USPS OIG evaluation of Window Retail Customer Service

USPS OIG Audit Report: Window Retail Customer Service – January 29, 2015

USPS OIG evaluation of Window Retail Customer ServiceThe objective of this self-initiated audit was to evaluate customer service at retail counters.

In fiscal year (FY) 2013, the retail network handled 1.7 billion transactions, a reduction of about 5.2 percent from FY 2012.

Positive customer experiences during retail counter transactions enhance the Postal Service brand and increase loyalty, revenue, and customer satisfaction. Over the course of FYs 2012–2013, the Postal Service experienced an 8.9 percent increase in negative customer feedback regarding the retail counter experience.

The Postal Service uses several tools to measure overall customer satisfaction at retail counters, including:

■■ Postal Service (PS) Form 4000-B, Employee Observation, used by local retail managers to evaluate postal sales and service associate (sales associate) performance.

■■ The Retail Customer Experience (RCE) Program, which is conducted through independently contracted customers, or mystery shoppers, at larger retail locations.

■■ Point-of-Service (POS) survey information collected when customers visit a uniform resource locator printed at the bottom of the customer receipt. The POS survey is meant to be an exclusive conduit for feedback from customers who use Post Office retail counters.

According to the National Performance Review (NPR),2 courtesy and associated behaviors such as eye contact and clear communication are critical customer satisfaction elements. The NPR report noted3 that organizations should not tolerate discourteous service. The report concluded that, of the three most important elements of customer service – timeliness, quality, and courtesy – lack of courtesy has the highest probability of causing customers to choose alternatives, regardless of the timeliness or quality of service provided.

Between FYs 2012 and 2013, an increasing number of customers expressed dissatisfaction with the service they receive at retail facilities. While the Postal Service’s goal is 90 percent customer satisfaction, we found that more than 20 percent of its customers in FY 2013 responded to the POS survey that they have been treated “worse than other retailers” when visiting Postal Service retail counters. Dissatisfied customers exist, in part, because procedures for improving customer service are not functioning as intended. Although management communicates with sales associates periodically via service briefings known as “stand-up” talks and provides video instructions, there is no formal, in-class refresher customer service training. Further, sales associates’ positions are based on seniority rather than suitability, as suggested by best practices. Also, follow-up customer service training is informal and there is no mandatory process for ensuring that managers regularly observe sales associates and provide feedback.

Although Retail Operations managers use several tools to improve customer service at the retail counter, they do not consistently conduct observations of their sales associates. Additionally, supervisors have not made decisions based on POS survey results, primarily due to the lack of communication of these results. We estimate the Postal Service could risk $288.5 million in FY 2015 by failing to improve customer experiences at postal retail counters.

Retail Customer Service
About 20 percent of postal customers who responded to the POS survey in FY 2013 indicated the Postal Service was “worse than other retailers” in its customer service at retail counters. This represents an 8.9 percent increase in negative feedback over FY 2012 survey results. In FY 2013, the negative customer response rate increase climbed from 11.8 percent during Quarter (Q) 2 to 27.7 percent in Q4 (see Figure 1).

Sales and Services Associate Selection and Training
Sales associates’ positions are based on a seniority bidding process established in an agreement with the American Postal Workers Union8 rather than on customer service skills. Once an employee becomes a sales associate, resolving serious issues related to that employee, such as persistent discourteous behavior, can be difficult and time-consuming.

USPS OIG evaluation of Window Retail Customer Service

The agreement between the Postal Service and the union representing sales associates dictates that the Postal Service must select most sales associates through a seniority-based bidding process. Because the Postal Service is bound by this agreement, management has limited flexibility in staffing sales associate positions. However, it can build the desired customer service skills and behavior through continual, formal training.

We recommend the vice president, Retail and Customer Service Operations:
1. Provide continual, formal customer service refresher training to sales associates that focuses on improving customer service.

2. Create a mandatory process for observing, tracking, and providing managerial feedback concerning individual sales associates’ customer service performance.

We recommend the vice president, Retail and Customer Service Operations, in cooperation with the vice president, Consumer and Industry Affairs:

3. Develop a plan to leverage Point-of-Service survey information to improve customer service at the retail counters.

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18 thoughts on “USPS OIG evaluation of Window Retail Customer Service

  1. No help on window!!! Management needs to be fired and with the money they save put to more clerks on window!

  2. If I ever am forced into a PO lobby again I’ll bring cheese to go with all that whine! Staples~~~ no matter how busy they are professional and pleasant. They could train PO window clerks.

  3. As an SSA and LSSA for over 25 years, and a SSA trainer for the past 15, I have seen nothing but a decline in window morale and the window training program has deteriorated to a one day on computer, three days in class with not extra time to help students with problems or questions, and a final day of a pass/fail exam, with no time to truly study or even absorb what was crammed into their heads. The old training offered at least one full week of classroom, with videos and time to help clerks learn, followed by a full week of on the job training, wherein the clerk could actually do the work, which reinforced what they had learned the week before. After the OJT, they would take a test, being properly prepared. Lately, trainers such as myself have been told we cannot train anymore, as staff reductions have made it impossible. The new classes are being trained by nearly new clerks, with no experience, and these clerks have no clue what they are doing when are put into their position. Postal mismanagement is the problem, not the clerks, so you OIG phonies can bark up some other tree. District refresher sessions in the past have been a time wasting joke, put on by three or four EAS yahoos with little or no experience, but it gives them something to do.

  4. There are many limited duty employees who cannot perform their regular duties who request (but are denied) assignments as Lobby Assistants. We could utilize the limited duty folks and place one or two Lobby Assistants in every Post Office. That would solve the staffing and customer complaint problems, wouldn’t it?

