Last week I attended my first meeting of the Oak Park area Postal Consumer Advisory Council. As I mentioned in this post, the council was formed due to many, many complaints last winter involving delayed and missed deliveries in the Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park (Illinois) areas. Our group’s goal is to help the post office see and fix their issues from the customer viewpoint, to collect customer complaints (and compliments!) from others in our neighborhoods and to help the post office educate its customers on some of their limitations.
There were several “department heads” at our meeting, including the Oak Park area Postmaster, Phillip Crawford and eight other Station Managers and other staff who work for the USPS in regional marketing and management. There were about ten customer volunteers ranging in age from 30s-70s. Most of the volunteers were long-term Oak Parkers and I was the lone representative from Forest Park. It was clear that everyone in the room understood that the problems were severe, and no one was making excuses (though there were explanations) and everyone seemed to genuinely love the post office. It felt good to be in the company of other USPS lovers!
I have so many thoughts and learned so much already, even though our first meeting goals were limited to outlining the purpose of the council and introducing ourselves. I have a hodgepodge of things to share this time. I think over the next meetings, there will be more structure and our conversations will be more focused on individual problems and solutions (for instance: late deliveries, missed deliveries, counter service, post office building conditions, etc.) But for this time, I decided just to share the most interesting details. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’m happy to clarify.
- These consumer advisory councils were very popular in post offices through the 1980s. In the 90s they kind of fell out of favor. The USPS is hoping that by bringing some councils back, the relationship and flow of communication between the post office and its customers will improve.
- The USPS sees package delivery as the future of the post office.
- Oak Park will become a Sunday & Holiday delivery hub for area Amazon Prime customers. (A council member asked why the USPS would take on a new, large responsibility while they are still reeling from a disaster of a winter last year. But again, if package delivery is the future of the post office, how could they not take this opportunity?)
- During the 2013 holiday season, the USPS expected a 14% increase in package volume. The actual increase was 39%. Obviously the USPS was sorely ill-prepared for the volume of mail. To be fair, FedEx and UPS experienced a lot of problems too. The Postmaster believes that this year, with better staffing and systems, they will be ready for another huge holiday season.
- All routes in Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest now have permanent carriers. When a route doesn’t have a permanent carrier, another carrier would have to finish her route and then continue her day to finish another route. This obviously leads to delays in mail delivery, mistakes due to unfamiliarity and fatigued carriers. The Postmaster seemed confident that just by being comfortably staffed, the USPS is ready for the upcoming holidays. Plus, they have a small team of back-up carriers in case some of the newer carriers don’t work out. “Delivering mail isn’t for everyone.”
- The River Forest carriers, who had been working out of the Oak Park South Station for the past two years, are now back at the River Forest Post Office.
- One volunteer council member brought up the broken-down state of some of the blue mailboxes and had concerns about building maintenance.
- We asked to have a letter carrier and a counter employee at some of the meetings as we discuss specific topics.
- We discussed villages’ and customers’ roles in mail delivery. Oak Park (and I assume Forest Park and River Forest) has an ordinance that requires homeowners to care for their sidewalks during winter. However, this ordinance is rarely (or never, according to some Oak Parkers) enforced by the village. Snowy and icy sidewalks and streets not only slow down mail delivery, but they also make conditions dangerous for the letter carriers. The Postmaster told a story of one letter carrier in south Oak Park who delivered mail to a house in spite of its icy stairs. He fell and broke his tailbone and was out of work for several months.
One thing that the Postmaster told us as members of the advisory council is that he’d like us to be a bridge of communication to connect the post office to the area customers. Part of this role is collecting complaints (or compliments!) from my friends and neighbors. If you live in Oak Park, Forest Park or River Forest, Illinois and have a comment, complaint or a question about your mail delivery, post office counter service or anything else USPS related, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via email or twitter (details on my About page.) If you don’t live in our area, please feel free to comment as well (always feel free to comment!)
And, if you ever want immediate feedback about a customer experience issue, this is a more direct route to your Station Manager or Postmaster:
I think that’s everything…whew!
P.S. Pictured above, my council notebook, a doctored up Field Notes Shelterwood.