Monday, October 6, 2008

What's YOUR Priority?: The USPS and its conflicting messages

A few days ago I wrote an entry on customer deception - about how some brands were relying on short-sizing to keep product prices constant and help preserve their bottom line. Continuing on this theme, I came across a blog discussing how the US Postal Service is yet another brand deceiving consumers to help out their financial state. Bruce Watson from Walletpop talks about what he calls a scam by the Postal Service. He writes: “In an effort to combat its budget deficit of over $1 billion, the United States Postal Service is, allegedly, trying to upsell its premium services while hiding its less expensive options. According to an anonymous source, the USPS has instructed its employees to stop offering inexpensive shipping; whenever customers come in with anything larger than a letter, employees are supposed to ask if they want Express Mail guaranteed overnight delivery or Priority Mail. If the customer asks about cheaper options, the employee is then allowed to discuss First Class, Parcel Post, or Media Mail. The key element here is that the customer has to mention the cheaper options, as the counterperson can't.”

What I find interesting about Bruce's entry is the fact that just this week, the USPS announced their 5 year strategic plan called “
Vision 2013.” Vision 2013 "
rests on three major strategies: 1) Focus on what matters most to customers. 2) Leverage our strengths to create customer value and profits to invest in continued improvement. 3) Embrace change in the way we respond to emerging customer needs and a rapidly evolving business environment.” Regarding focusing on what matters to customers, the USPS plans to build on trusted relationships, communicate effectively, start with customer needs, and provide excellent customer experiences. In their words, “being "good enough" is not sufficient to increase customer loyalty and gain new business.”

Although it has a long and enduring brand heritage, it's no secret the United States Postal Service does not have the most sterling reputation. In January of 2006, Brand Channel wrote an article criticizing the brand ("USPS - Return to Sender") stating "presently, a country's postal service is a necessary evil." They noted that "...the brand image of the postal service is largely shaped by its customers' visits to the local post office, and occasional undelivered or late mail." And based on their documented experience (a visit to a Post Office in NYC near Columbia), the brand image was definitely not a positive one.
Since the USPS obviously needs to take some drastic measures to help improve their brand, Vision 2013, seems like it should be a way to help turn around this "brand gone bad." However, I wonder when exactly this 5-year-plan is slated to be kicked into high gear - now or later? If the rumors circulating the internet are true, being deceptive about your product offerings isn’t really a good start. Communicating effectively? Building on trusted relationships? People are going to think this is a joke. Well, then again, maybe it is...and if so, the joke's on us.

1 comment:

Sarah D. said...

Per Bruce Watson ( - "Looking over the Post Office's plan for the future, I'm struck by how little it actually says, and how open it is to interpretation. 'Communicate effectively' could easily mean 'effectively communicate the most expensive options, while limiting access to cheaper shipping methods.' Gotta love bureaucratic doulespeak!"