Sunday, 7 December 2014

Why the Royal Mail depresses me

The Royal Mail epitomises many large corporations so although I am having a go at them below, I am having a go at many companies who lack any true innovation, motivation or empowering of employees and who therefore have a company who will always struggle to keep up.

I am not a postal expert or any employee of Royal Mail, nor have I ever been. When I visit the sorting office, however, to collect a parcel that could not be posted through my door, I can see problems screaming at me that seem to either have been unnoticed by various levels of Royal Mail management or otherwise have been noticed but no-one is allowed to actually address them in any way.

The only reason I use Royal Mail, like most people, is because they virtually hold a monopoly on small postage items. They are also used by many companies by default, including Amazon, even though in some cases, there are much more desirable, reliable and reasonable alternatives (like Collect+ or any of various couriers).

Back to the story, the first thing that strikes me is that there are 20 people queuing in a room that is barely big enough. My first thought is that maybe the staffing level is poor, perhaps people are off sick or something (not that that is a good excuse) but, no, there are at least 3 people working behind the counter. Most of the people are just there to collect items that wouldn't fit through the letter box so it shouldn't really take too much time? If I was a manager, the most obvious question is, why are there so many people here in the first place? The answer is pretty obvious, we buy a lot online, most houses have two earners who are not in all day and the postman is no longer able to deliver before about 8 or 9 o clock, it seems. I remember as a kid, we had two delivers, first post was something like 7am, when everyone is in, the second was later. Now, I am lucky to see the postman before midday. In other words, I am never in when they arrive.

This sounds like something that is outside Royal Mail's control but that is what I would expect an old-fashioned, poorly managed organisation to say. I would expect a proactive, innovative, employee-enabled company to say, "how can we deliver when people are at home so that loads of them don't all turn up at the sorting office to collect stuff?". Actually, this is not really that hard. They should have the flexibility to deliver at different times to suit - wait for it - the customer! If that means weekend deliveries, God forbid, then that's what it means. If it means you split the shifts into an early morning shift for letters and an evening shift for larger items, you could do that. The technology to track and organise mail is actually dirt cheap and is partially already in use but if you want something recorded? That'll be another £3 and not worth it for the cheap power supply I bought from Amazon - more importantly, recorded doesn't actually buy you flexibility it only buys some basic tracking and paltry insurance. I remember once getting a Royal Mail evening delivery and wondered why it was not sold much more strongly by Royal Mail. I'm sure paying people to work some evenings instead of permanent mornings wouldn't be the end of the world, it would also spread out the workforce meaning you need less transport and facilities.

So clearly Royal Mail haven't worked this out yet. Let us return to the sorting office.

3 people serving and 20 waiting, that shouldn't take too long right? 5 minutes? 10 tops? Nope. 20 minutes later, I'm still waiting. Why is this? You learn so much in the queue as you watch the people waiting.


  1. Where on earth are the employees going to find these parcels? France? If I turn up with a card, they type something (slowly) into the computer to get a code and then go off for a walk somewhere. Perhaps they are drinking tea in between. Why are they typing anything? I have a card, why doesn't the card have the relevant number on it? Even if they have to walk half way up the building, it still takes ages. If it takes 2 minutes per item, that queue is never going down.
  2. Some woman was there with her card but they couldn't find the item. Apparently, when this happens, they call the postman and ask them where they put it. Really? They can't find it? Surely there is one place to put these parcels and it will be there right? Nope. "Sorry madam, we can't find it, we'll have to look, try and deliver it next week if we find it otherwise you will have to claim for it". I would be mortified if my sorting office lost one parcel, but it happens all the time (I've seen it about 3 times in the same number of months I've visited the sorting office). The poor lady doesn't even know what package it is so she could re-order something or whatever, all she knows is that "a package" was not delivered (and now lost).
  3. Another lady has turned up. She has two letters, one couldn't fit through the door (OK) but the other has postage to pay on it. What is this item of mail that doesn't have postage on it? Some crappy flyer from an online shop whose franking machine obviously wasn't working properly. Of course, this woman didn't want to pay postage on some piece of crappy marketing mail so the lady offered to "return it to the sender". Really? The system allowed a letter to enter with NO postage on it and expected the person at the end to pay all of it? Un-paid mail (as opposed to something that might have been underpaid) should just be rejected at source. Imagine if that lady didn't have the second piece of mail to collect, she's just waited 20 minutes for a piece of mail she didn't want.
  4. Another lady had a package that had arrived from America and had also gone missing. You could hear her telling the previous lady that the postmen must just steal things. Again, this is criminal and the management clearly can't fix it.
  5. Then after my long wait, I told the man that I had been left a card for a parcel that wouldn't fit through the letter box but I had misplaced the card, but it was alright because I had my driving licence, complete with photo, name and address. It was also not tracked, just too big to post. He initially said it wasn't a problem and then returned to say he couldn't give it to me. According to Royal Mail Twitter, this is for security reasons. I don't really see how having photo id with matching name and address somehow undermines the high security of the red generic card that they put through my door, but again, it smells of "corporate policy" that is a terrible fit for each and every situation in the sorting office. Let the staff decide whether they think I am stealing a £4 power supply by somehow managing to fake someone else's photo id but not having the skill to get a red card from their letterbox! They offered to re-deliver it so they could re-post a card that I could then use to get the item from the sorting office again (it takes me 15 minutes to cycle there, I don't have a car!).
The whole experience depresses me. The people feel distant and not like the kind of people who management can trust to make judgments. They don't seem like the kind of people who are encouraged to streamline the collection process so the queue can be kept small.

This has all happened over the past 2 weeks when I have also not received two other packages (one 1st, the other 2nd class). Where do these things go? Does anyone investigate? If people are damaging, discarding or stealing items, are they punished under the full wait of the law, or do they simply get fired only to be replaced with more of the same culture?

Toyota are large, but they are successful. Why? Because they realise that the people on the shop floor know what works and what doesn't and management (who spend time on the shop floor) are prepared to invest in the ideas that the workers have to make things better. Better workers means happier workers not dicking around with things that should work properly or arguing with customers who are fed up with the sloppy service. Better workers mean a more efficient company which means more profits. It means customers choose your service because it is good rather than putting up with it because there are few alternatives. It means when a new company does come along to rival yours, you might actually survive the competition rather than dying a public and shameful corporate death.
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