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Jeff Kagan: USPS Needs Carrot and Stick to Improve Delivery

Why the United States Postal Service package deliver is still so bad after so many years and why the USPS needs a "carrot and stick" approach to fix things.
Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan.
Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. Follow him at and on Twitter @jeffkagan.

I have a good friend who spent his life training companies and organizations. Back in the 1990’s, he focused on one big client, the United States Postal Service. His job was to train USPS workers to be better and to take better care of their customers. This is something every worker needs to learn for any company to grow. While USPS did get better, unfortunately, without ongoing training they fell eventually back into the same dire pit they have always been in.

That’s one important difference between a business and the government. A business knows they need to be the best. They need to create a warm and inviting atmosphere for the customer to dip themselves into. They need to delight the customer. They know they have competition and if they aren’t among the best, they simply won’t make it.

The Success Secret That USPS Does Not Pay Attention To

And what makes business work is workers are only kept if they produce. Those who don’t are let go as the company builds a top-level work force. A company has goals and they strive to achieve them every day. That’s why good companies grow, and bad companies don’t.

The government does not seem to care. While there are many government workers who do want to do a good job, and some do, the problem is the rules are set up, so they don’t reward the best and penalize the worst. They cut themselves too much slack and this is a large part of the problem. Customers notice.

USPS Is Not a Government Agency, but Suffers the Same

The USPS is not exactly a government agency, but they are not exactly a private company either. They are sort of a private company that has the government backing them up. What that means is simple. If they fail, the government backs them up financially. So, there is no fire under their butt to be better year after year.

What that creates is an organization that is not focused on positivity and success. They don’t care because they can never go out of business. And the workers will continue to get their benefits.

The government always bailing them out is a safety-net that creates an environment which is static. There is no joy when doing business with the postal service or working for them. That’s why they don’t strive for more. It’s no better than a government job.

Examples of USPS Problems

Here is an example. I needed a part for my car and called the manufacturer. They took care of me and sent the part using Priority Mail from the USPS. The part was ordered on Friday and should have arrived Monday or Tuesday. It finally arrived Friday evening. An entire week later. There was no excuse for this.

I could have been stuck if my car broke down. That’s why I needed the part ASAP. Waiting an entire week was totally unacceptable. Plus, what about the extra money I spent to get the part earlier? A total waste. This wouldn’t happen with Fed Ex or UPS.

Another example was going to the Post Office to pick up a package. When I arrived, there was 2 people in line in front of me. Great, I should be in and out in minutes, I thought. It took a good 20 minutes. Totally unacceptable.

The problem is they didn’t have enough workers to take care of customers. And the workers they did have worked too slow. It’s like if you picked up their training manual it would say something like, don’t ever rush, there is no need. Where else is the customer going to go?

USPS, UPS, Fed Ex and the Carrot and Stick Approach

Compare this to deliveries from UPS or Fed Ex. They deliver on time and when you walk in to do business with them, even with a long line, you move quickly. That’s because they understand they need to take great care of the customer. If not, the customer will go to a competitor.

That’s the secret to success. The stick and carrot approach make Fed Ex FDX, UPS UPS and countless other competitors thrive in the package delivery service. This is also why the USPS struggles, always has and always will. They have no reason to rush. No reason to go out of the way to impress the customer. They are trained wrong. They have the wrong sense about themselves in the world.

Which Delivery Service Will You Use This Holiday Season?

The holiday shopping season is upon us and Americans from coast-to-coast have a decision to make. Which company will they choose to deliver their holiday gifts? Both from the company to you, or from you to where you are sending your gifts.

The USPS has had this problem forever. My friend found the solution and wanted to transform them himself. He did a great job. He was rewarded for his efforts. However, in the years since, it was too easy for the Postal Service to simply fall back into the dark pit where they started.

That means all the backbreaking work and travel he and his small business put into this effort was eventually unwound. That’s a shame. We all want a better postal service. Too bad they don’t.

Apparently, without constant training and continual improvement, the Postal Service simple cannot be fixed. It’s a private company that acts like a government agency with the financial backing of the US Government.

So, the lesson is clear. It’s not so much the fact that the government agencies are poorly run. The problem comes from no incentive to work better. It’s a problem of no carrot and stick. No clear ultimate goal to strive for. That’s the incentive that would help the USPS get better. Without the carrot and the stick, the company is forever doomed.

Jeff Kagan is an columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at [email protected]. His web site is Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan.