At the beginning of last week I mailed using USPS certified mail a two-inch thick blinder full of important legal documents to my lawyer in Pittsburgh. Because it was a certified mail, I signed up for e-mail tracking notifications. The next day, just before 11am, I got an email from USPS with a status update all in caps: UNDELIVERABLE AS ADDRESSED!!!! I Panicked!!! Hours spend preparing the documents, and here I was fearing they were going to be lost see. I called USPS customer service, and a nice lady told me that there was nothing I could do. Packages marked as undeliverable are automatically returned to sender. More panic. I do not live in USA, and they will not return it outside of USA when the package was sent from Brooklyn. I pushed the lady and she said, “well, we can launch an investigation if you like to find out what happened.” Ecstatic I scream YES PLEASE! She informs me that it will take 24-48 hours. A lot can happen in 24-48 hours, what do I do?
Well, we are not living in the 50’s or 60’s anymore. We have Google. I googled post offices in the zip code of my lawyer. The people at the local post office were very helpful. However, the person who was attempting the delivery of my package was still out on the delivery route. I am told to call the next day in the morning before they go out on the run. In the mean time, I decided, out of desperation, to call the centralized corporate customer service to see if they have any updates. I talk to a gentleman who politely laughs at me, “you realize we need time to investigate” he says. He nicely points out that I have just initiated the investigation a few hours ago and that they need 24-48 hours. He apologizes that such are the rules, that my package will most likely be returned to sender, and he assures they will call me back once they get a chance to investigate. Well, next morning I call again the local office as instructed, and it turns out all of it was my fault. I have only addressed the mail to my lawyer by name, without specifying the big law firm where she works. It just so happens that the address is a skyscraper where three thousand people work, although the law office has a few hundred employees, finding my lawyer in the big building would be a monumental task, thus the my misaddressed mail rightfully marked undeliverable as addressed!!! Yup, squarely my fault!!!!! Once we figured my goof-up and I told the nice post office employee the name of the law firm, he smiled reassuringly, told me not to worry, that he knows that place well and he assured me that my package will be safely delivered there the next day. As far as I know the investigation on corporate end has not yet begun.
The business lesson:
Centralization and specialization has its problems, particularly when it comes to delivering informed customer service. Just like JetBlue flight attendants and pilots multi task and also clean the plane decreasing their aircraft turn time, employees in all big corporations will have to learn to undo some of the Henry Ford specialization, and learn to multitask. Given our current networking technology, we can design systems that route my help request to the source, as opposed to adding inefficiency and cost to the company at the corporate level. My example with USPS demonstrates that the customer service provided by helpful employees on the ground can not possibly be provided at any cost at the corporate level. The centralized employee will not know anything about the relationship of a law firm with the post office. For the corporate employee, that contract is rounding to irrelevant, on the ground people know their biggest customer. There is no amount of training that you can provide for a centralized employee to have that kind of knowledge. For me, the concerned consumer who trusted my very valuable delivery to USPS, the level of service and knowledge of the situation is huge. I am grateful for the autonomous helpful USPS employes on the ground who solved my problem before the centralized investigation was able to do anything. This example has significant organizational implications to major corporations like hotels, airlines, and car rental companies. This also highlights immense potential for small decentralized companies and startups who can find a way to collaborate across various regions to simulate the offerings, benefits and power of a massive global company, if only the small companies could find each other. Small is beautiful, even if you are global 😉
I also like to give a shout out to the all the excellent people I have spoken with at the Pittsburgh post office who helped me to locate and to deliver my package. You guys rock! Thanks a million!!!