Innovators Go Postal

18 May 2006|Darrel Rhea

I wonder if it was coincidental that our friend Dick Buchanan, Professor of Design and Head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University presented his post office manual project at the 2nd RoadBain – Cheskin Innovation Conference in Sydney this spring. Dick described the process that he and his students employed, basically reinventing the United States Postal Service manual used by all postal employees and many of their larger clients. According to the images Dick presented, now the manual is user-friendly and helps expedite service. (We were wondering why “Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night…” didn’t include something about unwieldy instruction manuals, but apparently it is no longer an issue.)

The coincidence question came up for me when, about a month later, I started learning about other new, meaningful innovations for improved service by the “Post Office.”

One concept the USPS announced this month – and yes, it is still just a concept until it is approved by the independent Postal Rate Commission – is the Forever Stamp. Postal customers will be able to buy the Forever Stamp at whatever the going rate is for first class and which would remain a valid first-class stamp forever no matter how many rate hikes take place before the stamp is actually affixed for use. Of course some bloggers are already sniping at how this works as a hedge for the USPS, but these are likely the same folks who complain about having a drawer full of one- and two-cent stamps …and 37-cent stamps and 39-cent stamps, etc. (Or maybe they don’t write letters anymore, just email.)

About the same time, I got a direct mail postcard from the USPS (you wouldn’t expect it to be an email blast, of course) announcing a new Flat Rate Box or Envelope. Both of these include convenience factors that would be meaningful to just about anyone who mails items, whether a business customer or someone who was sending a reasonably sized birthday gift to Aunt Esther: one cost-fits-all (hence the name “flat rate”) regardless of the weight or destination and pick up service. This can be good. Aunt Esther doesn’t do email, so an electronic gift card won’t fly.

Not so new, but still very user-friendly to businesses of any size as well as household customers, is the USPS website. One friend I know who has a home office – and who has experienced the time-drag of standing in line at the post office or even driving to mail or package service competitors’ offices – uses the website to determine how much postage she needs to affix to business-laden envelopes and small packages by just clicking through an easy menu of options. Getting business correspondence delivered on time without wasting postage and time certainly helps any professional to be more productive, rather than investing in non-billable administrative activities. The USPS site has a host of other friendly, helpful functions, too.

This is a good example of what service business can do to create meaningful experiences for their customers. What the old “Post Office” is doing changes my mind about what the USPS brand stands for, and that the S for Service in USPS is finally that. It just may be that “going postal” is going to have to take on a new meaning, Newman notwithstanding.

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