It is that time of year when we are encouraged to step back, assess our lives, and give thanks. And in doing so this year an unlikely recipient of my thanks has floated to the surface of my own consciousness—the United States Post Office.
Out of nowhere, right?
Can you imagine an institution that has faced more change over the last couple of decades? Can you imagine an eatery or coffee house with a more complicated menu? Or a company with more impatient or intolerant customers?
Technology, of course, has eliminated much of the hard mail traffic that anyone really looked forward to in the past. We now have e-mail, Facebook, Skype, and the like for staying in touch with friends and family. What’s left are bills, and they are disappearing from the mailbox quickly, and, of course, circulars, which I strongly believe should be illegal for so many reasons.
What’s left, in other words, are the dregs of the delivery business: Packages to Uncle Ned, who lives off the grid in the middle of nowhere, in every size and shape imaginable.
And yet the level of respect and courtesy postal workers show their customers is, in my experience, unsurpassed by any company, utility, or government agency. And I mean it. I can think of no organization on the planet that so consistently delivers such high levels of customer service at a one-on-one level, to customers who don’t always deserve it.
I am sure there are many people who deserve credit for that. But I have to give some of the credit to the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) that represents US postal workers. Now, I have never been a member of a union and as a retired business executive I spent a good part of my career going head to head with unions, not all of it pleasant. In my experience, however, companies get the unions they deserve. I strongly believe that the decline in union membership in the US is both cause and effect of the stagnation in wages and the obliteration of the middle class we are now experiencing.
And, as a result, we get the service that we, as customers, pay for. The drive to improve customer service at the USPS would not have been successful if postal workers were paid on the disgraceful par of fast food or other retail workers. The APWU forced us to pay respect to our postal workers through a living wage. But look at what we got in return. It has been a very good investment.
It goes back to an age-old lesson that we just never seem to learn: You reap what you sow. Pay people only as much as you are forced to and you will get the level of commitment and engagement you deserve. Pay them a living wage and they will pay you back with service and courtesy many times over.
Now, if we could only do something about those circulars.
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