David R. Henderson  

Verizon vs. USPS

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First, I erred. My own recent experience with Verizon, while personally heartening, is not good enough evidence on how large for-profit firms respond when a customer is treated badly. Two commenters said it particularly well.

Commenter Tom Jackson writes:

I seldom disagree with David, but this isn't, in fact, a good example of how the free market is better than the government. "Knowing somebody" is EXACTLY how you get a problem fixed with a government agency.

And commenter Stationary Feast writes:
While I'm happy for you that you eventually got Verizon to stick to the terms of what they agreed to initially, "a friend in a high place was able to sort things out for me eventually" is a textbook example of an aristocracy of pull. I'm baffled how you can turn this into a pro-free-market anecdote.

I couldn't have said it better.

As it happens, though, I have been having problems consistently for over a year with my local Pacific Grove post office. We have been getting neighbors' mail at least once a month and often more. And not just junk mail. And not just neighbors a few doors away. About 2 months ago, we received a federal tax refund for someone who lives on a street in Pacific Grove that I had never heard of. About a month before that, we received our neighbor's mail and when we took it to her, she had some pieces of our mail, including two checks to my wife for her free-lance business. I've complained twice to the post office and twice directly to the particular mail delivery person. The first two complaints seemed to have little effect. The last complaint--to the delivery man's face--may have worked. That was 2 weeks ago and it's still too early to tell. Of course, we may not be able to tell. We haven't gotten any neighbors' mail in the last 2 weeks. But have neighbors got our mail?

So here's a test. Next time this happens, if there is a next time, I'll blog about it. Then we'll see if things improve the way they did with Verizon.

It's still not a perfect test. Perhaps I got lucky by having someone at Verizon who reads this blog but I won't have such a connection at the post office. Therefore the test isn't apples to apples. It may be more about my particular connections than about the organizations themselves. But it's closer to a test than the one I presented earlier.

Also, let me point out that many commenters, when I posted this blog post on Facebook and in the comments on the blog, suggested particular cell phone companies to switch to. Which postal service should I switch to?


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Jake writes:
Which postal service should I switch to?

Even if you were a bit overzealous before this still clinches the argument in your favor.

You can't have real accountability from someone without the freedom to stop doing business with them.

Venkat Nagaswamy writes:

The core point that is lost is that both USPS and Verizon are both government sanctioned monopolies to varying degrees.

Dan Hill writes:
Which postal service should I switch to?

The USPS (and its unionized employees) have the classic monopolist's mentality, meanwhile mail volumes are going through the floor.

In 2017 there are ways to exchange money that don't involve sending checks in the mail. If you make a point of doing as much of your business online as possible, you soon find the only thing the USPS brings you is junk. I wouldn't miss the post office at all if it closed tomorrow.

Dan C writes:

"Which postal service should I switch to?"

Email, messaging, texting for personal mail ... even magazines are electronic these days.

I recommend against sending anything with account information in the mail. Use online payment services whenever possible. Identity theft occurs from thieves lifting bank account information from easily stolen mail. Get a lockable mailbox (if you don't already have one), outgoing mail placed in daytime. Occurred in our neighborhood a few of years ago when we moved in ... thieves drained one woman's bank account. Fortunately, about the same time my mailbox got run over, so it gave me an excuse to upgrade.

Monopoly is going away, kept on life support by Congress.

Jerry Brown writes:

You are of course always free to deliver whatever you want to in person, so you don't need a government postal service for that. You could also box it up and send it via UPS or FED EX if you didn't mind paying more. I assume you could ask the people and businesses you deal with to use those formats in their dealings with you. They probably would refuse, but that is their right.

Matthias Görgens writes:

You could always move to Singapore.

(Though even eg the German Deutsche Post doesn't seem to have those problems you describe.)

Vote with your feet!

Dylan writes:

While I'm sympathetic to your post office woes, I hope you realize that this is still not a valid comparison with your Verizon Wireless issue. The Verizon issue was a one time problem that could easily be solved by anyone with the right level of authority to refund you your money. Your misdelivered mail on the other hand is most likely a problem with both process and a certain inattentiveness by your mail carrier. That's not the type of problem that can just easily be fixed by any one person. The best you can probably hope for in the absence of structural changes, is that your carrier is more attentive for your address and takes back all the mail that was bundled for you to the local post office for redelivery.

