mail to go to your post office box.  Also, be sure to update your order when you change post office boxes.

 

Just make sure that you do not use a permanent change of address order when you move from one street address to another, as well as when you change post office boxes as mentioned above.

Quality Service by Quality Employees!

Don’t expect friendly customer service when you visit your local Post Office.

The clerks that work the front counter – called the Window Unit in the language of the United States Postal Service – are instructed to treat customers mean, belligerent and rude as part of the customer service training and as part of their day-to-day interaction with the public.  These postal clerks are taught to do anything to get the customer in and out, even if it means speaking to the customer in a surly, loud, or otherwise rude tone of voice.

The window clerks’ customer service motto:  We do not like you, please leave us alone.

Oh, and one more thing:  Don’t bother even trying to speak with the window clerk’s immediate supervisor.  If you question the window clerks’ authority to be rude and mean with you, more than likely you will be escorted out of the Post Office and banned for life.

After all, the window clerks are protected by some kind of labor union that guarantees their working conditions, right down to when the clerks go to lunch.  In a nutshell, USPS management is very limited when it comes to labor relations issues such as discipline and termination of employees.

 

Part 2:  Dear Valued Postal Customer

 

The following are based on the text that is shown on the wrapper when you receive a damaged piece of mail, either at your post office box or at your street address.  So that I can compare what the Postal Service says with reality, the text that you would find on the plastic wrapper is shown in black while my commentary is shown in red.

 

Dear Valued Postal Customer

 

I want to extend my sincere apology as your Postmaster for the enclosed document that was inadvertently damaged in handling by your Postal Service.

 

What a joke.  Why is your Postmaster apologizing to you for the document or parcel that was deliberately damaged by the Postal Service in the very first place?

 

We are aware how important your mail is to you.  With that in mind, we are forwarding it to you in an expeditious fashion.

 

Of course your mail is important to you.  But not to the Postal Service, which gets your mail from Point A to Point B whenever they get around to it.  As for “forwarding it to you in an expeditious fashion” actually the Postal Service is forwarding your letter or package to you as quickly as possible after the damage has been done.

 

The United States Postal Service handles over 202 billion pieces of mail each year.  While each employee makes a concerted effort to process, without damage, each piece of mail, an occasional mishap does happen.

 

Within the United States Postal Service, practically all the mail handlers (unionized mail handlers, that is) do all day in the processing plants is constantly loaf around and neglect their assigned duties and let the mail get damaged.  All while these postal workers are making lots of money plus U.S. Government benefits among other things.  Besides, supervision and management is practically powerless in enforcing employee discipline thanks to the unions that protect the mail handlers.

 

We are constantly working to improve our processing methods so that these incidents will be eliminated.  You can help us greatly in our efforts if you will continue to properly prepare and address each letter or parcel that you enter into the mailstream.

 

Are you telling us what to do to prevent damage?  The Postal Service keeps raising our postage every so often while the service keeps going into a sad state of decline.

 

We appreciate your cooperation and understanding and sincerely regret any inconvenience that you have experienced.

 

Yes, when the damage is already done.  What kind of cooperation and understanding does the USPS expect from us when USPS employees are doing the damage?

 

YOUR POSTMASTER

 

United States Postal Service - WE CARE

 

Dear Postal Customer:

 

We sincerely regret the damage to your mail during handling by the Postal Service.  We hope this incident did not inconvenience you.  We realize that your mail is important to you and that you have every right to expect it to be delivered in good condition.

 

Again, what a major joke that statement is.  Why is the Postal Service regretfully apologizing to you for damage to your mail, which was deliberately damaged by the United States Postal Service in the very first place?

 

Although every effort is made to prevent damage to the mail, occasionally this will occur because of the great volume handled and the rapid processing methods which must be employed to assure the most expeditious distribution possible.

 

Yeah, right.  Postal workers do nothing more than constantly loaf around and neglect their jobs, while the postal workers at the window unit are trained to be abrupt, surly and rude with you.  Besides, United States Postal Service management cannot take any action to discipline their employees as most of the USPS’ employees are unionized.  In other words, the labor union that represents the majority of USPS’s workers are guaranteed the right to loaf around or treat customers with all forms of discourtesy without the fear of being written up.  All while these postal workers make a lot more money than other government employees who fear if he or she will have a job tomorrow due to budget cuts.

 

We hope you understand.  We assure you that we are constantly striving to improve our processing methods in order that even a rare occurrence may be eliminated.

 

The United States Postal Service keeps raising postage rates and fees (such as post office box service) while the service keeps going into a sad state of decline.

 

Please accept our apologies.

 

Apology from the United States Postal Service my you know what – after the damage has been done.

 

Sincerely,

 

Your Postmaster

 

Part 3 - An Anecdote

 

I cannot understand why the United States Postal Service keeps raising our postage rates while at the same time the quality and level of service provided by the USPS to the general public keeps spiraling downward in a sad state of decline.  No matter why the USPS is running in the red every year.

 

If you think that the proposed curtailment of the speed of First Class Mail is a way to cut costs, think again.  For many years, the USPS has considered curtailing street address delivery of mail on Saturdays, reducing service to only five days a week, Monday through Friday.  Makes you think that you want to consider receiving your mail at a post office box.

 

With the Internet as we know it today, more and more people use it to pay monthly bills among other things.  This ensures that payments are received in a timely fashion rather than the few days wait in transit from the time you drop your payment off in the mailbox to the time your recipient gets the payment.

 

Speaking of bill payments via the United States Postal Service, if despite mailing early the payment arrives late and you are assessed late fees, don't blame the USPS.  Federal laws somehow "protect" the USPS from any liability that may arise from failure to deliver First Class Mail in a timely fashion, including time sensitive bill payments.

 

Andrew Dart has a well written page on the history of postage rates in the United States, plus links to more information related to the USPS.  It's worth checking out!

 

So, if you have to use the United States Postal Service to send out a package or anything else, be prepared for:

 

Long lines

Worker's hours (save for certain post offices which have later hours)

Poor service by rude, surly and belligerent window clerks (and I mean window clerks that scream "NEXT!" as well as window clerks that address you sir or ma'am in a surly or belligerent tone of voice, sometimes to the point of yelling at you)

Untimely delivery of mail

Possibility of damage in transit despite your best efforts to package properly

Receiving someone else's mail at either your post office box or street address (and the window clerk tells you to accept their mail as if you were a commercial mail receiving agency, despite the fact that you tell the clerk that it is not your mail, under the guise of the phrase "or current occupant")

No return receipt card received when you pay for the service with Certified Mail service.

Inadequate tracking information when you track an item you sent on the USPS web site.

Vending equipment that works only half the time

And the list goes on and on...

 

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