One of the performance measures used by the Postal Service is customer satisfaction. So, how does the Postal Service measure customer satisfaction, and how does it do? Does it really matter?
Everyone Has an Opinion, But Anecdotal Information can Be Misleading
Almost everyone has years of personal experience with the Postal Service. Most of us may experience and remember the occasional glitch. In some localities, the glitches may be more than occasional. Incidents of bad service may be easy to find, but they do not necessarily represent actual service.
These embarrassing moments today can be captured and shared by social media. The image of the Postal Service has not been helped by some portrayals of postal employees in the media, and, of course, the constant barrage of negative commentary about current financial problems may influence public perception.
Actual Service Performance
The Postal Service publishes the actual service performance for almost all categories of mail on a quarterly and annual basis. Service performance is discussed in regular open meetings with large mailers, mail service providers, industry associations and business press. The Postal Regulatory Commission conducts an annual review of the measurement systems and the actual results.
Some segments of the mailing industry have also established independent tracking for specific categories of mail. Postal delivery service performance has been consistently improving over the last several years, and has been at or near record levels in most categories. This is, in part, due to steadily improving measurement systems, which are moving from sample based to automatic tracking of almost all mail throughout the operating system (“Total Visibility”). This has enabled postal managers to identify and respond to problems more quickly and effectively. Over time, customer satisfaction scores tend to move in the same direction as more objective measures.
- Sending mail
- Receiving mail
- Post Office Visits
- Contacting USPS
Data is provided for residential and small/medium businesses. The sample is large enough to permit detailed analysis at the national and local level, and the results are used internally to address performance. It is supplemented by “Mystery Shopper” programs, where independent auditors evaluate specific activities and transactions. Beyond this, there are customer complaints and claims, and reviews by the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Postal Regulatory Commission Review of Customer Satisfaction Measurement and Performance
Customer Satisfaction is one of the USPS performance measures reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission in its Annual Compliance Determination Report.
Several things are immediately apparent in the most recent report.
The samples are massive, so the results should been seen as robust and reliable. Performance in a system so large should be reasonably stable, and they are (the differences from year to year are small -slightly in the wrong direction last year, but well within the statistical margin of error for such surveys ). For most categories (receiving mail, sending mail, and post office visits) the ratings are reasonably high, although it is not clear from the results how this might affect revenue. The working assumption here is that higher is better, although there is no real cost-benefit analysis available that would suggest one service initiative should be prioritized over another.
Postal customers do have a serious problem with “contacting USPS.” This involves the entire process of trying to find someone to talk to when you have a question or problem, and the ability to answer the question or resolve the problem. Customer satisfaction and loyalty experts suggest that this may well be one of the most important issues in customer relationship management. Since Small and Medium Businesses remain a potential growth segment for mail and packages, the inability of the Postal Service to effectively develop a workable process is troubling.
Package Delivery Performance (Consumer)
The Postal Service provides data on performance of its competitive package categories to the Postal Regulatory Commission. It does not publicly report performance for its package delivery service. Neither do its competitors. However, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) does include all three services in its surveys.
This survey, conducted continuously since 1995, shows that the Postal Service started far behind its competitors (69 in the baseline year, compared to UPS at 82 and FedEx at 85) but has been steadily closing the gap, reaching parity in 2012 but slipping a bit since then. There are research firms which conduct regular detailed studies on package delivery services, and this data is available to their subscribers. The Postal Service generally fares well in structured comparisons with its package delivery service competitors.
Overall Consumer Satisfaction
The ACSI also includes customer satisfaction with the non-expedited services provided by the Postal Service. It has noted that the Postal Service is the most improved organization of all measured since the survey began. In 1995, the index for the USPS was 61, improving 18% to 72 in 2014. To provide some comparative context, the current average index for the Airline industry is 69, Fixed Line Telephone Service is 73, and Internet Service Providers is 63.
Measuring Major Mailer Satisfaction
Much of the existing customer satisfaction program is focused on consumers and small/medium businesses. Consumers are the recipient of most mail, and their preferences for the mail channel must be taken into consideration, especially as they become more involved in influencing the choice of shippers for e-Commerce packages. Small and Medium businesses are a relatively underdeveloped market for mail and e-Commerce, but there may be other aspects of service that are important but not currently measured by existing measurement systems.
The Postal Regulatory Commission criticized the Postal Service for not providing a satisfaction score for major mailers. However, experts in the field suggest that the methodology for assessing such relationships is significantly different from consumer or small business research, requiring multiple respondents at different levels and different parts of the sampled organization. While it might be worthwhile (and expensive), such an initiative would have to be a different undertaking.
In the meantime, the Postal Service does have Account Reviews for its major customers. This is supplemented by industry meetings such as the Mailer’s Technical Advisory Committee, although the issues addressed are not necessarily company-specific. Many major mailers also have access to the Business Services Network (BSN), which is not available to small and medium businesses. The performance of the BSN is rated, and there are also independent “Mystery Shoppers” who assess a menu of specific interactions. Furthermore, most major mailers have close personal contact with many senior postal officials and can be assured that critical issues are usually promptly addressed.
The Relevance and Limitations of Customer Satisfaction Scores
Customer perception of service performance (customer experience) is critical. Deutsche Post/DHL and many other posts use overall customer satisfaction as one of its three critical corporate measures. Most firms do not rely on customer satisfaction scores alone, however important, to develop priorities for the markets they serve. FedEx has used a single weighted index (Service Quality Index), similar to the ACSI, which focuses on those issues that have been determined to be most important to its customers.
One of the fundamental problems of overall customer satisfaction scores is that they cannot provide direction to policy makers and postal managers of what attributes of service are most important to key customers in driving choice in competitive markets. Customer satisfaction is also a measure of past (and current, in transactions-based survey instruments) performance, and does not provide guidance for developing new services in choice markets. There are approaches to customer satisfaction measurement that attempt to reflect the dynamics of competitive choice.
What does it all Mean?
Detailed objective measures are available to assess postal performance. Detailed customer perception of service performance is also available. Both measures are developed through rigorous methodology, using industry best practices, by independent firms. The measurement systems and results are reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission. The results clearly demonstrate that the Postal Service provides consistently high levels of service performance for sending and receiving mail and for visits to a post office (note: it also has a separate operational measure for “wait time in line”). Other independent measures indicate that the Postal Service is among the “better” companies for customer satisfaction (and would be much higher rated if it could solve the customer contact experience problem).
There may be things wrong with public postal policies and with postal actions, but service performance is not usually among them, at least at the national level. The industry weakens public support of the Postal Service when it does not stick to the facts on service.
By Kent Smith
Kent Smith is Research Director, Ursa Major Associates / Postal Vision 2020. His 38 year career in the Postal Service included Rate Classification Research, Market Research, and Strategic Planning. Ursa Major Associates / Postal Vision 2020 is dedicated to taking a broader, longer-term perspective on the future of the mailing industry ecosystem. The thoughts expressed in this “Point of View” are his own.
The comments on this site are moderated. Each comment will be reviewed to ensure that it contains no crude language, solicitations, personal attacks, or anything that may be regarded as inappropriate is included. In an effort to facilitate an ongoing conversation, comments will be reviewed in a timely manner. The views of that are expressed in this blog are those of the individual bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of PostalVision2020. If you have any questions about commenting or are experiencing issues, please contact Bryan Klepacki.
 Phoenix-Hecht, focused on First-Class remittance mail; Red Tag Association, focused on Periodicals; and Colography, focused on package delivery, are several examples.
 Annual Compliance Determination, PRC, www.prc.gov