Some time ago we had to mail an important document and went to our local post office around 3pm, expecting to get in and out within a few minutes. As we entered we found 22 people, already in line, and ended up waiting only 45 minutes, since four persons in front of us just gave up and left. Anticipating a long wait, we first felt a tad annoyed, but then we saw the opportunity to make the best out of this situation by observing what was the cause of some inefficiencies and the long wait time.

After some pondering we now present a few scalable ideas to streamline the USPS point of sales operation. In order to keep within the scope of a typical post we will describe only the very coarse outlines.

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Self service counter for letters, flats and parcels.

Observed situation:

Some people in line just needed stamps for overweight letters and flats.

Remedy:

A self service counter. Such systems are offered by multiple vendors and can be customized. Click here for a description of such a unit.

Scalability of this approach:

A well designed self service counter will help to level the daily peak customer loads within selected post offices. Reduced waiting times will increase customer satisfaction and may even provide a little ROI. USPS has already 2500 Automated Postal Centers (APCs) installed. OIG issued an audit report– Revenue Generation by Automated Postal Centers.

Modified units could be deployed at local focus points such as supermarkets, malls or village stores. During late hours, public places provide a safer and more convenient environment than the current placement of APCs at post offices. Strategic placement of additional units at frequented locations can help to offset some effects caused by future closure or outsourcing of local post offices and removal of USPS collection boxes. These rugged systems have a small footprint, handle letters and flats and could be extended to handle parcels as well (drop/pick-up).





Print on demand forms

Observed situation:

We were simply amazed by the smorgasbord of available forms in the customer area. Certified mail, delivery confirmation and much more. A person in front of us did use one of these forms and but failed to fill in return and sender address by the letter. The postal clerk pointed out the small mistake and made the poor guy fill out a new form demanding a 100% accurate replication of the addresses on the envelope.

Remedy:

A print on demand system for various USPS forms. We visualized the following:

A customer wants additional mail service (certified, etc.). The postal clerk takes that mailing, puts it on a scanner and selects the desired service. Then the clerk prints out a copy of the mailing (address side of the envelope), which also includes transactional information and hands the copy to the customer. Additionally, the appropriate print-on-demand-form will be attached to the mailing. This will increase customer satisfaction and could provide desirable cost savings by eliminating some document management efforts. APCs already provide some basic capabilities to dispense forms, maybe these can be expanded.

Scalability of this approach:

If done right, such effort can start on a small test scale and expand as needed.





Semi-automated parcel self serve counter

Observed situation:

We witnessed customer’s uncertainty about rate and service structures for national parcel destinations. And two international parcels caused a 15 minute sales transaction each, caused by the quest to fill the right forms.

Remedy:

A semi-automated self serve counter dedicated to parcels. As the destination address is entered this station will present all required forms and print a parcel label with address and barcode. This barcode will also help to reduce parcel damage. The reason for this is that some parcel sorting systems (bulk mail centers) have no tracking on the recirculation line, which is one the top causes for parcel damage in that sorter.

Automated Postal Centers already weigh packages and print shipping labels. Do they also handle customs forms for international shipping? Click-N-Ship already provides these services online. Offering them inside the post office lobby should be very possible.

Scalability of this approach:

For usage within the post office we could see a low cost unit for around a $1000 (label printer, form printer, PC) allowing widespread deployment.

Very scalable in deployment and expanded functionality towards full service parcel stations (pack stations) for drop-off and pickup. Foreign posts increasingly use these technologies and give an attractive rebate to customers using these stations. Simplified parcel rate structures help to implement a clean and easy to understand user interface at the automated terminal.