I am retired and take educated guesses on all things financial.

July 01, 2008

July 1, 2008: USPS, Riviera Beach Style

Still on vacation/business/family gathering here at Palm Beach Shores.

I had to mail a few documents today, and decided to make the trek over the Blue Heron Bridge to the United States Post Office of Riviera Beach.

Those of middle age remember when the Postal Service was anything but...service. It became a laughing stock and poster child for lazy employees, gross inefficiency and slow or non-existent service. Then, during the Reagan administration, the postal system became quasi-privatized and things improved.

Over the past few years, I have noticed a steady deterioration of service and error-prone results again creeping into the system. Of course, stamp and postal rates continue to go upwards regardless.

Which leads me to the Riviera Beach Post Office, a soviet-looking structure outside and from within. I parked my car in the poorly maintained lot, off a poorly designed entrance on a busy highway and, dodging a downpour of rain, dashed into the huge and exceedingly cold foyer area. No stamp machines were to be seen, anywhere. To my left, a sea of mailboxes and the faint odor of poorly washed bodies. To the right, a long line of customers ("victims", if you are of that mindset) with three - no, make that two postal service employees, as one proudly announced she was done for the day - moving in glue to annoy themselves by having to deal with the public. I joined the line, which was guided by wooden rails to keep the masses in some order. All important forms and mailing essentials were kept in the far rear of this area, so if a customer had to get a specific form, they had to leave the postal service employee station and go all the way to the rear of the office area, find the form with no assistance and then go back to the station, to the chagrin of the twenty or so customers waiting for service.

After waiting a long time, shuffling in concentration camp-like fashion towards one of the two open postal stations, I remarked to the gentlemen in front of me that this is what the old Soviet Union would have been like. He understood, laughed and said he had not thought of it in those terms but that it was a good analogy. A Haitian lady just in back of me apparently did not find my commentary funny. She chided us to "move along" as the line had crept up another foot or two.

Finally, it was my turn. Beckoned by a wave that Queen Elizabeth would have been proud of, I came face to face with my superior. Just as I was about to do my business, a voice with a heavy Caribbean accent yelled from the back of the room that he wanted to add a name to his postal mailbox, and that he wanted an employee to leave their customer and service him. My look at the postal employee who was pondering the request must have triggered memories of postal employees gone berserk, with me being in the shoes of the insane one. She chose wisely, and serviced me instead of the yeller.

I understand that serving the public is challenging, and that many postal employees are there by the Grace of God -or a political connection. However, poor service, inefficient processes and attitudes serve as a reminder that all businesses need to be vigilant in their best practices, before mediocrity and stagnation set in.

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