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Other Voices Heard About Proposed Service Standard Changes

 By late June, the Postal Regulatory Commission likely had received more comments than it had expected about the Postal Service’s proposal to change the service standards for First-Class Mail and some Periodicals.

Aside from the briefs and statements of position from the eleven intervenors in the case, plus the commission’s “public representative,” the PRC also got comments from other groups and interested parties, including from 478 individuals from all over the country.  (Whether there was a coordinated campaign behind those isn’t clear; many of the comments didn’t follow a pattern.)

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Mailers Hub Submits Statement of Position to PRC

On June 22, 2021 Mailers Hub submitted its Statement of Position, regarding First-Class Mail and Periodicals Service Standards Changes, before the Postal Regulatory Commission. 

In the two-page statement, the author - Leo Raymond, Managing Director of Mailers Hub - candidly and emphatically summarized the failings in the proposed changes, as well as the rationale behind them. Citing the "appalling abandonment of the customers that they should be striving to retain", the subordination of the role of the Postal Service as a service, and the clear connection between more costly, slower service and a loss in mail volume, he urges the PRC to advise the USPS against these changes. 

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As Expected, Clerks Union Opposes Plant Closures

If Postmaster General Louis DeJoy had hoped to avoid opposition from postal labor to his 10-year Plan, such as by avoiding any requests for concessions on labor agreements or wages and benefits, he scuttled them by his recent decision to resume the network rationalization process that was halted in 2015.

As would be expected, the American Postal Workers Union, representing the clerk craft employees who staff processing facilities and retail operations, promptly announced its opposition.  In a typically overwrought statement, the union’s president asserted

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Operational Issues May Explain Service Standard Failures

A major focus of the Postal Service’s 10-year Plan, issued March 23, is the need to downgrade service standards for First-Class Mail because the current standards, which haven’t been met for several years, are “unattainable.” The Plan recites various reasons for this situation, including failures in air transportation and in compliance with facility operating plans.

The fundamental absence of operating discipline in USPS processing facilities was highlighted in two audits published in mid-April by the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General: Delayed Mail at the Lehigh Valley, PA Processing and Distribution Center, issued April 12, and Delayed Mail at the North Houston, TX Processing and Distribution Center, released April 13.

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Suspension of Disbelief

For anyone reading a novel, or watching a play, television show, or movie, a requirement applies that the individual participate in the story by setting aside any logical analysis, in favor of accepting the premise of what’s being presented. This voluntary engagement is referred to as “suspension of disbelief,” a term coined by Samuel Coleridge in 1817, based on one used by the Roman poet Cicero centuries earlier.

Of course, the story need not be purely fictional; in The Crown, for example, the characters and general plot are factual, but “suspension of disbelief” is necessary to accept that events and dialogue occurred as re-enacted. For the viewer, how the writers and actors present the story can shape perceptions of the factual background and, in turn, the conclusions the viewer reaches about the history being portrayed.

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How to Make a Plan, USPS Style

There was a commercial for Toyota that aired several years ago that had the tagline “You asked for it, you got it.”  What “it” was hasn’t been remembered as well as the tag line, but the utility of the line persists.

In this case, given that the Postal Service finally issued its 10-year plan last week, the agency can say “you asked for a plan, you got a plan.”  Congress and the mailing community have been waiting for years for The Plan that the agency’s been promising, and now we can all see whether the result has been worth the wait.

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OIG Reports on Cleveland Drop Shipment Unloading Delays

In an audit report released March 10, Excessive Wait Times to Accept Commercial Mail Shipments at the Cleveland Processing & Distribution Center, the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General examined the circumstances surrounding the challenges encountered by the facility in late 2020.  As the OIG stated at the outset:

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the November 2020 general election, the US Postal Service’s Cleveland Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) experienced earlier than normal Peak Season mail, including package volume.  This management alert responds to media and mailer concerns indicating that drivers experienced excessive wait times for drop shipments at the Cleveland P&DC.  Our objective was to assess the efficiency of processing drop shipments at the Cleveland P&DC in the Northern Ohio District.”

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More than Geography

It’s practically part of the routine: when a new boss takes over, a reorganization soon follows.  That step accomplishes many purposes, including setting up a functional and management structure that reflects the executive’s vision for the organization’s best configuration; reassigning or replacing members of the executive’s immediate and next level subordinates; redesigning territorial responsibilities; and revising reporting relationships.

A “reorg” happens at the Postal Service usually after a new Postmaster General is installed, if not more often, and typically impacts functional organization, executive team membership, field structure, or complement levels.  So it’s no particular news that Louis DeJoy began his own reorg shortly after being named PMG last summer.

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Kremlin on the Potomac: Postal Service Communications

Readers old enough to remember the Soviet Union also remember how skilled it was at saying nothing – about anything – no matter what.  If something happened, regardless of whether it was visible to the outside world, it simply wasn’t acknowledged.  A natural disaster?  Never happened.  The disappearance of an important figure?  He’s fine.  A bomber crash into a village?  No bomber, nothing happened.

