On Missing the Point

The other day I read this post by Matthew Wright which made me think of an experience I had with the post office a few years ago.

I was expecting a package.  It was an overnight counter-to-counter courier package.  They’re supposed to be available by eleven o’clock, so I showed up at the post office just after eleven.  The queue was quite long as the South African post office is also one of the largest banks in the country (in terms of client numbers – they don’t offer any credit facilities and all transactions are over the counter, so it’s the bank of choice for most low-income earners) and, as with any post office in the world, only two of the twelve cashier windows were staffed.

After 45 minutes of shuffling forward a bit at a time, in the process memorising all the notices and posters on the walls (this was before I had Twitter), I finally reach the counter only to be told that I cannot get my package.  The delivery truck was late, and the mail had not been sorted yet, I must return in half an hour.  At this point the queue was twice as long as when I originally arrived, so I took my place at the back of the line once again figuring I might as well stay.

When I got home I did complain, though.  I sent an e-mail to the customer service department, also complaining about the general poor service at this branch but at the same time making the suggestion that there be one cashier that gives priority service to people with mail-related business (which usually goes much faster than bank transactions), as they already do with vehicle licence renewals.

I quickly received a very courteous reply from the area manager (still saved in my Gmail account) explaining the situation with the delivery being late, but also explaining at length that postal services made up only a small part of the post office’s package of services and, as it was not their main source of income, they could not justify reserving a window especially for that.  Besides, it would be unfair to the other customers to give priority to some.  As to the issue of only two cashiers being on duty he explained that, due to the recession, people were sending less mail (bet you didn’t know that!) and that that had forced them to cut down on cashiers’ hours.  (I only realise now: if postal services do not represent their main source of revenue, why would a decline in people sending mail affect their bottom line?)

The point is, the area manager of the post office told me, when we get right down to it, that the handling of mail is not the post office’s primary function.

I’ll say that again, just so we are clear: THE HANDLING OF MAIL IS NOT THE POST OFFICE’S PRIMARY FUNCTION!

When I pointed out to the area manager the absurdity this he actually agreed with me, and then he did the e-mail equivalent of a shrug and that was that.

I have since gotten a post box at a smaller branch office where the tellers know me by name and where the queue is never more than three people.  Sure, it costs me an annual fee, but at least I get the service that I pay for.

I’ll say it just one more time: The handling of MAIL is not the POST OFFICE’s primary function.  Go figure.