The Case for Competition: Another Reason the Post Office Sucks


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!

  • Andrew Comings

    This is why many of us are leery of a government monopoly on healthcare. Can you imagine being required to fill out hospital forms in black ink?

  • John Gallagher

    I am often flabbergasted by the lack of service at the post office. And, now, they are also comptemplating closing on Saturdays to save billions of dollars. It will still not make them profitable. Just, please, do not make the competition at the Department of Motor Vehicles! Don't even get me started on those places….

  • Jeff

    Okay, I agree there is never an excuse for bad service. I do at times try to look at things from the Postal employee's perspective. Multiply you and your family's frustration by say maybe 10, that is number the of unhappy people this person probably deals with in a day. And I am certain not all of them practice the same restraint that you do. So, couple that with rules from the federal government that make no sense to even the people enforcing them, and you get a response like "Do you want a passport or not." It's just easier than arguing over the woes of black ink. Now go to the DMV and passport office in the same day!

  • MaurilioAmorim

    Yes, I went there first. I can see how people die in hospital lines before they can get proper care.

  • MaurilioAmorim

    That's how people go postal!

  • nibbyp

    I try to use to use the online services as much as possible with the post office. We have a community of about 45,000 people and only have one post office. The lines many days are terrible and the traffic around the building is just as bad. I agree with you Maurilio changes need to be made. One of the best changes could be the elimination of Saturday delivery. I really don't get much in the mail anymore. Was the lady's name at the post office Helen Waite? 🙂

  • Laura

    I agree, but it's not only the government, which the USPS is not really run by, but what about cable companies? most areas only have one option. Also the utilitie companies are usually noncompetitive. You want electricity only one place to go etc. where is the free market in that? ok, enough from me. just had to vent.

  • Bridget Haymond

    I would have to say that the post office is dying a slow death due to its own arrogance of being a monopoly as evidenced by the attitude experienced by you and your wife. People have found a myriad of ways to get things done without using the post office via e-mail, Internet, UPS etc… And after continual price increases, the post office is now talking about cutting Saturday delivery because they aren’t making enough money and need to cut expenses.

    Sadly I have witnessed this same thing happen in a very large church that I was a member of. Always aware of their influence, they strived to reach beyond their boarders, but often to the neglect of their own staff and home base. It was basic things that could have easily been taken care of and avoided if a balanced perspective had been in place. A simple strategy of taking care of home first in order to serve others best would have served this church well.

    I think many churches and companies loose their cutting edge when they loose site of why they are doing what they are doing and fail to acknowledge their greatest potential for influence comes by valuing those in their midst. That kind of value will be communicated far beyond the four walls of the ministry or the company in a multitude of ways.

    Any company or ministry whose mission and vision includes valuing those in their immediate sphere of influence will be a force to be reckoned with for the long haul.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  • MaurilioAmorim

    That's a great correlation between the post office and a mega church. No matter your business, you're exist to serve people.

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