Window Clerks are now
being pressured to "upsell" First-Class $.55 flats at the $3.50
Priority postage rate, a proposition that is (usually) inherently
dishonest and costly for postal customers. This practice not only
illustrates how the Mystery Shopper program has run amok in a
desperate bid to help postal finances, but it also illustrates
fundamental problems that will confront the USPS as it moves
closer to a pure business model.
Upselling is the term
used to describe the sales technique where a clerk or salesperson
attempts to "upgrade" a purchase by a customer. The technique is
usually used at the point of sale and its purpose is to generate
additional revenue for the business. Most Americans have
experienced this technique at their local hamburger franchise when
a counter clerk invariably asks if you want to "supersize" or
"biggie size" your meal. At the USPS, however, upselling has
become an overzealous, and some say unethical, means of conducting
Upselling at the U.S.
Postal Service falls under the management of the Mystery Shopper
Program, one of the most unpopular programs among window clerks in
many years. The Mystery Shopper Program aims to generate
additional postage revenue by insuring that window clerks ask each
customer five questions in an attempt to sell more postage or
services or upgrade the transaction.
Americans have grown
accustomed to the customary one question asked at the point of
sale that is now standard in the service and retail industry.
Usually, the one question consists of something like "will that be
all" or "would you like to supersize your meal?" Americans have
come to expect and tolerate one question. But leave it to the USPS
to take an idea and run with it to its most obscene and outlandish
At your local post
office there may be a line out the lobby door, but the window
clerks inside are going to ask postal customers five questions,
even if it kills them in the process. Why? Because the USPS hires
"Mystery Shoppers" who pose as postal customers to check window
clerks. The Mystery Shoppers report details of the transaction
back to postal managers. Failure by a clerk to ask all five
questions may result in discipline for "failure to follow
instructions". Recently, Mystery Shoppers have been presenting
window clerks with a flat (81/2 by 11 inch letter) for mailing.
Clerks have been instructed to tell the customer/mystery shopper
that the best value is the $3.50 Priority Mail rate, even though
the most common method of mailing such an article is at the $.55
First Class mailing rate. In fact, clerks have received new
instructions to recommend the Priority rate even if the customer
asks to send it the cheapest way. That, of course, is an outright
lie from the postal service to its customers.
There are at least
two things wrong with this picture. First, the flat will probably
get to its destination in the same time frame either way. In fact,
the flat may get to its destination quicker via First Class mail
at the $.55 rate. (Arenít First Class letters and flats supposed
to be delivered in one to three days between major markets?)
Second, it is basically unethical to charge someone 636% more than
is necessary, especially when it is based on an outright
falsehood. True, there are some instances where Priority Mail may
be the preferred method of shipping for such a flat, however, to
make a blanket statement and issue a blanket decree that all such
flats be recommended sent at the Priority rate is plain wrong.
Itís also wrong to instruct window clerks to engage in such
deceptive business practices.
Most of us have been
asked that one question at the fast-food franchise. However, most
of us have also been told by a sales clerk at a fast-food
franchise that it may be cheaper to order separate items in a
combo meal and save money. Thatís the honest thing to do.
Unfortunately, the USPS Ė finding itself in a financial fix Ė is
resorting to desperate and seemingly unethical measures to close
the revenue gap. Thatís not something that a "service" should do.
Moreover, one or two questions are all most Americans (and clerks)
will reasonably tolerate. Letís be reasonable, and also, letís not
be deceptive. As a public service we should be honest with our
customers. Clerks should be free to recommend (in a reasonable
manner) the most honest and reasonable method of sending a
particular item, without fear of disciplinary action.
Recently, the manager
of an area-wide Mystery Shopper program decided to do a little
mystery shopping of his own. He visited a number of post offices
and presented a number of clerks with the $.55 flat. He was
"appalled" at what he found Ė 83% of the window clerks accepted
his flat with no questions asked and charged $.55. The manager
decided to "do the numbers" like so many postal managers are good
at doing. He calculated that if each Mystery Shopper office did
this to ten customers a day that the "lost revenue" would amount
to almost $890,000 a year on Priority flats alone.
Is that $890,000 in
lost revenue, or did the clerks save our postal customers Ė the
American public - $890,000? The answer depends on what the USPS
is, or is becoming Ė a postal "service" as our name implies now,
or a postal "business" as many in the reform camp are calling for?
Thatís the $64,000 question for the USPS. Should the USPS remain
primarily a (public) service (utilizing standard and honest
business practices), or should it become a business (with service
and honesty as desired but unnecessary attributes)?
I believe that the
USPS should remain a service. The U.S. Postal Service can remain
the indispensable service that it is to the American people by
employing honest and effective business practices. And, it can and
should remain profitable while doing so. The business model is a
Capitalism is good,
but it can also be cold-blooded. Do we want a postal "business"
that, perhaps, raises rates at Christmastime, during peak mailing
periods? Do we want a postal "business" that charges more for
mailing and delivery to and from outlying rural areas? I donít
believe that the American people want such a postal "business"
just like they donít want to be unnecessarily charged $3.50 for
something that should only cost them $.55.
- T.L. Righter
P.S. I canít imagine
going into my local McDonalds and ordering a $.59 hamburger, only
to be told by the clerk that their best value is a $3.59 hamburger
that has special red and blue stickers on the packaging!