Columnist says window clerk’s questions don’t make sense

As the USPS prepares to dump its infamous “Perfect Transaction Method“, a columnist highlights one of the reasons customers (and window clerks) disliked it:

I was at my local post office one afternoon recently. When I gave a package to the desk clerk, she asked me, “When do you want this delivered?”

This question seems to be the U.S. Postal Service code for asking how customers want their mail handled: first class, business, media rate, etc. But they don’t ask that question directly. Rather than asking, “Do you want this to go first class?” they ask, “When do you want this delivered?” Probably someone in the Postal Service bureaucracy thought that was a nice, non-judgmental way to ask for this necessary information.

I answered, “This morning!” It was impossible, of course, but that’s what she asked, so I told her.

I got a strange look. And then the clerk asked, “First class?”

I said, “Yes.”

The entire conversation would have been much clearer if she had simply asked the right question in the first place.

via Avoid strange distinctions | HeraldTribune.com.

  • jim c

    whoever the writer/customer is here…………you need to get a life

  • MsJ

    The problem is Management and the Executive offices making these ridiculous decisions on how Clerks; the people who interact with the customers on a daily basis; should approach transactions, don’t listen nor ask Clerks their opinions on what their customers prefer to better serve the public, therefore taking the humanity out of the job and turning them into annoying robots. Repetition is annoying, sort of like a two-step dance, and that’s where the “when do you want this to arrve?” Question comes to play. Customers aren’t dumb, they know majority of the time exactly what they want and so do the Clerks that tend to them. Management is so worried about wait time, upselling, etc tat they’ve failed to realize computer technology has advanced so far beyond the dinosaur system they’re using now! I can go on and on but it’ll turn into a article.

  • BIG DOG

    WINDOW CLERKS ARE REQUIRED TO PUSH PRIORITY MAIL ON THERE CUSTOMERS OR EXPRESS! NOW IF THERE BEING ASKED WHEN THEY WANT IT THERE, THE CLERK IS BEING PLAIN LAZY, AND THE HAZMAT Q’S ARE SUPPOSE TO BE ASKED FIRST. AND IF YOUR CLERK IS NOT KIND OR SUPPORTIVE CALL THE CONSUMMER LINE OR USE THE EMAIL ON LINE SO EVERYONE COAST TO COAST CAN READ IT. OR FILE A COMPLAINT ON OIG.GOV YOU SHOULD GET A RESPONSE THERE TO THE INFORMATION THAT THE CLERK PROVIDED OR DID NOT PROVIDE, OR IF HE OR SHE WAS RUDE.

  • Doodle

    The clerk didn’t ask the question as management would want, but there is merit in what was said. If you want it guaranteed to be delivered next day, the clerk would suggest Express Mail. If you said 2-3 days, Priority. First Class might take 2-3 days as well, depending on how far it travels. The writer may be assured that whatever questions are asked are fueled by management’s desire to upsell. The clerk is not supposed to think, just offer Express, wait for an answer, Priority, wait for answer, etc. The panic to upsell is the result of the Postal Enhancement and Accountability Act of 2006. It took the humanity out of window transactions by turning the PO into a profit-driven entity, not a service. The USPS website says (correctly) that this law changed the way they do business. True…but not in a good way.

  • Postal Robot

    The clerks are required to follow a script. They are not allowed to stray much from that and they are certainly not allowed to think for themselves.
    You never know who is watching.

  • Lifetime Clerk

    You can ask all the questions you want but the Domestic Mail Manual still has mail classificaton requirements. A customer may want to mail a shirt and jacket express mail, that’s great. Another customer may want to mail his company’s Federal Tax Return, in a box weighing 8 pounds, by Parcel Post and insured because it’s the cheapest and slowest. He doesn’t care when the IRS receives it. You CANNOT do this. All documents and letters have to go First Class, Priority or Express Mail. The DMM always rules over the Mystery Shop Transaction.
    When in doubt ask what’s inside the package.
    You will also find folks mailing all kinds of stuff Media Mail rate because it’s the cheapest. Ask the customer. Make sure you know what they are mailing.
    Starting today UPS requires a photo ID to mail a package at their offsite locations. ie: Office Depot and Dierberg’s

  • jerry murphy

    when i became a window clerk back in 98, my job was to help the customer to make the besst decision on how to get theitem they were mailing from point A, to point B. Now, my job is simply to squeeze as much money out of the customer that I can, it no longer matters what they want. Whats wrong with that picture?

