Saturday, March 12, 2016

5 Things I would like my customers to know.....

Does anyone else feel like there is a big lack of communication when it comes to the post office?

Yeah, I thought so.

I see so many posts everywhere on social media from people who have problems with their mail, looking for answers, frustrated by the same problems over and over, and then those that answer the questions don't really know the answer.  Sometimes with the most basic of questions they'll get answered, but there are some comments that are either someone's opinion of how it should be, or just completely off the mark....or they're not answers but other people sharing their own frustrations, which turn the post into a huge gripe fest about how horrible the mail service is.

 Customers don't like calling 1-800-ASK-USPS because they're talking to a customer service rep somewhere on a computer who's only help (usually) is to connect them with their local office.  Then when you get in contact with the local office (usually the supervisor or a clerk) that person doesn't know anything about your mail delivery until they ask the carrier who delivers the mail.  That's why so many people turn to social media.

All of that frustration could be avoided if they would simply leave a note for the carrier, or talk to the carrier in person.  There are some really simple things you can do as a customer though, to prevent common issues with your mail service.  Believe me, most of these things are NOT high-tech, and won't cost a dime.

1. Make sure you KNOW your address, and when you give your address to people double check that you wrote it right, and that it's legible for them.-  Mail comes through all the time with no direction on the street address- if there's a 676 N. Pinal and a 676 S. Pinal on 2 different routes it's hard for the clerk to know which route to give it too.  Also, if you move- spend the next 6 months to a year checking every website you order from and make sure you completely DELETE your old address.  Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, any stores you order from usually have a quick ship option and it's easy to forget your old address is in their system.

2.  If you live in a neighborhood with cluster boxes- mark your keychain with your box number- especially if you don't live at one address full time.  Several times this past winter I had seasonal residents trying their keys in the wrong box because they simply forgot.  All of those sets of boxes have a number/letter combination, for example you may be in Set 17 box B #12.... so label your key 17-B12.  Also, when you move, do the next resident a favor and leave your mailbox keys behind with that tag so they can easily find their box.

3.  Label your box.  On the inside, tape the (last) names of everyone who receives mail there.  Please realize that carriers aren't mind readers.  We have hundreds of boxes we deliver to daily (850 in my case)- with multiple last names in EACH box usually.  I once had 3 address in a row with the same last name- it's not easy to figure that stuff out. 

4.Check your mail- at LEAST once a week.  This sounds so elementary, but sometimes the only way you KNOW there's something going on with your mail is if you suddenly have a change in the patterns of your mail delivery.  Some customers get 8-10 pieces of mail daily, some only 2-3.  If you suddenly have a full week without 1 piece of mail, contact your carrier.  Don't wait 2-3 weeks and then be mad because your mail had disappeared.  If your box gets so full that there's no room for more, the carrier doesn't know you- people leave all the time and don't change their address, your mail may be returned as unclaimed.  If you're picking up your mail on a regular basis this can all be avoided.

5. If you get someone else's mail- give it back to the carrier.  Don't write ON the mail.  Use a sticky note, piece of paper and tape, whatever, but definitely give it to the CARRIER.  It seems like doing a favor to just deliver it to the right address, but if the carrier doesn't see the mail, isn't told what happened or when it happened, they don't know there's a problem.  If you consistently get mail for the same number but wrong street it's really not always an obvious mistake.  Most likely it will keep happening until the carrier is aware.  If you've told the carrier- get some bright paper and tape a note in the box with your address on it, underline the street you're on, and put PLEASE CHECK.  I personally have 5(yes 5!) of the same street number on my route- not to mention many, many duplicate numbers.  I personally go by name when I can but the substitute carriers don't know names. 

