June 14, 2004

Tales from the disservice industry

I just spent over an hour at the post office picking up a package. Pull up a chair (you may have to get out of the chair you are already sitting in first) and let me tell you all about it.

First of all, I should mention that I did not have a slip indicating that this package was waiting for me. I merely inferred that it must be there, because Amazon sent it out a while ago, and it should have arrived sometime last week. (It actually arrived last Tuesday, it turns out.) This is the third time that a package has been waiting for us at the post office without the mail carrier ever leaving a package slip to alert us to its presence. The first time it happened, we were not aware that anything so lame could happen, and an set of books that Rose had ordered from Hamilton Books ended up being returned to sender. (They did reship it at no additional cost.) Since then, I've been vigilant.

So when I arrived at the post office, the line was, as it usually is, way too fucking long. But there seemed to be a shorter line at a separate window, and I asked the other people in the line if they were there to pick up packages; they were. This window is usually only open between 9:00 and 11:00 AM (and I am not usually awake between those hours to take advantage of this window), but I assumed they reopened the window to help deal with the large number of people waiting in line.

The package line moved not at all in the 15 minutes or so that I was waiting in it. I contemplated getting in the other line (which was actually moving, contrary to its usual behavior), but I didn't want to wait in it only to have someone tell me that I needed to go back and wait in the package line. Then, as the two women at the window finally completed their mysteriously complicated transactions, the rest of us in line were told by the woman at the window that, no, this window was not actually open. The people she was helping had asked to see a supervisor, so that's why they were at this window, and the rest of us were just going to have to get in the other line. She didn't apologize to us for not having said anything about this to us the entire time we were all waiting there, she didn't do anything to help us get served more quickly, and she generally acted as if we had all been trying to get away with something.

So we all got into the other line, which promptly slowed to a crawl. One man had a package which he had not finished taping shut; the clerk gave him some priority mail tape to wrap the package, which he did (clumsily), and didn't take the next person in line while he was taking forever about it. When he finally finished his transaction, she closed her window. So we were down to two windows, one of which was soon taken over by a woman with four rambunctious children who seemed to need new passports for all four of those children. The woman who had been stuck at the window next to that one for a ridiculously long time was then told that her clerk didn't have enough money to complete her transaction, and that there was only one clerk who could help her -- the one in the middle of dealing with the endless array of forms involved in sorting out the passports.

The next people in line (a man and daughter, it looked like) were also told that they'd have to wait for the passport clerk. So all these people -- mother, four children, irritated woman, irritated man and daughter -- are waiting in a clump in front of this harried clerk's window. Meanwhile, the line has just been getting longer and longer, and people who have not been waiting nearly as long as I have are started to get restless and demanding to see supervisors to complain.

There has been another window open all this time, but that window is the senior citizen window. If there are no senior citizens waiting, that window will take someone from the regular line. Naturally, every time it seemed like that window might become available to us, another senior citizen would meander in. It seems to me that when the line becomes so outrageously backed up, alternating senior citizens with people from the main line would be a good compromise, but given how little attention they seem to pay their customers, I'm not sure they would take my advice.

I have been to this post office before, so I knew to bring a book. Mind you, my ever increasing irritation made it difficult to focus (as did the SCREAMING BABY), but it did provide a distraction. As I got sloooooooowly within a few people of the one remaining window, my anticipation of actually perhaps escaping the post office -- possibly even with my package! -- made it too hard to read, so I gave up on it. Things sped up a bit once they reached the part of the line that consisted of nothing but those of us who were refugees from the imaginary package line. Sadly, the first of us did not even get his package. They couldn't find it. They took his number and told him they would call if it turned up. (This has also happened to me at this post office; in my case it was because a package had been addressed to both me and Rose, which apparently threw them into an utter tizzy. Packages addressed to two people go in a completely different place, apparently. And, naturally, my package slip -- yes, that one time they did manage to get me a package slip -- only had my name on it, so they didn't find it when they looked for it in the usual place.) A few minutes later I finally made it to a window and got my package.

Let's reflect on that for a moment. He had a package slip, and they couldn't find his package. I didn't have a package slip, and I am even now listening to the new Morrissey CD (which is helping calm me down somewhat) which was in my package -- which I had to infer was at the post office. Is this not seriously fucked up?

Oh, but wait. There is more. Even as I was waiting for the clerk to come back with my package, a new and heretofore unseen clerk emerged from the back of the post office, asking if anyone in line had packages to pick up, and would they give their slips to her so she could take care of it? This happened over a half hour after the freaking supervisor of the post office (sorry for the overuse of italics -- which isn't over yet -- but I feel it is the only recourse) told a line full of people waiting for packages to, basically, go to hell. I have never in my life seen such moronically bad customer relations.

What makes this even more irritating (and it is hard to believe that such a thing is possible) is that there's no reason my package should not have been delivered to my door in the first place. I work at home. I am home all day long. So it should not be hard to get packages to me. Perhaps sometimes the mailman arrives and rings the doorbell, and I am asleep, and the doorbell doesn't wake me up. I could see this happening. But then why would he not leave me a goddamn package slip? Why? Or why not just leave the box at the door...as they have done with practically every other package they bring me? (They invariably fail to ring the bell when they leave packages at the door, but at least the packages arrive without me having to deal with the post office.) Who the fuck do I have to slap the shit out of to get this all fixed?

Posted by Francis at 03:47 PM

Well, I'd start with the station manager of that particular post office. It wouldn't take too much editing to turn this very rant into a polite yet obviously and justifiably annoyed letter...with a copy sent to the district supervisor, or the Postmaster General as you see fit. If it were a restaurant or credit card company, that would generate at least a contrite letter and a free appetiser/waived fee; I don't know what the USPS equivalent would be. A pane of stamps, maybe.

Posted by: David. at June 14, 2004 05:11 PM

dude. don't even get me started on the post office. your ideas are great, but your problem is that you're trying to ascribe rationality to the people who make decisions around there. that leads nowhere - trust me, i've tried :(

Posted by: Ken/Cazique at June 14, 2004 08:14 PM

None of this is surprising. The thing I find most shocking is that I just yesterday had pretty much the same experience with FedEx, a for-profit, ostensibly customer service oriented company. Paperwork I needed from an old boss was shipped to my home, where the bell doesn't list my name. As such, the FedEx driver listed it as a wrong address and returned it to the station, without leaving a sticker suggesting that, if I was in fact living there, I could pick it up at the station. Only because I knew the envelope was coming and called my boss to get a tracking number did I even discover the problem. The station wasn't as bad as you've described, but that's largely because there were fewer people waiting. The premise was the same.

Posted by: Scott at June 15, 2004 10:16 AM