  • Willa Jabir

    The script has been misused and misunderstood. The purpose of the script is to inform customers. Informing the customer of the classes, options, benefits, and services gives the customers options. I also go into the offices testing them as well as being a customer. After instructing a class in a teleconference, I visited the office and tried to mail a package Priority, The clerk insisted I send the package Parcel Post. I stated the package contained immigration papers and support documents such as photos. She still insisted I send it Parcel Post. I had to call her manager to mail the item properly. The employees are like those in many other companies. To many think they know what you want or need rather than inform you and give you the opportunity to decide. The script was designed to inform the customer so they can decide. Some managers tried to increase their atta-boys with the program or alter it to their own liking, but this was NOT the intention of the program. So the program is not to squeeze the customer, but to get them back from Fedup by quoting the service and price. But, as of today, the script removes that part. Now lets see what happens letting the clerk choose the service for the uninformed.

  • jerry murphy

    as I said earlier, my job starting out as being there to help the costomer, not to make any decisions for anyone. I’ve also have found, and only because I have been told numerous times by most of my customers that they are not interested in having there options explained to them. I could not even count how many times my costomers come up to my window, and the first thing out of there mouth is “No to all your questions, just send it priority.” I understand the whole “perfect transaction” concept, and being the only clerk on the window 85% of the time, and believe me, I recite it every costomer every day all day, but I’ve always felt it was a waist of the customers time because they have told me numerous times that they just dont wanna hear it, so my intentions, as soon as I am told its OK to do so, I intend on going back to simply “helping” the customer to the best of my ability, because after all, that is truely what we are to do.

  • brian

    Willa- Your example really doesn’t sound plausible, but even if it actually happened the way you claim, it’s one bizarre aberration on the part of one window clerk. The norm at most offices, as you should know, is that the clerks do as they’re told, and recite all the questions, no matter how much it annoys the customer.
    “To many think they know what you want or need rather than inform you and give you the opportunity to decide.”
    You don’t work the window at every office- many clerks DO know exactly what their customers want, because they’ve been serving them for years. As much as people like you want to go on and on about branding and product offerings, many of our transactions are like going into a local coffee shop where you order the same thing every morning. The last thing you want as a customer is to have to wait while your server asks a bunch of questions before finally taking your order. The “perfect transaction” is when the clerk DOES know exactly what you want and is ready to provide it as soon as you get to the counter! And if you really believe that “The script was designed to inform the customer so they can decide”, you are unbelievably naive. The script was designed to increase sales revenue by getting people to buy more expensive services. That is a fact, not an opinion. Mystery shop and “perfect transaction” were never presented as means to increase customer satisfaction- just revenue.

  • jerry murphy

    amen

  • Ron

    Brain…I’m a shopper. You’re arguement makes great sense. I don’t listen in on other customer transactions. I only report on my own transaction, WTIL, the post office itself, forms available, etc. I think they should give you free reign with your “regulars” and not irritate them, but when you see a stranger…educate them. Many times if I were a new shipper with the USPS as everyone is at some point, I would need to know about products and services available to make the best decision. Seems that some flexibility in deciding based on the “customer” would be in order. I agree that I would be irritated if I sold on eBay and shipped every day if someone asked me 42 questions before shipping my packages. Most of the time your “shopper” isn’t your regular customer though. I’ve done 37 post office shops since November and I guarantee you I barely ever see a post office except these past three months. One postal clerk asked me his ton of questions and I looked at him and asked him why he was asking so many questions. He told me, “Because you might be a mystery shopper!”.

  • brian

    Ron- reminds me of a comment I heard from someone in Marketing a couple of years ago. She was talking mystery shop to an audience of somewhat cynical postmasters. When one PM pointed out that regular customers had complained about all the questions, she told him it was vital to ask the questions of ALL customers, even regulars who shipped the same stuff every day. Why? Because they might be Mystery Shoppers!! Not because we were providing valuable information, not EVEN because it might result in more revenue- just because not asking the questions might negatively impact the Mystery Shop score! That made it blindingly obvious to me that we were ignoring our actual goals, and concentrating on a metric that had nothing to do with achieving our goals.

  • Julian

    I was at Office Depot not 15 minutes ago to ship a package…never again! There was noone else in line and it still took 15 minutes to send one small box. The clerk was rude and “demanded” my drivers license, demanded to know what was in the package, asked if the return address was the same as on my license. I felt as if I was entering the CIA…. I didnt appreciate it one bit. I ship things all the time from my office and have NEVER been asked about the contents of the package. I can tell you this I will not do that from Office Depot again and dont give a da*n if it’s to prevent terrorism. I’m no criminal and dont appreciate being treated like one nor do I appreciate being interrogated by a minimum wage clerk at some third rate retail store.