'Cause I Said So…

A Change of Vision Needed At The USPS

Posted in Bureaucracy, Business, Finance, Free Markets, Government, Regulation by kevinsoberg on August 9, 2011

Once again, we’re hearing about problems at the United States Postal Service. The Postal Service is still having difficulty staying profitable delivering the mail. The majority of items delivered by the service has changed over its history from individual letters, to bills, to bulk mail advertising. However, the change in the Post Service’s customers has not been reflected in the way the Service operates.

There has been talk of ending Saturday home delivery of mail. It would be an immediate admission to what is no longer possible, but it does not go near far enough. It does not sufficiently increase efficiencies. It is merely a stop-gap measure to stem the bleeding associated with the failed current business model. What is really needed is a change in vision. What will the Postal Service of tomorrow be? Will it be a shrinking shade of its former self, or will it be a lean efficient money-making machine?

Any company operating in the private sector knows it must meet the needs of its customers, or risk going out of business. So, private companies continually update their business models to meet the changing needs of their customers. The USPS has not done this. It has lost sight of who its customers are and what they need. It no longer has a cogent business model.

Now, the US Postal Service already operates as two separate businesses with differing modes of operation. The Postal Service everyone thinks of is the traditional post office, with its service of General Delivery of letters and packages to all addresses in the country. The other, more recent, business done by the Postal Service is Express Delivery, the high-speed delivery of letters and packages. Most people don’t realize these two businesses operate simultaneously, but quite differently.

The business of General Delivery is a constitutionally mandated function of the federal government. This function was meant to guarantee communication across all of the states from within and without the US. To affect this, the Postal Service gives regular service, delivery and pick-up, to all US addresses, and charges rates which subsidize the costs of less profitable areas of operation. Even those areas with low populations have equal access to this form of communication, according to its governmental function. This service is operated as a virtual monopoly.

The Express Delivery business operated by the USPS has a completely different business model. Instead of offering daily service to all US addresses, service is strictly scheduled according to the need for deliveries. Pick-up service is by appointment or according to schedule from specified locations. The rates charged may be based on the cost of the individual service, though the USPS does advertise flat rates based upon the speed of service. It operates in a highly competitive field, with companies such as FedEx and UPS.

Obvious differences aside, the main difference between these business models is who is seen as the customer. Express Delivery correctly perceives the senders, those charged the fees, as the customers, while General Delivery incorrectly sees the receivers, those at the addresses, as the customers. How else could they justify daily service, regardless of need, to every address? Would you return each day to a customer making little or no use of your service, or would you instead focus on those paying for your service?

So, the obvious solution to General Delivery’s unprofitability is to end daily service to every address.

Instead of seeing the physical address visited each day as the customer, the service should focus on the people paying for delivery. The vast majority of mail is generated by companies and organizations sending large quantities of bills and advertising. They should be the daily focus of the Service’s attention. Luckily, those generating the majority of mail already have service based upon volume, either by scheduling pick-up or by dropping off their mail.

The service of mail pick-up and delivery to all other US addresses should remain regularized, but should be reduced to three times per week. The number of mail carriers would be reduced by almost half (sorry, guys). The miles driven each day would be reduced by half (without need of green technology). This one simple change would almost double the efficiency of the remaining carriers.

The actual customers of the service, those paying, could still receive daily service, while homes would still be serviced regularly. It would reduce how often people had to check their mail. The biggest inconvenience would be a one day delay in delivery of an item having no guaranteed delivery date. Those individuals who demand daily delivery of their mail may purchase Post Office Boxes for the privilege.

In the old days, it mattered if you received your mail on a given day, like the 1st or 15th of the month. Today, accounts are deposited electronically. All you may receive in the mail is a statement. If you pay your bills by mail upon receipt, you are unaffected. If you wait until the last-minute to pay, do it electronically or in person. If you need a letter delivered in town tomorrow, send it overnight or by courier.

The greater efficiencies gained by the reduction in unnecessary deliveries and its concurrent staffing will reduce the cost of General Delivery. The previously experienced cycles of increased postal rates followed by reduced traffic will end. The costs associated with an ever-growing population making ever less use of the current home pick-up service of mail will be lowered. It will allow the public to continue enjoying the regular home delivery of mail, subsidized by the Postal Service’s real customers.

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