Thursday, 23 July 2015

Why was Australia Post invented?

Before answering that question I will comment that what is to follow does not relate to the people in the local service outlets (what used to be called Post Offices but have been renamed - or possibly rebranded - Post Shops).  They are always helpful and sensible (especially those in the main location in Queanbeyan).  It is unclear whether these are Australia Post (AP) staff or an operation under a franchisee - I suspect the latter.

As an update, I am sure the only reason we got our mail 5 working days after our return was the help I got from one of the staff at the Queanbeyan PO (more detail on this later the post).  A large bouquet to her!

It also doesn't apply to our delivery contractor who seems to do his job pretty efficiently - and whenever I have spoken to him has been very personable and helpful.

A further small bouquet goes to the parcel tracking system.  We ordered some seed spuds and I got a message saying they were on the way and likely to be delivered on 13/8.  I checked on that day and they were in the Mail Centre, rather than with the postie.  Then I got an email saying they had been delayed and the next day a further email saying they were awaiting collection from the PO.  That meant I could print that off for Frances to take into town before the postie delivered the card .

What I am on about is the people in the corporate centre, who act as people do in all huge bureaucracies: worry about their own needs and continuing employment and ignore everything, and everyone, else.

The situation in the USA was no better as shown by this (hopefully legible) Doonesbury cartoon from the early 1980s.

My previous encounter with the Australian corporate oxygen-thieves had come about when they tried to persuade me to sign up to their e-documents scheme without making any attempt to explain why this would be good for me.  I suspect this is because it wouldn't have been good for me, involving more effort on my behalf, but would have kept a few AP jobsworths in beer and fags for a little longer.

The current kerfuffle has arisen as a result of my attempting to cancel a 'hold-mail' arrangement I set up while we were going away on our aborted trip to Queensland.  Stepping back a little, I had been pleased to find I could establish the arrangement online, with relatively little grief.  (I had been a little concerned about other stuff - real estate adverts, free newspapers etc - accumulating in our letter box but had a Eureka moment when I realised the simple solution was to remove the letter box!)

As we returned nearly three weeks early I wanted to start reading our mail again (if for no other reason than to keep up with Tottering by Gently in Country Life).  However when I visited the AP website I found this to be impossible: a form had to be completed, printed out and taken to a Post Shop.  It was also going to take three days (working days - for the bureaucrats that is Monday to Friday unlike the Shop which also works on Saturday) for the cancellation to take effect.

This caused me a few issues, so after lodging on Saturday the required bit of bumf - why am I sounding more and more like my father? - I thought I would give some online feedback.  This proved difficult - I don't think AP really want criticism, and suspect they know that no-one is going to offer praise.  The main issue was that there was a very brief character limit on the comments section of the form.  However, I sent it off.

I got no substantive response to the feedback after 2+days (and the mail wasn't delivered on the 3rd day) so rang the customer service line.  The person there couldn't tell me why it takes 4 days to close the hold but did say that I could reply to the email acknowledgement of my feedback and give them some further detail.  Which I did.

Without going into chapter and verse, the list of issues raised in my email response is:
  1. Why can't a hold be cancelled on line?
  2. Why does it take 4 days for the cancellation to take effect (noting that the counter clerk had entered all details from the bumf into her computer)?
  3. The feedback form doesn't mention the character limit.
  4. Why do I appear to have 2 different customer numbers - different number of characters, not just different characters - with AP?  
I still haven't got a response to either of my on line  messages and it is now 5 AP working days since I sent the first.

Overall it seems to me that the problems with AP are not that they are losing money on the letter delivery service but that they are so inefficient they couldn't find their backside even if they used both hands to search!

But wait: there's more!  On the Thursday  - 4 bureaucrat's 'working' days after I submitted the cancellation our mail didn't arrive.  So I rang the number I had been given for the mail centre which gave me a message about being disconnected.  Que??  So I rang the Post Shop where the staffer who answered the phone recognised my name and rang the mail centre to find out what was going on. She rang back in about 3 minutes and advised that:

  1. The mail centre hadn't received my cancellation: they still had the hold active to 6 August (correct original date);
  2. They had grabbed our mail and put it on the delivery contractor's desk with a note saying the hold had been cancelled;
  3. So we should get a delivery tomorrow (we did) and if we don't, ring her back and she'll pursue again.
  4. The mail centre no longer exists in Queanbeyan but been consolidated into Fyshwick (explaining why the phone number no longer works).
Oh.  To answer the question in the title of the post:  to make Telstra look good.  When questions have been asked about the huge salary of the AP CEO the response has been that the amount paid is what is needed to get a top-notch guy.  Given this fiasco, and that he has been in the job for 5 years so has had plenty of time to sort things out, I'd say the salary on offer has not achieved what it was supposed to.  In a similar vein to my explanation for the Corporation as a whole, I reckon he makes Alan Joyce look good.

But wait: I have got a reply from Australia Post!!!  Wow!!! Amaaaaaazing!!!!!!  Here it is.  See if you can spot the deliberate mistake.

Hi Martin,
Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your mail redirection. I can certainly understand your disappointment with not being able to cancel you mail redirection online. My name is James and I would like to provide some further information for you.
I would like to personally thank you for your patience and understanding whilst we have worked through a higher than expected volume of enquiries.
Mail redirection security is something we take very seriously. Whilst most redirections are established for simple reasons, such as moving house, a large number are established under very sensitive circumstances. When a mail redirection is established in addition to the security check done during the application, a security letter is sent to the old address letting them know that a redirection has been started for the said names on their address. This gives them the opportunity to react if the redirection if it is unauthorised.
Our decision to only allow cancellations in person at a post office is due to security reasons.
I hope that this information has helped and that you enjoy the rest of your day. If there is anything else that we can do for you, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Kind regards
JamesCustomer Service Consultant - OnlineCustomer Sales & Service
Australia PostGPO Box 9911 In Your Capital CityT 13
Our hours of operation are from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday (excluding National Public Holidays).

Congratulations if you  picked that this whole message is about a mail redirection, whereas my enquiry was about a mail hold at Post Office.  And this decade's winner of The Biggest Loser is ....wait for it .... JAMES of Australia Post!

The agency itself does get further points in the fathead stakes for:
  • saying they are open Monday to Friday and sending the response on a Saturday; and
  • taking 12 days to send a blatantly erroneous email.
I have advised them of their error.  I wonder if they will react. (Well, we are a further 14 days down the track and I have not got a further follow up.  Wot a goose.)

The road goes ever onward!  The following day I got a follow up survey titled "We'd love your feedback".  They got some, feedback but I doubt if they loved it.  For two key sections the response areas were so faint I only discovered they were there when the system kept rejecting my response as missing those elements!

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