Don’t Go Postal

Regardless of the legislation and regulations surrounding the U. S. Postal Service, there are business lessons we can learn from its experiences.

business growth

1. Plan for Change

Nothing in business remains constant. Business owners need to keep an eye on changes occurring in their industry, as well as opportunities for change. It seem like the Postal Service either wasn’t paying attention to, or didn’t notice the rise of UPS and Federal Express. It seems they were looking the other way when email and online invitation and card services arose.

Moreover, once these things became mainstream, the Postal Service didn’t adapt and take advantage. One example is the rise of online ordering. We were warned for years about the coming groundswell of people shopping online. UPS and Federal Express made arrangements with those merchants while the Post Office stood by and watched. They lost market share and allowed the courier services to develop brand awareness.

It’s a prime example of the old guard being rigid and inflexible.

If they had been watching the tides of change they could have addressed them earlier on and maximized their value to their customers. Instead, they held the door open for the competition.

2. Continuously Create Efficiencies

All businesses need to take stock of how they operate to make sure they are as lean as possible. They also should be implementing checks and balances so that money isn’t spent needlessly. A story on December 3, 2012 explains that an audit of the Post Office showed how employees were falsifying expense records to pocket money that wasn’t due them.

This is one example of a problem that many companies experience. When you don’t have safeguards in place you run the risk of money walking out the door.

Get the staff involved in brainstorming ideas for becoming more efficient and structured. They will not only have some great ideas but you will get their buy-in if they are part of the problem solving.

3. Create an Experience

I should say – create a good experience! Have you ever gone into your local post office to find 1 or 2 people behind the counter while a line of customers waits? In my town it happens all the time. And there is no sense of urgency on the part of the staff. It doesn’t make people want to do business there. As a matter of fact, this is one of the things that drives people to the competition like The UPS Store.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about what you would like to experience when visiting your business. Now implement policies to be sure you are always providing that level of service. This is how you keep your clients.

If your business is experiencing financial losses like the Post Office is, think about these three things and ask yourself how well you deal with each of them. If you find that you are creating some of the problems you are experiencing – change!

Fixing the experience can lead to greater business which can help your financial situation. Efficiencies can help free up time to be able to provide that good experience. Pay attention to what’s going on and be on the leading edge of confronting change.

These, in my opinion, are the lessons we can learn from the U. S. Postal Service that will keep us from going postal.

Don’t Go Postal Photo via Shutterstock


Diane Helbig Diane Helbig is a Professional Coach and the president of Seize This Day. Diane is a Contributing Editor on COSE Mindspring, a resource website for small business owners, as well as a member of the Top Sales World Experts Panel at Top Sales World.

15 Reactions
  1. Nice job, Diane.

    In a way, I feel bad for the employees of the USPS.

    But, in a way, I don’t.

    Poor management-old-fashioned business tactics, and numerous other mistakes have led to where they’re at today.

    Too late for a do-over?

    The Franchise King®

    • USPS’ management needs to realize that it’s not the only show in town–and the show isn’t as important now anyway. Change or perish. Create an experience that people want to use, not that they *have* to use. Big difference.

  2. My experience at my local post office is that the employees don’t really think about customer service. And many times it’s as if the customers are an inconvenience instead of the source of their income.
    I think they could experience a do-over if they brought in someone like Jack Welch and gave him the green light to completely modify the organization and the internal thought process.

    • I totally agree with you, Diane. I live in Jacksonville oregon, I have went into this post office many times with there being a line of at least 4 people if not larger, and only 1 person working the counter, while others stand around, my Gosh,, didnt they get the run down on presenting them selfs in the pubic eye,,smile,make eye contact, be pollite..and when there is a line backed up,,hustle,,turn it up a knotch, or at least look as thou you are concerned about this large line of customers,,down right rude customer service, geese,I would love to have there job, but, never would I be rude, not smile,not make eye contact with the customer, Gosh Id be fired,wouldnt you.

    • Diane: The employees at the local post office haven’t been trained in customer service, due to the fact that the USPS is state owned company and a monopoly doesn’t have to act in accordance with the free market principles.

      The solution is to break the monopoly. You could learn the lesson on how CityMail changed the Swedish system. Another company that is changing the scene is Mailworld.

      It is interesting to learn that the expression “go postal,” is engraved in today’s vocabular.

  3. I don’t know that it’s totally fair to make a “bad business parable” of an institution who’s flaws are largely a consequence of stifling government bureaucracy. It’s misleading to attribute the USPS’ staggering inefficiencies to it being stodgy and “old guard” — it operates in its own very constrained context. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s maddeningly inefficient and we can learn things from that, but perhaps the article should given more attribution for this condition to its association with the government and consequent bureaucratic constraints.

  4. David, I think the first sentence explains what I am hoping to accomplish with the post. My goal is not to explain why the post office has issues but rather to use those issues as lessons for small business owners.

    I understand the challenges that plague the postal service. However, I still believe that we can learn what not to do by taking a look at the topics discussed.

  5. Becca@Skip Bins Sdyney

    Very interesting article that you’ve posted. Found the views to be quite informative and great help for every business. Thanks for sharing.