If outsiders posed a question about any event, the basic answer, if there was one, was denial, deflection, or obfuscation.  The Soviets never admitted to anything going wrong, to any internal failures, or to any event or condition that might break the illusion they so ardently projected or that might provide an outsider a peek into what’s really going on.

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The Right Audiences Need to Get the Message

Over the past few months, and especially over the recent holiday season, there were many occasions on which a postal customer – a representative of a commercial mailer, a mailer’s client, or just a retail customer – delivered a message of dissatisfaction about service (to put it nicely) to a frontline postal employee.

Whether a retail window clerk, a city or rural carrier, an employee at the local BMEU or DMU, a customer service rep, or a call-taker at the Business Service Network, that person neither had anything to do with the reasons for the customer’s dissatisfaction and likely had little to go on to offer an explanation or information about the reported service problem.

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Parsing the Causes for an Historic Service Collapse – Analysis

Usually, after the busy fall mailing season and the holiday rush, things return to normal for the Postal Service and its commercial mailing customers.  As everyone knows, however, the current environment is anything but normal.

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Lack of Information Continues About Delays at USPS Facilities

As the latest wave of illness related to the ongoing pandemic sweeps across the country, the Postal Service, like other businesses, is suffering from staffing shortages as workers become sickened, or are absent to quarantine or care for family members.

Postal officials have stated that USPS facilities typically can have a 3-4% absentee rate – employees on leave for one reason or another – but that some are now facing staffing shortfalls of up to 20%.  For example, if an incoming dock operation at a plant had an approved staffing of 20, and could function with 19 or 18, it likely would be challenged to meet unload times if only 15 or 16 employees were available.

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Can Scan Data Be Believed?

One of the better features of many USPS mail categories and services is the use of a unique barcode on mailpieces that, when scanned by Postal Service machines or people, can yield information about the item’s location (and delivery status).  Of course, the value and accuracy of that information depend on whether the scan actually was captured at the time and location reported to the customer.

The USPS regularly details on its daily Link the percentage of expected delivery scans that actually occur.  For the week ending October 16, for example, the national score was 97.06%, down 0.14% from the previous week.  The areas and districts that do the best typically score in the mid- to high-ninety percent range, meaning that the others do more poorly; the agency doesn’t disclose them.

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The Postal Third Rails

As many people know, the third rail in a subway system is the one that’s electrified to provide power to the train motors; touching it would be fatal.  In politics, a “third rail” is an issue that’s equally dangerous and that, if tackled by a politician, can be fatal to the person’s political career.  Changing the social security system is often cited as a “third rail.”

The USO

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Who Do You Trust?

There was a TV quiz show in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with the grammatically incorrect title Who Do You Trust?  (The show became the springboard for Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, who later spent the next three decades together as fixtures on late-night TV.)  The premise was simple: three couples would appear on the program, and Carson would ask the male a question and he’d have to decide whether to answer it himself or ask the female contestant.  (Attitudes toward gender roles were different back then.)

Though that format may not be applicable in today’s postal world, the title question is very relevant.

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US Senator Asks PMG to Explain Reported Changes

As if to illustrate that running the Postal Service as Postmaster General isn’t like running a corporation as its CEO, Senator Gary Peters (MI), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote PMG Louis DeJoy on July 17 asking for “information about operational changes at the US Postal Service that have the potential to affect the quality of service for Americans.”

Peters’ letter was inspired by the reports of plans to modify delivery procedures that were contained in a PowerPoint leaked by a USPS manager in Ohio and other documents. (For more on this, see the July 25 post.)

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Leaked Documents Suggest PMG Seeking Cost Reductions

When the new Postmaster General took office last month, it was widely assumed that he would make significant changes, though the nature of what those changes would be was then no more than speculation.  However, if the information in a leaked PowerPoint presentation that appeared on postalnews.com last week is credible, change may be starting and is focused on cost reduction.

Quick reference links: "The Source", "Document Two", "Publicity", "Another Talk" 

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Not a “Partner” the USPS Needs: Across the US in Only 27 Days

According to Google Maps, someone driving from Inglewood (CA) to Ft Myers (FL) at a steady 70 miles per hour would need 38 hours to complete the 2,659-mile trip.

Of course, in the world of commercial shipping, an item being sent from Inglewood to Ft Myers wouldn’t travel like that, instead taking a slower, likely longer route, perhaps through intermediate transfer points along the way.

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Still Time to Make The Mailers Conference on September 20, 2019

There is still time to make the 2019 Mailers Conference.

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A Complicated Answer to a Simple Question

Excerpted from the May 27, 2019 issue of Mailers Hub News. Subscribers click here to access the full version.

When I spoke recently at an industry gathering, one of the questions I got (after reviewing the PQ II service scores) was what the USPS could do about its service performance. Why is service so poor in some places? What can be done to improve it, especially in the chronically low-performing districts? What actions can management take?

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