This week my whole family had to make a trek to the main Nashville post office on Royal Oaks Blvd, a 45-minute drive with two smelly boys and another two of their equally smelly friends. The boys needed new passports and the only way to renew them was for the whole family to appear live at the post office (I tried talking Gwen into conferencing me in with a laptop but she just gave me “the look”). I wasn’t looking forward to the whole ordeal, but I underestimated the postal service’s ability to disappoint.
We show up at 5:25 knowing that the passport window closes at 6. The line was 8 people deep and the lonely employee inside the small room was, well, slower than molasses. Gwen, in order to expedite the process, had pre-filled all the necessary paperwork she picked up at our local branch beforehand.
Twenty minutes later we hear a voice of another postal employee loudly addressing those of us in line. “Make sure you have your forms filled out.” Ok we did. “Make sure the forms are filled out in black ink.” What? black ink? We looked over the forms and there were no directions about filling them out in black ink anywhere.
By this time we were next in line to visit with Mr. Molasses so Gwen asked “Where does it say black ink?” Without looking the man yelled “There’s a sign at the door.” Well the sign was a handwritten piece of 8×10 paper taped to the glass window a few feet from us that said “Use black ink on forms.” Flustered and fearful of having to go to the back of the line again, or worse, have to return another day, Gwen said, “I’m sorry but there’s nothing on this form that says that. I already filled out all the paperwork in blue ink.” His response was something I didn’t anticipate, even from a disgruntled postal worker: “Lady, do you want passports or not?” So Gwen and I scrambled to refilled all the paperwork in black ink while I was thinking of several responses to his statement–none of which I can write on this post.
The more I thought about the incident, the more I’m convinced that monopolies of any kind are never good for anyone. If I want to get a passport, I have to use the post office whether I have good service or whether some jerk decides to be disrespectful to my wife. If a restaurant serves me bad food, I don’t have to go back. If I don’t get good service at Home Depot, I will go Lowe’s or vice versa.
Competition has a way to sharpen us, to help us do what we do better because if we don’t, someone else will. The free enterprise system gives everyone the chance to succeed or fail based on their own performance. But unless you’re the government, you have to continue to improve and create value for your customers.
So what can the organization you belong to (whether a business or church or ministry) do better in order to remain viable? Also feel free to share your sucky post office story!