    • They already have a ELM backed Lobby Director program, which is a “friendly, knowledgeable retail clerk” who can help customers in line, prepping them to speed up their actual window visit. Unfortunatel, good old postal management cannot do this right, either, and they usually yank one clerk off the window to do this, rather than utilyze another person. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is the wrong way to go.

    • Excellent post. Narrow minded solutions as if they maybe wagging the dog. Never had a 4000B used at my facility, but I’ve had 18 PM/OICs in 16 years. We are considered to small for mystery shop evaluation, but we get lots of kudos from customers via mail or a letter or two of kudos in the paper. And POS survey is useless in our area as we are a retirement location, with the majority not on the internet.
      Summing this up, my office would be evaluated by 3 methods that don’t apply and the solution is to imply seniority with a union causes dissatisfied customers. This thinking is killing the USPS.
      OIG if you want to help me with MY customers. Give me more retail space to display our products, better window hours to accommodate customers, fix the drop shipment problem in which customers are coming to pick up packages prior to our receiving the packages, correct the name change on “Priority” Express back to Express. Customers get mad when they have to redo their packaging because we mixed service names. Regarding ReadiPost products, why do we have a padded and a bubble envelope to sell the customer in an extremely limited retail space? Confuses the customer. Retail space is limited already.

      The list goes on as to why a customer is not having a pleasant experience at their post office and from the frustrations I see with customers it has much to do with hard side of retail.

      Here’s a thought. If my customers could walk in and get the product they need without being confused then anyone could work the window and you wouldn’t need a seasoned employee. So I guess I should be thankful that will not happen with OIG evaluations like this.
      And MY office is doing much better in retail sales then others in our area, but we could be doing better if USPS would address how we present our products.

  5. I read the report and it reminded me of the children’s birthday game…Pin the tail on the donkey.

    This report was done with a blindfold on. Customer satisfaction is the whole donkey. This report only dealt with the small point where the tail was pinned on the donkey… I don’t care how nice, friendly, knowledgeable, etc you are, if the office window hours have been cut, if the staffing level has been cut, if DUO and plant closings have trashed any semblance of continuity and order, if mindbending mandatory attemps to up price customers; these all get reflected back in clerk’s perceived performance by customers. All the customer wants is to get in, get out, have good service and be on his/her way. What is usps doing to make these wishes happen? That should be an OIG topic.

    Unintended consequence from “plant derationalization”. Trucks arrive later which means that clerks sorting time is backing up into window time which hampers customer service.

  6. The most important TOOL you can use USPS/OIG is properly staffing the retail stations. You can perform all the surveys you want, send the employees to training and build customer service skills, but the bottom line is having enough employees to properly and efficiently take care of all our customers needs is paramount. It is common to never have enough staff to accommodate our customers during busy times of the day week or month. Wake up USPS/OIG you want Superior Customer Service, 100 percent RCE scores, (POS) Survey and PS 4000B acceptable scores use your SKILLS and properly staff ALL U.S. Postal Service Retail Facilities.

  7. Gee whiz geniuses, when your bosses are perpetually hostile, negative, and abusive, how easy do you think it is to do your job with a courteous, positive attitude?
    What’s that old saying? “A fish rots from the head.”
    Another postal problem who’s cause is bad management. Duh.


    Let’s piss people off and make them miserable!!!

    Then they should smile and be pleasant while doing their jobs.

  9. Sure, blame the window clerks. they need more training…they need to make eye contact…they need to smile more…

    How about providing adequate window staffing? How many “customer experiences” were tainted by a long wait in line due to short staffed windows?

    How about eliminating some of the pushy upselling that is required?

  10. How about some help? They keep cutting jobs and expect the clerks remaining to pick up the slack. How about someone to make sure we have enough supplies? I keep running out of priority boxes and now I can’t even keep stamps in stock.

  11. It is a fact that the USPS intentionally understaffs the operation to drive customers away.
    You can’t blame the employees for achieving the company goal.

  12. What good is “Customer Service Refresher Training” when there are counters for 4 clerks, only 2 are working, and one of them has an “Ebay person” with 30 small packages to mail………………..that leaves only one clerk to wait on all the rest of the customers for the next 20 minutes……and the line backs up. And the poor clerks have the face the wrath of the customers who have been standing there getting angrier by the minute……………….

    Its the Postal Managers who need “refresher training”. I have been in offices where the line was literally 30 people long, but God forbid the Post Master put another clerk on the counter. Because HE would get into trouble for “wasting money”. And the PM walks in and out of their office and they don’t even turn their head to see how long the line is………

    Bottom Line —- at the end of the day, after the last customer has been waited on, and the door are locked, the Post Master saved money by not putting another clerk on the window. Who cares if the average WTIL (waiting time in line) was 20 minutes…………………

    But lets give “refresher training ” to the clerks, that will solve everything.

  13. Maybe the manager that does not staff a window properly should work the window to see what a window clerk goes through when understaffed! Most of the window clerks are the most loyal employees who truly care about the customers! Sometimes they work through their breaks and lunches! I am going to check the survey they have because I can guarantee it don’t talk about long lines where you can wait 20-30 minutes for your transaction! So put the manager in the shoes of the clerk and maybe just maybe they can staff the windows properly!!!!!!

  14. The best thing the post office can do to improve customer service is to schedule enough window clerks to provide good customer service and train them properly like they used to. Window clerks are given one week of really bad training where the trainer just reads through the book instead of giving them practice handling transactions without the stress of inconveniencing customers without the patience to deal with a trainee. There are also never enough window clerks for coverage. The window clerks in my office have to do distribution, box, dispatch, clear carriers, stock, etc. If they just had dedicated window clerks then window clerks wouldn’t be too stressed to deal with customers.

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