One more thing I would like my customers to know.  We're NOT lazy (most of us).  You may only see us for a couple of minutes per day, but please remember that what we do takes a LOT of preparation, a LOT of concentration, and a LOT of information.  Regular carriers do the same route each day- we make it look easy.  Substitutes do different routes (sometimes 2) each day.  We start the day sorting out the mail and getting it ready, then loading it all up, then delivering it.  I get asked a lot if I have to sort my own mail- most people assume we just pick it up and it's all ready for us. Let your carrier know if you have problems for sure, but also let them know if they're doing a good job.  It's always nice to feel appreciated and most of the time we only hear about the negatives. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Scheme cheat sheets

I made up some cheat sheets for casing that will go on the desk at the case to find those really hard to find addresses that the side cheat sheets don't help with.  It's for those pieces of mail that you just CAN'T find.  I used my original scheme sheet to help me make the notes..... I labeled each case A, B, C, D so you know which case it's on, then the number of the row, and R,C, or L is the position on that row, right, center or left. 




Then I went to Excel in the computer and put in the information.  I gave that file to my supervisor and he cleaned it up for me a bit, formatted it some.  I wound up using that to make notes for another project....I still have some things to add to this one, so I'll post updated pics when I get it reprinted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thinking outside the box...

I was asking for a checklist of things we do everyday, so that I could break it down and make different sections according to when things need to be done.  I did get the checklist, but I also got a route readiness checklist for the regulars.

 I guess it's helpful. 

It's got ideas for things that can help a brand new sub, and even just someone who's never done the route before.  I'm starting to realize though...after doing so much to make my route as easy as possible, it only works if the subs pay attention to it.  The whole point of doing the things to help them is so that there's no question of what things are or where things go, or how things should be done.  I realize that management is pushing them to be fast, get it done so you can do more, but when is it going to become a priority to deliver things correctly? 

Does this start when subs start brand new? 

We need to keep telling them, slow down for a second, pay attention, look, read, when you're feeling overwhelmed take a minute to calm down and regroup.  I remember when I was a sub, doing routes that I didn't know, sometimes with no map or current line of travel to go by.  Routes where you could try to follow the mail but the streets didn't have street signs.  It's not easy...in fact it's frustrating, scary, you get turned around and confused.  We didn't have cell phones when I was a sub, much less the option for GPS...that must be a lifesaver, lol.  

Since I became a regular I've always tried to leave good maps, directions, lists of things for the subs to know that will make things easier.  I've had maps that are color coded and laminated so they were easy to read and wouldn't get ripped over time.  The problem is, usually doing those things took me longer than the item would last.  I can't tell you how many times the maps got lost.  Where did they go?  Why am I missing red cards separators for my NBU's? 

Being organized is a HUGE help when you're out on the route.  It can save so much time, keep your things separated so your mail isn't getting mixed together, which stuff is still to be delivered, what stuff needs to be sorted when you get back to the office?  What do you do when you find something that needs to be delivered and you've passed it already?  I guess it's easy to take it for granted when you do the same route everyday.  Most regulars I know have a system, a routine, basic things they do every time they load up.  I know I do.  I have a routine for casing, when to pull my mail, when to load parcels, how to sort the parcels when I load them up so that when I get to a certain point on the route I know which parcels are next.  I may not do each thing at exactly the same time each day, but there's routine.  One thing to avoid as a regular, and subs too....being rigid. 

Each day is different. 

Be flexible

Try new things.  Give it time too. it may take a couple of days to get used to some things...other things a couple of hours, depends on how many repetitions you're doing.

When I first started wearing my scanner it was awkward.  It felt like it was bulky (back when we had the old scanners).  The thing is still a little heavy, tends to pull my pants down, lol.  But the advantage of wearing it is HUGE.  You ALWAYS have it with you, and you don't have to remember to grab it.  When you walk to the door if you've got a few packages you don't have to try to carry that, dropping it, fumbling.  My route is all NBU's so I also don't have to worry that I'll leave it laying on the boxes or dropping it (which I used to do a lot).  It only took one hour on the route to convince me it works for me.

