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USPS Could Learn from Foreign Postal Services, GAO Reports

Innovate or Perish is the Lesson

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U.S. Postmaster General Suggests End To Saturday Mail Delivery

U.S. Postmaster General Suggests End To Saturday Mail Delivery

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Updated February 27, 2011
For the US Postal Service - the USPS - to survive and recover from its mounting financial woes it needs to reduce its costs while increasing customer satisfaction, which is exactly what at least six successful foreign postal services have done, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In its report, Foreign Posts' Strategies Could Inform U.S. Postal Service's Efforts to Modernize, the GAO details how the postal services of Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany and Switzerland have modernized their old "brick and mortar" systems of post offices and hand-delivered mail to respond to their customers' increasing use of electronic mail services; the very thing the USPS says is killing it.

Also See: USPS: The Email and the Irony

If You Can't Fight Them, Join Them

All six of the foreign postal services now offer purely digital mail (email) services along with "hybrid" mail services blending digital and traditional mail delivery. In a typical hybrid mail system, the user sends an email message using the postal services' secured email system. After reading the email message, the recipient can then request a printed copy to be mailed to their physical address. The advantages to the users, according to the GAO, are added security and convenience. Here are a few examples:
  • Switzerland: Registered customers can have their physical mail received, scanned, and delivered by Swiss Post. Customers can choose how they would like to accept their mail. After receiving an initial scanned image of the front and back of a physical piece of mail (for example, a letter), a customer can request that Swiss Post (1) open the mail, scan the entire contents of the mail, and send the contents electronically to the customer; (2) leave the mail unopened and have the mail sent to the customer's physical address; or (3) shred the mail piece. (View Video)
  • Australia: Australia's eLetter business unit includes several subsidiaries that provide logistics and printing services, including hybrid mail, among others. It offers a complete mail solution from design, preparation, and addressing to delivery and archiving. eLetter includes a print and processing network across Australia, which has nationally located sites where mail is sent digitally for printing at locations closest to the final delivery points.
  • Canada: Canada Post's free (to consumers) online bill presentment service allows customers to view, pay, and manage bills and financial documents electronically. Allows archiving for up to 7 years. The ePost box is a secure, Internet-based service. Customers select mailers from which to receive bills and other documents.
Other Innovative Foreign Postal Programs

In addition to offering hybrid mail services, the foreign postal services studied by the GAO have partnered with retail facilities like grocery and drug stores to offer postal services, including parcel pickup. Along with being more numerous and more conveniently located than post offices, the retail facilities are open longer hours. In many cases, the postal services are owned and operated by the retail partners, thus reducing costs for the postal services. From 12% (Switzerland) to 98% (Germany) of the foreign postal services' facilities are now owned and staffed by their private retail partners.

Also See: USPS Moves into Office Depot

In Switzerland, for example, Swiss Post customers can select a time and place most convenient for them to pick up their parcels. Customers register online and receive a personal customer number. When customers place an order, for example, for a parcel delivery, they provide the sender with the address of their chosen collection point (there are approximately 350 countrywide). The customers are then notified by text or email as soon as the item has been delivered. They have 7 days to retrieve the parcel from the location. There is no additional charge for this custom parcel delivery service.

What GAO Recommended

The GAO concluded that while the foreign postal services share many of the same challenges faced by the USPS, their strategies in dealing with modernizing their services could be helpful to the USPS. Specifically, the foreign postal services dealt with resistance to change by developing strategies to inform their customers and public officials of the benefits offered by the new services, thus helping to gain support for the changes. A few of the foreign postal services also developed training, relocation and job search services, and financial incentives to support postal employees hurt by the modernization programs. They have also coordinated with local governments to resolve concerns raised by communities affected by post office closures.

Also See: Some US Post Offices Tagged for Closure Can be Saved

USPS Has Plan to Innovate

In March 2010, the US Postal Service released a modernization plan including strategies for overcoming its financial challenges from declining mail volumes. Major elements of this plan included:
  • Change Delivery Frequency: With the approval of Congress, end Saturday mail delivery and otherwise adjust delivery days to better reflect current mail volumes and customer usage.
  • Expand Postal Customer Access: Modernize postal customer access by providing services "where the customers are." Increase and enhance customer access through partnerships, kiosks, and improved online offerings, while reducing costs.
  • Expand Products and Services: Seek permission from Congress to allow the USPS to evaluate and introduce more new postal products and services allowing it to better respond to changing customer needs.
To date, legislation allowing the USPS to implement key elements of its modernization plan has failed to move forward in Congress; and in fiscal year 2010, the USPS reported a net loss of $8.5 billion.
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