A few years ago when Connect For More was beginning, I had opted out of a formal office space and rented a P.O. Box at my local post office location. While it meant separation of home & work, at least by physical mailing location, it also meant that I had to venture to the post office at least once a week… including during the holiday season. (Cue ominous music).
After a recent trip to the post office I was reminded of those many experiences of full parking lots, long lines and sometimes friendly – often not – professionals who worked the customer counter. I was also reminded of the original blog post I wrote but never published that detailed my frustration with the experience. I’ll save you a read and share that in short, I was complaining that it NEVER felt like a good experience anymore to go to the post office.
At that time, the United States Postal Service was struggling with competing with the for-profit shipping companies of the world – in many ways they still are. While USPS is not the only longstanding institution in our country battling with identity or customer service it certainly is one of the better known. Price of postage continues to rise, service level can be questionable and some postal workers are unpleasant to interact with.
All said, however, they made some important changes in their services that have improved the experience for many of us. Online information systems, mail delivered 7 days a week, easy mail forwarding and voter registration assistance, and my personal favorite – an online update of what mail you’re receiving today via their mail forwarding system.
From the work they’ve done, there are a few important lessons we can glean about customer service and mission delivery for our own organizations:
Be True to Your Creed.
Many of us remember the old postal service creed… “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”… or at least some variation of it. The simple translation being, that postal service cares enough to get the job done – no matter what the conditions. But what is a creed if it’s not “lived” by the people who serve the agency.
How does your board, staff and volunteer embody your mission? In what ways do they demonstrate your mission in action well?
Culture is contagious.
For years, there was the assumption that post offices were awful places to visit… they were dimly lit, run-down and provided poor service. In short, not a place you’d like to visit if given a choice. To be sure USPS is a foundational entity to our country and as such, they continually come under fire for the way that they do business. They still receive much negative consumer feedback (including a USPS Sucks Facebook page) and seem to be working on making much-needed changes. Since that time, many of them have been renovated, have automated service options, and include a much more pleasant customer experience. To be sure, they are still under fire for calls from privatization and strong opinions about their service & purpose but they’re working on addressing their culture – and it shows. Yet, how many of us let those past negative experiences determine our current interaction with them? When was the last time you visited their website or went into your local office? Many of us have opted out of using them because of those past negative culture interactions…. And that is showing also.
How would you describe your agency’s culture (i.e. values in action)? What are you doing to promote a positive culture through the services you provide and communications you share?
Postal workers are people too.
My children call postal workers community helpers. And they’re right. They serve an important function trying to individually manage their part in an incredibly large & complex system. And some of them are trying to do a good job against insurmountable odds. But at the end of the day they are people… service providers… who deal with ungrateful folks like myself who don’t fully understand the complexity of their situation and job, trying to tell them how to do it better.
How is your organization treating your front-line service providers? Are you educating them on your current & future strategy, including how they fit into its success? In what ways are you creating (and growing) personal connections to your agency?
Systems failure is service failure.
Though the USPS has no official motto, a recent slogan is “delivering more for you.” But what they don’t specify is delivering more of what for you. As a complex system, there are deep-rooted issues and cultural pieces that have been brewing for many years. While it may not be failing totally, it has been on the decline in recent years. Yes, the invention of email changed things. Yes, the American public has high expectations. Yes, this has become a politically charged topic. But how USPS will manage through this time and what they will look like after it’s done, still remains to be seen.
When was the last time you examined your internal systems? What would your clients, donors, and volunteers say about the experience they have with you? How are you promoting good customer service within your agency and with your supporters?
So that’s my two cents, or 55 cents, if you will… unless I can find those forever stamps I’ve hidden in my desk.
As always, we’d love to hear from you: Have you experienced a business (nonprofit or for-profit) that runs like the post office? Have a different opinion of the post office service? What suggestions do you have for the postal service (or a nonprofit that runs like it) that could improve the customer experience?
How can you put these lessons learned into practice for agency’s efficiency and improvement? What lessons can you learn from competitors/colleagues that will improve how you run your business? If you’re not sure where to start or want an accountability partner, we’d love to help! Contact Liz’s accountability partner at email@example.com to set up a FREE 30 minute consultation.
Want to learn more about how customer service impacts your mission work? Check out our previous blog post: Customer Service is Mission Work.
About the Author: Liz Wooten-Reschke is President/CEO of Connect For More. CFM engages leaders and empowers philanthropists to help them accomplish their mission. As the lead consultant, Liz focuses her efforts on providing ongoing support & coaching for chief executives and volunteers of nonprofits, workshop & retreat facilitation, and customized engagements to enhance board governance, agency strategy and leadership experience with her clients. Liz is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer. She is a proud member of the University of South Florida Alumni Association Board, a fourth generation Floridian and Key West Conch. She lives in Tampa, Florida, with her partner, four children, two dogs, and one cat. For more information about Liz or her work, please visit her company website, follow her on Twitter, or visit her Amazon author page.