Objective

Our objective was to evaluate key factors affecting the customer experience at Postal Service retail units and identify opportunities to enhance the overall customer experience.

The Postal Service’s vast number of post offices is the largest retail network in the country, spanning more than 30,000 Postal Service-managed retail spaces. These offices drew over 857 million retail customers and generated about $9.7 billion (14 percent) of the Postal Service’s $69.6 billion operating revenue in fiscal year (FY) 2017. Research consistently shows that focusing on the customer experience is a successful growth strategy, as companies with loyal customers grow more profitably through their existing customer base than do companies focusing primarily on trying to recruit new customers.

A joint study by the Verde Group, Wharton School’s Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative, and the Retail Council of Canada identified five key factors that contribute to a positive retail customer experience:

  • Engagement: Being polite, genuinely caring, and showing an interest in helping customers by acknowledging and listening.
  • Executional Excellence: Patiently explaining and advising, checking stock, helping find products, and having product knowledge.
  • Brand Experience: Maintaining an exciting store design and atmosphere, consistently providing great product quality, and making customers feel they are connected to the products and services offered.
  • Expediting: Being sensitive to customers’ time in long check-out lines and proactive in helping to expedite the shopping process.
  • Problem Recovery: Helping resolve and compensate for problems, upgrading quality, and ensuring complete satisfaction.

This audit expands on retail customer service data the Postal Service collects through customer surveys and mystery shoppers to identify root causes and corrective actions that could improve postal customers’ overall retail experience.

What the OIG Found

The Postal Service has opportunities to enhance customer satisfaction in each of the five factor areas affecting customer experience. Our auditors visited 136 retail units nationwide as customers, based on a statistical sample. We were dissatisfied with our overall experience at 32 of them (or 24 percent). Based on these results, we estimate customers at about one in four retail units across the country would have negative experiences. We also found that customers would be more likely to have positive experiences at retail units in rural areas rather than those in urban areas.

We attributed our overall dissatisfaction at the 32 retail units to the absence of one or more of the five key factors to a positive retail customer experience. The factors most frequently missing were executional excellence, concerns with brand experience, and problems engaging with employees.

The top reasons for our overall positive experiences at 94 of the retail units (69 percent) included friendly and knowledgeable retail associates who could complete our transactions and facility cleanliness. We had neutral experiences at the remaining 10 post offices (7 percent), which were mainly driven by interactions with the retail associate. Specifically, the retail associate was able to salvage a negative experience we had entering the facility, or the associate negatively impacted an otherwise positive experience.

In addition to visiting the 136 retail units, we reviewed results of the Postal Service’s Retail Customer Experience (RCE) program. Under the program, mystery shoppers evaluate the customer experience at about a quarter (7,500) of all retail units. The RCE program uses a 100-point scale to evaluate each office. The average overall score for RCE in FY 2017 was 93 out of 100. Unlike the RCE program, the site visits in our audit represented all retail units. Instead of using points like the RCE program, we evaluated units using the five key customer service factors, weighted evenly, under the premise that a negative experience with any of the factors could lead to dissatisfaction.

We also analyzed the results of a FY 2017 OIG customer survey, studied social media reviews for 205 randomly selected post offices, and evaluated FY 2017 Postal Service point-of-service survey results. The additional analyses revealed issues similar to the ones we experienced during our visits in the key factors affecting retail customer experience:

  • Engagement: Customers’ positive or negative engagement with retail associates was a pivotal factor in their overall customer retail experiences. At 16 of the units we visited (12 percent), the retail associate did not greet us in a friendly manner, maintain a positive demeanor, or use a polite tone of voice.
  • Executional Excellence: Retail associates at 24 of the units we visited (18 percent) did not provide useful information about our transactions or inquiries. On social media, issues related to executional excellence was the primary driver of negative reviews.
  • Brand Experience: We observed facility maintenance concerns at 35 of the units we visited (26 percent). Positive customer comments from point-of-service surveys indicated that the cleanliness of the post office influenced their overall satisfaction.
  • Expediting: We waited in line over five minutes at eight of the sites we visited (6 percent) and more than 10 minutes at three of the units we visited. Customers on social media also reported excessive wait times.
  • Problem Recovery: We were unable to contact seven of the units we visited (5 percent) via telephone using the numbers posted on usps.com. We also experienced an ongoing issue trying to redeem a money order after a retail associate misprinted the date. Resolving the problem took several weeks and many communications, which created frustration and negative sentiment toward the post office.

Customers had negative experiences at post offices because management has not established a culture heavily focused on customer service at all retail units. For example, retail associates are awarded their positions based on seniority, rather than their interpersonal or customer service skills, and most are not required to take annual customer service training. In addition, because the National Performance Assessment does not emphasize customer experience-related metrics, customer survey results account for a small portion (up to 3.5 percent) of the retail unit’s total score.

