Saturday, February 16, 2008

Postal Regulatory Commission Universal Service Obligation and Monopoly Study

In the next few weeks, the mailing community will be asked by the Postal Regulatory Commission to begin providing comments for its study of Universal Service and the Monopoly. The Postal Regulatory Commission’s study will look at a number of issues that are critical for business mailers that have never been examined in any economic or policy study to date. This study is critical for the mailing community as it will provide the framework for the next round of postal reform that will likely begin in the 111th Congress in 2009. The mailing community will have a limited window to provide input to the study this spring.

The scope of the study is quite broad and will generate a report that will cover:

  • Evolution of Universal Service Obligation, the delivery monopoly, and the mailbox monopoly since the creation of the Post Office Department;
  • Current definition of the Universal Service Obligation as it relates to both access to the postal network and delivery to addresses in the United States, the scope of the delivery monopoly and the scope of the mailbox monopoly as defined by law and regulation;
  • The cost of the Universal Service Obligation for delivery as defined by the study;
  • The cost of the Universal Service Obligation as it relates to retail access;
  • The value of the delivery monopoly and the mailbox monopoly as currently defined;
  • Evaluation as to whether either the delivery monopoly or the mailbox monopoly is required to sustain the universal service obligation for delivery and/or access;
  • Identification of geographic and economic communities as well as types of mailers whose service falls short of the universal service obligation;
  • Determination of what the mailing community, small business mailers, small non-profit mailers, as well as the general public wants in terms of universal service with a focus on determining how universal service should be defined by class of mail;
  • An examination of how foreign governments and postal administrations define universal service and the monopoly as well as how they determine the costs of universal service, the value of the monopoly and the scope of monopoly required to guarantee universal service;
  • Determination of options for the scope of universal and standards of universal service and the monopoly that will be required in the future (5 and 10 years out) including options that could be accomplished under current law, those that would require changes in law, those that are practical given existing postal operations, product costs, labor agreements, delivery density, local geography;
  • Identification of recommendations of changes to the current definition of universal service and the postal monopoly including recommendations related to the delivery of the various classes of postal products and access to the postal network for individuals, small businesses, small non-profits, large businesses, and large non-profits that:
    • Can be made within the scope of current law, and
    • Would be require changes in law;
  • For all recommendations identification of the effect on rates, financial condition of the Postal Service, service quality and the security of the mail; and
  • Identification of whether the monopoly is required to sustain the recommended definition(s) of universal service and if it is required whether the monopoly can sustain universal service.

Given that the results of this study will provide the framework for the next round of postal reform, all mailers need to begin thinking about what they may want to present to the Postal Regulatory Commission. In particular, mailers who regularly mail sufficient volumes to take advantage of work-sharing discounts should begin thinking about this issue as the Commission's contractor was only asked to study the opinions of the general public, small businesses and small non-profits. Larger firms and associations of mailers were expected by the Commission to use their own resources to provide information on how changes in Universal Service and the monopoly could affect their business.


Vicki said...

Until the USPS quits treating it's customers poorly, becomes accountable to it's customers, works with a customer base, disciplines poor employees, honors it's own products, quits lying to the public, and understands that it is working in a global economy with an 18th century mindset (except on customer service), it will continue to lose business.

Vicki said...

In a letter I sent to the postmaster general:

I keep hearing about what horrible shape our U.S.P.S. is in, but I have to pass on that I believe that the Post Office is doing much of the damage to itself.

I am both the spouse of a postal employee and a person who sells a few things on Ebay and uses the USPS to mail my packages. In addition, I’ve had exchange students for more than two years who had to mail things home occasionally and have seen what has been done on the international market by our postal system for those type of packages also.

Last year my students could mail a package home to their parents and choose to send it slowly for $15. This year it is 5 times that amount as the choice to mail things slowly is not even an option any longer. Where I used to be able to easily mail a package to one of my “adopted” foreign students fairly cheaply, you now want me to always pay for Priority or Express mail prices if it is a package over 4 pounds. (And most people don’t know about the under 4 pound rules as your clerks don’t even give this option to mailers.) This has virtually halted the packages and also much of my international mailing on Ebay as the prices are too high to ship. The sad part is that one option is International First Class mail but the post office is choosing to not tell people about it or to tell them that it is a slow process. Plus, in order to mail with this process, I am required to go to my local post office and stand in a line with surly postal employees at times that are not convenient to working people, for up to an hour at a time, and be told that I do not want to buy that type of mail over and over by the postal employees. It’s easier to go to an alternate shipper who is friendly, appears to want my business, will even open the door for me, puts enough employees on the counter to deal with business and honestly cares enough about it’s customers that it will actually DO SOMETHING about mean and surly and rude employees. And the “pay” shippers will help you mail the other way.

