Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Want USPS To Think Outside The Box

Recently I had to go to a consulate to get a visa and the consulate would only accept a USPS money order and a USPS pre-paid envelope. I went to a post office to get those. That particular post office decided to change their business hours that day to open late. I hurriedly drove to a different post office where two out of there clerks didn't know how to issue a pre-paid envelope! At personal level I never look forward to going to a post office. It invariable delays my schedule. I am met with unpleasant customer service and inefficiency everywhere. This is also true with some of the other services that I get but there's one major difference. I cannot opt out of USPS.

USPS anticipates to lose about $7 billion during the fiscal year that ends in September. They even have their own conference called PostalVision 2020 where they have invited technology thought leaders such as Vint Cerf and many others to honestly and seriously look at the issues they have. The agenda is to:
"Postal Vision 2020/2.0 is as much a movement as it is a Conference.  It is a forum for an open and honest dialog to better understand the future of postal communications and shipping, and what this means to those who regulate, supply and use mail.  It’s about sharing ideas and knowledge with the hope of sparking innovation and the creation of new successful business models.  It’s about asking each other lots of difficult questions for which there may be many answers to consider before finding those that serve the long term health of the industry and any particular enterprise."
USPS is broken at so many levels; they have short term as well long term issues to deal with and it is likely to get uglier before it may get better. Channeling Geoffrey Moore, USPS needs to retain their core and and redefine the context. Massive fleet of trucks, logistics, and outlets in all foreseeable locations is their core strength. Postal mail and other related services is their context where they are simply unable to compete because of shrinking addressable market (due to digital communication) and poor service design that applies the legacy mindset to solve today's and tomorrow's problems.

USPS should think outside the box. No pun intended.  

Here are some ideas/suggestions:

Deliver groceries: Remember Webvan? I loved their service during the dot com boom. One of the main reasons they went out of business is they had no expertise on logistics. Since then nothing much has changed in home-delivered grocery business. What if USPS delivered grocery to your home? What if they partnered with a local supermarket and took over their logistics business? This is a complimentary business model. The supermarkets are not in the delivery business and it's not economical for them to enter into the logistics business. This is also a sustainable business that helps the environment. The USPS trucks are on the road no matter what, but now they can take a few cars off the road. This may sound crazy but times are changing and it's time for USPS to rethink what unfair advantage they have over others.

Re-think mail delivery: It's perfectly acceptable to me if I only receive my mail every other day. In many cases, I am fine if I don't get my mail for a week at times. There's nothing time-sensitive about my mail. And with changing demographics, this is true with a lot of other people as well. Incentivize customers to skip mail by offering them discount on other services and have less trucks and less people going around the neighborhoods. This brings the overall cost down and opens up new revenue opportunities.

Double down on self-service: I know USPS is trying hard to add more and more self-service kiosks but they're not enough. Think like Coinstar and Redbox. I should be able to do everything related to USPS at the places where I can get milk at the 11th hour, money from ATM, and gas for my car. They really need to work hard to give people a reason to use USPS when people have much better alternatives to mail packages. Think of UPS, DHL, and FedEx as incumbents and leap frog them at places, using the unfair advantage that USPS has, where they can't possibly compete.

Rethink the identity: USPS doesn't directly receive federal tax dollars and it is expected to meet expenses from the revenue it generates. But, it's not that black and white. Even though USPS doesn't get any tax money it receives plenty of other money via grants and other special funds. It's neither truly a government entity nor truly a business entity. If USPS needs to be fixed it needs to rethink its identity and decide whether it's a complete public sector or a mix of private and public sector and how. Once that identity is set they can follow through on their revenue sources, cost measures, and building an ecosystem of partners. Mixed and complicated business structure introduces complexity at all the levels and prevents the organization to think and execute in a unified way.

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