Providing a negative customer experience affects the likelihood of an individual returning to a retail unit, as well as their decision to use the Postal Service for higher-revenue, business needs. A lack of organization-wide focus on retail customer experience could negatively impact the Postal Service’s brand, customer retention, and revenue.

What the OIG Recommended

We recommended Postal Service management re-evaluate the proportion of a unit’s National Performance Assessment score directly attributable to retail customer service, take steps to cultivate a stronger retail customer service culture by integrating customer-focused practices into daily operations, develop and provide annual customer service training for all retail associates, and benchmark with organizations known for their retail customer experience and determine the feasibility of the Postal Service customizing these practices.

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Comments (9)

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  • anon

    I am astounded at the negative comments re the USPO in Sugar Land, Tx. - my observations over the last 15 years doing business there show a rapid deterioration of service & efficiency, showing lack of courtesy if not outright rudeness to patrons. Is not ANYONE in charge to require order & courteous efficiency?? I have attempted to get a name, any name, of the person in charge of Sugar Land offices or Ft Bend offices. — no luck. I am a highly educated person trying to manage the maze of red tape of government road blocks to get some responsible answers. Please respond. Thank you. Hopeful but doubtful to get a response.

    Oct 09, 2018
  • anon

    I just wanted to mention the awful service rendered this afternoon at my local post office in which a woman behind the desk was talking to a friend and exchanging numbers and asking another postal worker to retrieve her cell phone so she could get her cell phone number because she couldn't remember it while a long line was forming and then, after she finished with her she proceeded to wrap pens with tape and only after she finished with them then she asked if someone needed to be waited on. All the while the young gentlemen assisting her kept the line moving. Finally, after I was waited on I asked why no one picked up the phone when I called and she stated we don't answer phones we don't have time for that. (huh) I only had to come in because I received an email stating I missed the carrier and I should direct them on the form (they should have left but didn't) what to do. These are not the kind of people that should work for the public at all!!! very unprofessional

    Oct 09, 2018
  • anon

    Hello, Carla. Thank you for your message. Please file a complaint directly with the Postal Service at emailus.usps.com/emailUs/iq/usps/request.do?forward=emailUs. Just choose the tab marked "Personnel."

    Oct 10, 2018
  • anon

    I had ordered a ring for my husband" whom is an Iraqi war vet" on the 29th of september from a seller from Miami Fl. It was shipped out and once it hit the Opa Locka Facility it has just stopped. I have read some real horror stories about that facility how packages just go missing there. This is the kind of stuff that makes me not want to ever order anything again!

    Oct 08, 2018
  • anon

    lost packages, packages hanging out mail box where local mail man will not leave on porch.Told me It's not his job. I'm in a wheelchair and the local mail man leaves my packages on street if can't stuff it in regular mail box.Today my clothing bag delivered cut open and clothing dirty not damaged from the big delivery mail truck. Can anyone help?

    Oct 08, 2018
  • anon

    I cannot believe that the USPS is still in our government’s employ. What an absolute terrifying waste of my tax money!! Why I am still surprised at one horrible experience after another, is a surprise in itself. For example, if an item needs to be signed for, then why wouldn’t the mail carrier—oh I don’t know— RING THE DOORBELL?!? Or, knock on the door?? I understand that mail delivery is not rocket science, but I assume everyone has been blessed with even a minute amount of common sense. I have been proven wrong...thank you USPS. The depths of your inefficiency knows no boundaries.

    Oct 06, 2018
  • anon

    I am having a difficult time receiving mail in Louisville Ky. over the last several years I have had to chase my mail down to several different post offices. Now a days packages that are bigger than a few inches are being returned without even attempting to make a delivery. Since UPS and FED-ex never have a problem delivering, I will start using them more often. Been at this same address for years and the mail has the correct address when I get it!

    Oct 06, 2018
  • anon

    The worst customer service I ever experienced. For years the package pick up at MORRISANIA STATION 442 EAST 167TH STREET BRONX NY 10456. Has been plaqued with long lines and poor customer service. For years absolutely nothing has been done to help this community post office. I have seen managers come from all over to assist this post office yet to no avail. I encourage you to send someone from the postal service to see the poor quality in customer service. The workers are very slow and are often coming in after 9am and then heading out to obtain their breakfast while customers wait on line for packages. There is usually one person to retrieve packages for 40 plus people awaiting on the line. Please please look into this matter as soon as possible. Thank You

    Oct 05, 2018
  • anon

    The USPO is the one government agency the Trump administration has not yet screwed up that I can see. I hope he and his evil minions are leaving our amazing USPO alone to do it's important work. I use the USPO exclusively for all mail, shipping and I recently purchased business envelopes that are pre- addressed with prepaid postage and business cards and checks. I hope to some day SOONER RATHER THAN LATER to be able to bank at the USPS because of the relationship to community, access to rural areas and the USPO as a brand to be marketed as a trusted leader in all things from mail and shipping to Financial Services.

    Oct 04, 2018