In addition, you tout using the shipping center online, but you don’t allow printing of media mail, parcel post mail, or first class shipping at your own website. Often, it is hard to even get the actual postage for these types of mail from the website and it takes someone who is trained in post office “management” to read the tiny print that you can get the website to go to IF YOU know where to look.

If you go into any of the seller sites on Ebay you will read about why people won’t use the USPS. Any of the above reasons apply. And, to top it off, you don’t work well with people on insurance if the packages are lost, stolen, or damaged. We have a package we sent to Canada three years ago that we lost more than $300 on that was mailed by Priority Mail that we filed claims on that we’ve never heard a thing about. You can read about many more incidents like this online in the forums.

Why don’t people mail more through the post offices? They aren’t open at times when most people are at home, they are known for being anti-customer, there is no one to complain to about problems who will ever actually do anything, rates keep changing, the postal employee lies about how long packages take (really now, since when is first class mail SLOW?), postal employees (at management levels) keep getting bonuses without being held accountable for their own problems, lines at the post office are way too long, post offices are normally hard to get to and in inconvenient areas of town, carriers don’t really WANT to pick up packages (they don’t have an incentive to do this), the drop off package areas don’t take anything except Priority or Express type packages, the USPS doesn’t honor it’s own insurance on mail, no one is held accountable, the customer is told in how they are being treated that they are NOT of value to the USPS, and even dropping some prepaid postage packages can be difficult as I can’t even mail at my local post office as a surly clerk will “CHECK” each of my packages to TRY to find a problem even when he isn’t supposed to.

Last year a clerk accused me of trying to CHEAT the post office out of money because I was shipping an envelope to someone that he didn’t feel was thick enough to meet guidelines. I tried to take the package back to repackage it and he grabbed it away. He was rude. He yelled at me with other customers in the room several times and openly accused me of lying and trying to steal. He is an angry employee who is rarely ever nice to customers and is known for doing similar things. Any other business would have “docked” the employee, sent him home, fired him, etc. Instead, I was eventually told not to use him for check out at the post office, to wait on another clerk as there was nothing they could do to prevent him from doing it again AND he snears at me when I go into my local post office still today. Who won? So, I was punished for his nastiness. And the only reason that I got that far was that my husband works for the post office and really can make a complaint that an off the street customer can not do. This is pretty standard nationwide at post offices. Since when did employees get to decide whether or not they would be nice to a customer? This is ridiculous and needs to be fixed. NO OTHER COMPANY WOULD ALLOW CUSTOMERS TO BE TREATED THIS WAY ONCE, MUCH LESS TIME AND TIME AGAIN. They would be out of business. Hence, the USPS is losing business. This is one practice that is also causing the loss of revenue.

Listen to a postal clerk sometime. They TELL customers that first class mail and parcel post are not reliable ways to mail. They claim that both are handled in the system more like media mail is actually handled. Was this someone’s management decision? It doesn’t even make sense! You’re lying to your own customers and, in the process, making the image of the USPS worse than it was before. You won’t take packages with stamps on them “for security reasons” without going through a nasty postal clerk. Now your own postage stamps are being viewed as BAD!

Recently I tried to mail a package while I was visiting one of my sons in Connecticut. I drove to the closest USPS office, which happened to be in East Berlin, CT. It was a quaint little post office ½ mile from their apartment. The woman behind the counter refused to take my package that was using a label paid for and printed online. Did it have my Texas return address? NO! It had my son’s address, ½ mile from the post office. She claimed that she would not take ANY packages from anyone other than HER customers with HER zip code. I drove the package to a commercial postage center nearby and they took the package with not a single problem – and a smile too! PLUS, a thank you for my business was given even though I didn’t give them a single dime in revenue. My husband turned the incident with the East Berlin Post Office into our local officials to investigate what had happened. Nothing was done and nothing was resolved. I guess now post offices are being allowed to evidently pick and choose to whom they will take a package from! Ridiculous! This is another example of where the USPS is losing business. What good does it do to train a carrier to be a “post office on wheels” when a regular post office in a building can choose to whom they will do business with.

I am not a huge volume mailer. But I do mail about 350 packages on the average in a three month period. And there are thousands and thousands of people just like me that live all over the United States. We are what you are missing in your revenues. And if your customer service continues to fall as it has been, then you will, unfortunately, continue to lose business. It’s as simple as that.

You can claim that people aren’t mailing as much as they used to and that may be true when it comes to writing a letter. But people are buying more and more things from the internet than they ever have before. AND more have begun to do the same with the increase in gasoline prices all over the country. Retail business has a different market than it used to have as we are now a global economy. Our family buys things from all over the world, all around our country. Most of the items that are sent to our home are not shipped through the United States Postal Service. And there is a reason, in fact, many reasons why this is not true. You only need to begin listening to people to know why. You have lost a lot of your global market with the stopping of slower mail, and you have lost a lot of your domestic package mailing for having bad customer service and poor accountability. Your postal service has lost touch.