Over the years I've tried so many new things.  Some worked, some didn't.  Some things work for certain routes but not others.  When I was on Rt 31 I pulled my mail down straight into the tray without using rubber bands.  It worked for me, and I was able to do the out the window boxes I had without holding a bundle of mail in my left hand while I was driving.  I couldn't do that on Rt 5 because I had so many little parks mixed in with my streets. 

Everything I do I have a reason for it.  Nothing is because it's just the way I was taught when I started.  It's easy to get in a rut.  If you don't like change it can feel unsettling, but realize that you're only costing yourself.  Your goal should be to think of something that would improve either your quality of service, or save you time without sacrificing quality.  I use color codes in my boxes.  You can find that post here.  The color codes save me tons of time over the months, and cost me very little time each day, while increasing my quality of service immeasurably (and saving my brain from trying to remember so much).  So many of my customers have stopped to tell me how much they appreciate not getting the wrong mail like they used to.  They've noticed.  And keeping track of seasonal deliveries and vacant boxes is so easy, it does take a few seconds when there's a change, but the time it saves overall it's absolutely worth it.  I'm constantly thinking of ways to improve.  Not only myself, but how I can help others.  That's why I started this blog.  I wanted to share with everyone in case you're having issues you need solutions for.  I'm not a know it all.  I don't have all the answers.  I just know that sometimes if you don't know there's an easier way you can just keep wasting time doing the same old thing.

What things do you do to save time?  We can all help each other in this if you take a few minutes and share.  Thank you!!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Unity & shared goals creates a culture of winning.

Unity brings us a great work environment where productivity, customer service, creativity and the resulting profit more naturally occur.

There are 5 enemies of unity.

1.Poor Communication
2. Lack of shared purpose
3. Gossip
4. Unresolved disagreements
5.Sanctioned incompetence.

This post is focused specifically on one of those enemies. 

"Gossip is evil, it is insidious, and it is contagious."

When most people think of gossip they think of people spreading rumors, or just talking about other people behind their backs.   "Gossip about the company, or about leadership, is a particularly evil form of disloyalty.  And it is suicidal when the person gossiping is hurting and running down the place and the people who pay him so he can feed his family."  Put yourself in the other person's shoes before you open your mouth. 

Problems and gripes are fine but they must be handed UP to leadership/management.  Problems or gripes that are handed down or laterally are by definition gossip.  Hand your negatives up and your positives down.  Otherwise it starts to sound a lot like gossip.  Can the person you're talking to do anything about the situation?  If the answer is no, you probably don't need to be discussing it with them. 

We are in a unique situation with our work environment.  The union protects people from being fired for such things (to a point), so it seems like people think it's just fine to air their grievances to anyone who will listen.  I know I'm guilty of this from time to time.  The problem is we need to stop and think before we speak.  I've seen this quote a few times on Facebook...


Do you really want to work in a place where it seems like people around you are unhappy?  I don't.  I LIKE my job.  I think I get paid pretty good for what I do.  Sure, some days are harder than others.  Some days I don't feel like being there.  Most days though, I start off pretty happy.  Grateful to have a job.  Especially grateful I make the kind of money I do while not having to work a full 8 hours most days.

If people are talking loudly in the middle of the workroom floor everyone can hear that.  If it's negative talk it seems to get more and more people involved, spreading to those in the vicinity.  Do we want new subs hearing a bunch of negative talk?  They're not likely to stay if they think it's a miserable place to work.  Don't start the conversation, and don't participate in a discussion like this.  Peer pressure is pretty powerful, gossip dies if there's no one to listen.

Another question to ask yourself every so often is this- If you were your boss, how would you feel about the work you do?  Are you going above and beyond?  Just dialing it in?  Do you care about your customers or are they just a number on a box to you?  Also, How would you want YOUR mail carrier to treat your mail?  

The path to working in a winning culture is in each one of us.  All you have to do is try.  Try a little harder to focus on the POSITIVES, and think of solutions for the negatives.  If the solution to the negative is out of your control, talk with management or your union steward.  Do SOMETHING!

