Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Automating the post office

I thought I had a simple task; mail a letter, get a return receipt, and have the ability to track it. I don't do this every day, so I went to the post office and started reading. Certified mail, Delivery Confirmation, Registered Mail, Priority Mail... it was a lot to take in. I finally decided I wanted Delivery Confirmation with a Return receipt. I filled out both forms and went to wait in line. One line, with one teller.

A friendly postal worker announced "Anybody paying by debit card or credit card can use the automated postal center." Cool, I thought, and I proceeded over to the ATM like thingy.

I must have had a blank stare on my face because the same postal worker asked me, "Do you need help?"

"I just want to mail this letter, get an acknowledgement from the recipient, and be able to track it if it gets lost.", I replied.

"Those aren't the right forms. The machine will print out the right ones."

"OK, cool." I start punching away. Letter. First Class. Done.

"Um, it didn't ask me if I wanted to get a return receipt."

"You did it wrong. You have to add a service."

"O...K..." Cancel. Letter. First Class. Add Service. Return Receipt.

"How do I know my tracking number?"

"You have to add a different service."

At this point, she is getting just as frustrated as I am. There's three Moms behind me patiently waiting to send cookies off to their kids. We go through it together: Cancel. Letter. First Class. Add Service. Certified Mail. Add Return Receipt. Done.

Finally, the stamp prints out. Another form prints the Return Receipt card and another sticker I'm supposed to put on the letter. The form is about half "peel and stick" and half regular paper. I fill out the "peel and stick" part and put it on the back of my letter. I carefully place the other sticker on the front of my envelope and fold it according to the directions on the form. I drop my neatly assembled letter in the big mailbox next to the APC.

"That's for packages", she says and quickly adds on "but it will get there." I'm going to the window next time.


Tim... said...

That explains why I didn't get a Christmas card from you last year :)

Niall said...

Marvellous story. Though you might find that having got to the front of the queue they'll say - sorry we don't have any of those forms, you'll have to use the machine :)

Howard J. Rogers said...

The modern world and its technology was supposed to make us free, but instead everywhere we are in thrall to its categorisations and intrusive demands.

As one who works in the industry that makes all of that possible, I am somewhat embarrassed about it.

I don't know what you can do about it, but I cut all my credit cards up a long time ago, and pay everything by cash.

Peter K said...

Seems to be a case of training/marketing. If the Post Office cannot explain clearly the various options/services, then how do they expect you, the customer to know?

I don't know what you can do about it, but I cut all my credit cards up a long time ago, and pay everything by cash.

Probably fit the profile of a "criminal" or "terrorist" ;) No auditable trail.