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Ethical Implications of the USPS Mystery Shopper Program

By Bob Wilson, 6/17/2009
Over the last several years, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the ethical implications of the deceptive practices of the USPS retail operation, as exemplified by the "Sales Script" and enforced by the "Mystery Shopper" program. These unscrupulous tactics, dictated by somewhere far up the chain of command (perhaps from the PMG himself), amount to nothing short of theft, in addition to treating our customers with contempt as it relates to their time and individual needs. This was brought into clear focus recently by a transaction with a young lady I have met at church, but whom I have never seen previously at the Post Office.
 
Like many college students, she had completed her courses for the term and had sold (via eBay or similar) one of her used textbooks. According to the Sales Script, I was to offer her Express Mail (which, priced around $35, was almost surely inappropriate for such a transaction), and if/when she declined that, to offer her Priority Mail. In this instance, Priority Mail for that heavy textbook would have been in the range of $15 - $20, still far more than was warranted by the situation. Still according to the Sales Script, only when she specifically asked if there was anything less expensive was I allowed to tell her about Parcel Post, priced around $9 or $10. I have been explicitly instructed NEVER under any circumstances to offer Media Mail unless the customer specifically requests it, even if it seemed obvious that this was the best option for the customerís needs.
 
By this point in the transaction, my conscience was literally screaming at me to tell her that there was a less-expensive option; to do otherwise would be a lie of omission. Here is a parallel example from another industry (http://www.wwdmag.com/Straight-Talk-About-Ethics-article3354):
 
   If what you are saying or doing may harm the customer, it is unethical. Also, remember that we owe it to our customers to place their needs over ours. For example, Bob is two months behind in his car payment. His boss told him that if he doesn't sell something tonight, he is fired.
 
   He goes out on an appointment. The customer has a broken softener that could be repaired for $75.00. If Bob sells that client a new softener instead of telling them it can be repaired, that would be unethical, as it puts Bob's need ahead of the client's. It is a lie of omission not to disclose the situation to the customer. It does harm to the client. No one will ever know what Bob did if he unethically sells that softener, but doing right when it hurts and when no one will know is the mark of character.
 
In this instance, despite the knowledge that it was a direct violation of the official Postal policies that had been given to me, I told the young lady about Media Mail (priced around $4), which she gladly chose to use. I could not have done otherwise. But ALL of our customers deserve this same honesty, not just the ones we might happen to know personally. It is also unethical to show favoritism by telling some customers about better prices while withholding that information from others. Many of our customers are quite limited in their understanding of postal polices and pricing; they are dependent on us to inform them of their options. This is especially true of the elderly, young adults, and those for whom English is a second language. It is just plain wrong for us to take advantage of their ignorance; and we owe it to ourselves to resist this dishonesty.

 

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