Ken Dillman writes:

It's getting harder to avoid USPS. All the major delivery services (FedEx, UPS, DHL), in an attempt to get some value from the taxes they pay, have started using USPS to deliver the "last mile". Only Amazon offers reliable delivery using their own employees (at least, in Nashville)

John B Egan writes:

The fact that you're upset because 'once a month' you get mail addressed to a neighbor is almost laughable...except it just underscores comments on your last article. You must be completely ignorant of the burden that the USPS operates under these days. (And no! I do not know anyone in the USPS, and never have worked for the USPS).

For decades, the Republicans have attempted to gut and dissect the USPS. The first I read about this was about 20 years ago, when they wanted to sell it off to UPS and FedEx. That didn't happen, so they tried, and to a large degree, managed to hand over the parcel delivery to FedEx and UPS. Then, they forces the USPS to heavily fund its retirement program..Something not required of any other government branch. This burdened the USPS to such a degree, that they began closing smaller Offices, and considered alternate day delivery. Their attempts to raise the price of stamps to handle the financial burden placed on them, was blocked by.. The Republican.

However, when they wanted those two companies to begin delivery on Sundays, they both backed off. These days, USPS delivers to my address 7 days a week. Now, USPS is seriously short handed and working like dogs 7 days a week.

And you wonder why once a month you get someone else's mail delivered to you? You know what I do when that happens? In my travels, I put it in the correct freaking mailbox! How hard is that, unless you feel extremely entitled?

Angelo DePalma writes:

I have run a business from home for 27 years. We also have our share of bills and various other correspondence. I could not be happier with the US Postal Service. I cannot remember the last time we had a mishap of any consequence. Sure you get a bad delivery person every so often, but not to the degree you find lazy, incompetent workers in the private sector (in my experience).

As for Verizon, one of the happiest days of my life was when I kissed their awful service goodbye and switched to Google. In the 20 years we were with Verizon we were charged month after month for service we didn't use. All kinds of screwups with phone delivery. And their customer service is pathetic.

As a conservative/libertarian I'm sick of hearing about "waste" at the USPS and Amtrak, which are rounding errors in our $4 trillion budget. Does Rte. 80 turn a profit? The State Dept.? What has been the 'return' on the Iraq war?

Roads, rail, and postal services are the price we pay for civilization. Get over it and fight the battles that will make a difference, like the budgets of Education, Defense, and Social Services. When those are fixed you can whine about the USPS.

David Seltzer writes:

Privatize the mail service. Still it may be academic as I pay my bills, deposit checks and respond to email on my phone!

Keith writes:

My latest USPS experience was so completely surreal it begs comparison. The problem is that this is the second time it's happened. We mail a parcel to Alberta, Canada. Tracking shows acceptance at our post office, then move to building sorting, then to local distribution center, then to unknown zip code, then back to distribution, then back to local post office and finally, wait for it, delivered to our front door. All in five days so the tracking number says delivered and I have to phone them twice to check status (1 hour hold time) and, as I said, this is the second time this has happened. Wife complained at local post office, Guy shrugged Iike it was pure luck if it was ever delivered. Must check their mission statement.

Dylan writes:

@Keith,

We've also had that same experience happen twice, although I'd say our local USPS office I think handled the situation a little better than yours did, as I was able to talk to the station supervisor. The first time this happened we had a problem, because resending it out didn't change the tracking info, so from our customers point of view it still looked like the package had been delivered to the wrong address, and we had to rely on them to be honest and let us know that they had gotten it. The second time I had the supervisor issue a refund and then resend so that it got a new tracking number.

I agree that it was a bit weird when it happened, but since we send out half a dozen packages a week, many of them international, the error rate is still pretty acceptable.

I have way more problems with FedEx, which no matter the fact that all our packages are marked with signature required, they can not be bothered to ever buzz our apartment and wait the two minutes it takes me to get downstairs. So they either leave the package without a signature, or leave a slip that we have to pick it up. Even though I work from home and am always around. I've been told that this is because there compensation is tied to how many packages they deliver, so actually waiting a minute for the customer is highly discouraged. No amount of talking to FedEx has been able to change that behavior, but luckily almost no one we order from uses FedEx, so it is only a problem a couple times a year.

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