 Talking isn't doing, it's just gossip.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Header cards for hold mail

A couple of weeks back I had about 20 different addresses on vacation hold all at one time.  A couple of them get quite a bit of mail and my hold mail trays were jam packed, so much that I missed seeing the resume dates on a couple of different days.  I realized that I needed to find a solution so that I wouldn't miss seeing the cards.  I used to just use the yellow hold cards in the tray, and the white printouts for the ones that were entered online.  The white ones are so easy to miss or get stuck in the middle of the mail, so I came up with an idea to make it all look a little cleaner, easier for me to find when filing, and easier for the clerks when they pull the mail as well.  I grabbed a bunch (probably 20 for my route) of those red plastic cards again.  Used those adhesive plastic sleeves for the labels to go in, and then I marked the cards with my route number so I'll actually get them back when they come to get the mail at the front window. 



The way I'm using the cards- I put the red card in the front of the bundle in the hold tray.  I have my hold cards separated in my case in 2 groups, current holds- sorted by end date, and future holds- sorted by begin date.  Each morning I glance at each one as a double check.  If I have extra time I make up the header cards and put them in with the future holds.  It's been working very well so far.  

Another option is to keep the plastic cards in the case for when you file the hold mail.  It makes it easier to sort through.

I've given a list of supplies to management and we are working on making a station of sorts with all of the materials you'll need to do the projects I've posted about.  Hopefully it will be available in the next couple of weeks so that it will be easier and quicker to get these things in place.  I'll be printing out directions and time estimates.  Each project varies in the amount of time they take, but by investing a little time in organizing (especially when you've gotten an unexpectedly easy day), it saves so much time in the long run.  I notice that I'm less flustered and everything just goes smoother now, even though some of the things I've done are more to help out the subs on the route.  It also takes me so much less time to deliver my route on a daily basis, even keeping up with changing names in the boxes, marking holds and everything else.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leveling the scales



When the post office hires new subs they don't guarantee you'll get hours.  A new sub can start out working anywhere from 1-6 days a week.  Typically the first week is spent in the academy learning the basics, and going through driver's training.  Once you get past that you get to go to the office you'll be working at to train for a week with your regular carrier.  It's possible the first experience will actually be learning with an OJI-on the job instructor.  All in all the first few weeks you'll have around 10 days of pay, ranging from 6-8 hours each day, and possibly spread over 2 pay periods.  After your initial training period you'll start learning other routes, but chances are, (especially in the summer) you may be waiting for the phone to ring each morning.  If you're not scheduled for a route you're considered to be on call.  Take this seriously, it's a requirement and you can be terminated if you are habitually unavailable.  

To survive financially in this job there are a few really important things to know.  The first and most important thing is how to do a budget on an irregular income.  Now, I know what you're probably thinking....."I know how to do a budget, you check your balance in your account and see how much you have to live on."  That's not a budget.  Neither is balancing your checkbook at the end of the month to see if it matches up with the bank records.  A budget is simply telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.  
 
The subs in my office typically work 6-7 days a week during the fall, winter and spring.  There are (and always will be) down months though, and if you don't know how to budget for that you'll wind up being stressed, and possibly distracted on the job, which can lead to big mistakes.     

 This is going to start off pretty basic- but, well, it really IS pretty basic, and for some reason it's not taught in schools.  My husband and I recently went through Financial Peace University, which is Dave Ramsey's class on how to manage your money.  It's not all about getting out of debt, more importantly it teaches you the basic skills on how to handle your money, whether you're in debt, saving for a house, saving for retirement (yes, you need to save for retirement), putting kids through college, and how to live on less than you make.  It's not rocket science, it's simply intentional living.  Remember, it will probably take you 3-4 months of budgeting to get used to it...don't quit.

Step 1- Get a sheet of paper, or download this form.  If you're a real tech nerd you can go sign up for a free account on EveryDollar.com.  I find that for getting started pen and paper is the simplest.