  6. David has a better grasp of the problems than the writer of this article does. He claims that the USPS is stagnant and fails to innovate. This is not at all true.

    One thing that people say is that email and online bill paying is crippling the USPS. This is true, to some degree. Would it interest anyone to know that waaay back in the ’80s, the USPS introduced a product that would electronically transmit documents from any location to another, the same day? Sounds a bit like email. Lobby groups and Congress killed that program since it was considered to not be “related” enough to handling mail processing and delivery. USPS also tried to retail “novelty” items like coffee mugs, little jig-saw puzzles and nexties that tied in with the release of a series of Looney Toons stamps. This would have continued if it were not for lobbyists crying to Congress about the USPS infringing on the private sector that “could” sell the same types of things. Never mind that there wasn’t any business really interested in doing so, Congress killed that too.

    USPS has only been able to truly compete with UPS and FedEx in the package business since 2006. Why? Congress finally allowed the USPS to separate its protected classes of mail from competitive classes and is now permitted to price it competitively to go head to head with the others. USPS has experienced significant growth in the package end of the business.

    USPS has also shed some 200,000 jobs over the past 10 years or so. Worker productivity has also reached record levels in the pas fiscal year.

    So, what is it that is causing the massive losses that have been reported over the past few years? Look up the PAEA of 2006. This legislation, that permitted the USPS to compete more directly with UPS and FedEx in the package business also fettered the USPS with a ludicrous requirement to build a fund of around $55 Billion to pay for the health benefits for FUTURE retirees, projected 75 years into the future. There is no other entity in the world that is required to prefund like this. The kicker is that the USPS was mandated to fully fund 75 years worth of future benefits in only 10 years.

    Absent this single requirement, the USPS would have actually shown an operational profit of around $800 Million. This, during the worst recession since the ’30s.

    How is that inefficient or not coming up with creative ways to remain relevant in the electronic age? All of this oinformation is readily available on the internet. There is this thing called Google and something called Wikipedia. Maybe try looking into things before just spouting off “facts” that you “know” to be true.

    Too many reporters choose to ignore some facts because they do not support the theme of the story. Ridiculous.

  7. Randy, I appreciate your input. However, the realities of the postal service do provide great examples of what not to do in business. I am not setting out to fix the post office. I am trying to help small businesses learn from the experiences of others. Regardless of the reasons why, it is true that the postal service is inefficient and non-competitive. If I had been writing an article about the causes of this I would have gone down your road. In the interest of staying on point and not writing a novel, I chose to keep my comments about the reasons brief and focus on the results – and the lessons.

  8. Great tips, Diane. Your brought out some good point and I appreciate you sharing them with the community.


  9. The real problem with postal service isn’t the revenue it is the spending. The biggest problem with its spending is its pensions. And the biggest problem with its pensions is the additional years of pension credits that military retirees receive once they come to work for the U.S. Post Office. It is my understanding, that the way this works is that anyone who has served in the military has those years tacked onto their years with the post office. For example someone with twenty years in the military works for the post office and then retires after five years at the post office. They receive retirement benefits equivalent to someone who spent twenty five years at the post office on top of their military retirement benefits. This is a great deal and will soon bankrupt the postal service.

  10. I’m tired of these business “experts” using USPS as an easy target. I’ve personally experienced WAY better service from USPS. When I order something, I use USPS and it costs less and gets to me just as quick I find, and best of all, they are less likely to lose it.

    Seriously, you think if USPS didn’t exist FedEx or UPS would pick up the slack? Stamps would cost $10 and if grandma lives in the boondocks, too bad, there’s no money in delivering way out there.

    We have the most efficient mail delivery system in the world, and it would be 100% self-sufficient if it weren’t for some scandelous 2006 legislation practically written by lobyists for private mail delivery, written for the sole purpose of destroying USPS it seems.

    [Edited by Editor]

  11. Hi Diane, thanks for your perspective.

    Yes, some post offices suffer from poor customer service. However, in my small town they go out of their way to deliver great service. The mailperson gets out of the truck and walks to the door when there are packages too big to fit in the box. The local Post Office manager comes out immediately and works the counter herself when there are long lines. And so on.

    So I suspect it’s like many businesses — it may depend on how good or bad the local manager is.

    I also want to say that I think we NEED a government postal service. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT big on government services and think we have way too much government and way too much spending. But I am a proponent for the most part of the Post Office. Dollar for dollar, it delivers a lot more to the public than a lot of other government expenditures. The price of sending a letter or card is ludicrously low — I challenge anyone to find a better value in our Federal government.

    So bottom line, let’s be thankful for what the Post Office offers, because if we had to go solely to the private market for sending a simple letter, it would cost much more.

    – Anita

  12. The responses to my original post highlight a huge business issue which is making sure you are building a culture of customer service throughout the organization. That Anita has a great experience while others of us do not is testament to the importance of culture. Everyone in a company must model outstanding customer service or the whole company suffers. It is up to the leadership to instill and enforce that culture. And, a culture of customer service has nothing to do with spending, pensions, government decisions, etc. It has to do with beliefs, actions, and decisions.

    As I said at the outset, we can learn a lot of business lessons from the US Postal Service.