Quick...what business is the U.S. post office in? If you don't know the answer, then you and I have something in common.
I took a trip to my local post office here on Cape Cod today to express mail some packages. You know the kind where they provide the box and you provide the credit card to pay for the service of having your package shipped priority. I packed everything neatly into their box and took my package to the desk. The postal clerk told me that I was lucky, as there was some tape sitting on the counter that someone had left. I was puzzled by this statement, as I'm used to the post office in my hometown providing tape. When I commented as such, the postal worker handed me a memo. I can't help but share its contents with you, since I was astonished both that 1) tape doesn't come with the shipping service, and 2) that the postal worker would dare to share a copy of a memo (and believe me, he had others) that was obviously distributed in ALL offices. Here's what it said:
This message is for All offices.
When a customer needs Packaging Tape in order to seal a parcel in order to mail it, the process has not changed. SELL THEM A ROLL OF PACKAGING TAPE. No-one (sic) should be taping parcels for customers or giving them tape to seal it themselves. USPS paid for the tape so that it is available for customers to purchase. We have instructed everyone to offer Packaging Tape as the additional item during every transaction.
This past weekend there was a situation in one of our offices where the customer put on a scene because she could not get free tape to tape her parcel. She named 6-7 neighboring offices that always give her the tape. Unfortunately for the SSA that was doing her job correctly, she had to be subjected to the screaming with other customers in the lobby.
Please refrain from giving the Packaging Tape away.
The clerk then asked me to bring the tape on the counter to him, which I did. He then put it away so that no other customers could use the free tape that someone had left.
What does this say about the state of service from an entity I thought was supposed to be a service provider, and not a tape dispenser? The idea of providing value and helping a customer in need comes down to a roll of tape. Seriously folks, if I had video taped this conversation, it would have been a YouTube sensation.
So you have an employee who is complying because he is told he cannot deviate, and you have a customer who is dissatisfied because she needs help to complete her transaction. But here's the thing. I thought that I had already paid for the tape, as my taxes fund the U.S. post office. I know times are tough these days, but perhaps by increasing customer service, the post office could steal away millions of dollars worth of business from places like FedEx and UPS. I believe this is possible if they would only stop competing with Staples and start acting like they are in the business of customer service.
© 2011 Human Resource Solutions. All rights reserved.
Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions  and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Sign up  to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters.
[Image: Flickr user afagen ]