Step 2- At the top of the page write down how much your paycheck is.  You can look up your paycheck stub on LiteBlue by Tuesday before payday.  If you are a 2 income family you'll want to do this before each paycheck is deposited. (In my house we have a payday every Friday, but our income is pretty predictible, so we budget before the 1st of the month.  Your family's needs will be different, so use trial and error to figure out when is the best time, each week, every 2 weeks, whatever.)

Step 3- List your bills to be paid in order of importance.  The top things should be in the 4 walls.  Food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.  If you can't do anything else, at least pay your mortgage, groceries, necessary clothing and gas, insurance, car payment etc.

Step 4- Go down the list subtracting each payment as you go.  When you get to 0 you're done.

Certain things to keep in mind....

Be honest about how much you intend to spend, if you usually spend $800/month on groceries, put $800, or you won't have enough at the end of the month.  If you want to go to movies, out to eat, baseball games, whatever, put it in the budget.  This keeps you from overspending on your categories, you have a PLAN.  It also means less fights about who spent what, because your budget told you you were allowed to spend that money.

Also, You NEED an emergency fund.  Before you pay off any debt, pay just the minimum payments until you save up $1000 in a separate savings account for things that are unexpected.  Unexpected does not include a surprise sale at Bass Pro, or Dillards.  An emergency is a car accident where you need to come up with a deductible to pay for your car repairs, a broken bone, etc.  My husband recently had a fender bender, no one was hurt, but his car was damaged.  We had to pay a $500 deductible, plus a rental car for about $150, so our emergency fund took a $650 hit, but if we hadn't had that extra $1000 we may have had a big mess, and possibly incurred more debt.

Hill and Valley Account- Another thing you need is a separate account for the ups and downs that come with an irregular income.  You should prioritize a set amount to keep for when you have a down month where you don't have enough to cover your bills.  If you have an extra $1500 (outside of your emergency fund) it could go a long way when your check is a few days short.  When you take money from it make sure it's in the top part of the budget list for building it back up ASAP.  This is extra important for regulars as well, who have very seasonal routes.  I know some regular carriers who may be a 44K in the high season, and drop to 30H in low season, that's 28 hours less per paycheck! If you don't plan ahead for summer that drop in pay can really put some stress on you, making you tempted to get by with credit cards to cover the deficit.  It's a lot easier and less stress to save up ahead of time and avoid costly interest charges.

So, it's Mid-October at the time I'm writing this....a GREAT time to start up a Hill and Valley account for regulars who will be getting their first high season paycheck this week.  I'm considering coordinating a Financial Peace class for anyone in the office that would like to learn more about budgeting, saving, paying off debt, and also insurance and retirement.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. 



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Labeling boxes

This is for the regular carriers out there.  Take a few minutes one day and look at your route as if you've never done it before.  That can be tough, but it's important.  Since I'm fairly new on my route, I still remember the first few weeks trying to learn the case, delivery, special notices, all that stuff.  I'm lucky with all of my boxes being in NBU's it's a lot easier to figure out the addresses in the boxes on the street if they aren't marked well, at least you don't have to stop to open the box and look inside.  I know in some more rural areas the houses have sign posts at the end of the driveway so knowing you're at the right house is a little easier, but here in AZ you're just left to wonder sometimes.

If a box is not properly marked on the outside, what do you do?  I believe our management says we are not supposed to mark on the outside of the box.  Many times as a sub I had to stop and open the box to see if the address was on the inside of the door.  When you're new and don't know the route, the last thing you need slowing you down out there is un-numbered boxes.   

This Christmas I got caught out after dark a couple of times.  That's when I realized I needed to put in a little time and relabel all of my boxes.  I already had a hard time reading the faded labels that were already there in the daylight, and on some the numbers were written in sharpie, not always so legible.  I had one address written in sharpie, that looked a lot like 9925, which was really supposed to be 9905, every single day I would look twice at that number.  I also have a lot of duplicate numbers in the same NBU's.  Things got real difficult in the fading light and into darkness, especially the first night when I was unprepared and didn't have a flashlight.   

It took me about 6 weeks to do the labels in all of my 800+ boxes.  I tend to be a little over organized, so I came up with a plan first.  I started by making sure my edit book was up to date with the names, because I wanted to be able to take DPS to the street and have no question about forwards, holds, vacant and such.  (You could leave off the names if you're on a transient route where people move in and out all the time.)  Then I started collecting the white slips out of my DPS trays...I may have also harassed my fellow coworkers to collect theirs for me too. 

The other thing you'll need is those plastic sleeve stickers they use on the tubs/trays.  They have an adhesive backing so you can just stick them in the box.  You'll want to ask a supervisor, in my case I could only get 1 box of 100 each time, and then when I ran out I had to ask for more, they may need to order them.  I used a Clorox wipe to clean off the spot in the box before I stuck them down, so they would get a good adhesion.  

I went down the list of my edit book and copied down the addresses and names.  I put the name above the black line, and the address below.  I used a medium tip sharpie to write the numbers, and a pen to write the street name.  I also highlighted the first tag when each street name changed.  The main reason I used a pen for the street name is because it fits better with the finer tip and doesn't look cramped.

My route is somewhat seasonal, so I have quite a few rental houses, houses that stay "vacant" because they're vacation rentals, and I usually also have 10 or more people on hold at any given time.  I came up with a plan to mark these boxes with color coded cardstock to make it easier to see, and the whole route is uniform.  Vacant boxes and seasonal deliveries are marked with a bright green tag: (I've since found blue paper and started using that for temporary forwards.)
I found a multicolored pack of card stock with bright green, yellow, hot pink and bright orange.  I chose green because in the office we use green bars to note vacant houses, and I considered using the hot pink card stock for forwards, which would be fine, I honestly just got a little lazy and the green seems to work well for both.  Mainly the purpose  is to keep people from putting DPS and boxholders in empty boxes.  Most of the carriers use the green vacant cards, and just put them in the box when people leave, but the problem comes when the vacant cards blow out of the box on a windy day, or the customer checks the box before they leave for the season and either they take the card out of the box, or they think they're supposed to fill it out right then.  Also, one larger boxholder gets thrown on top of the card and it's not visible anymore.  
I also decided since I had the yellow cardstock it would be a great way to mark holds.  That way you don't have to carry around the hold cards to remind yourself to bring back the mail.  It also helps keep you from leaving packages and other things.  I tend to sort my parcels at my vehicle, so I don't always check them against the case.  


Every route also has problem boxes.  You know, duplicate numbers, dog warnings, and common misdelivery complaints.  My route has quite a few duplicate numbers and when I first took the route over the sub warned me about them.  I try to be diligent when casing, and double check the addresses, but I am still human.  I have the big red folder cards in the ones that are the worst, but I have so many duplicate numbers that it would be impossible to have those for every set.  What I decided to do was use the orange cardstock to make notices for these things, so that way it's bright and obvious, a good reminder to pay attention and double check the mail.  I also use the bright hot pink color for indicating forwards where someone new has moved in, I make a small piece and put just the name to forward on it, placing it vertically just inside the pocket so it doesn't block the current resident's name.


My labeling system has been in place for a few months now.  I love it.  I have had a lot of positive feedback from the subs who've done the route, and my customers have noticed the extra effort at customer service as well.  It's always nice to hear you're doing a good job from your customers, especially the ones who say they "used" to have delivery problems a lot in the past.

Here are some edited before and after pics:

Update:  I was able to get a list of supplies together for management and they have created a little supply station with all of the label pockets, tags, and colored paper if you'd like to use the color codes.  There are also a bunch of new red plastic divider cards as well, those things are great for marking things that are not so obvious or special instructions.  If you take a few minutes and print out a page with your route number, Apache Junction, and the zip code and put this on each card you have, they'll come back to you if put in the outgoing mail or something.