Improving your organization’s reputation

When you know your organization has a reputation for poor service, you need to double your efforts not to perpetuate that impression. When it’s a for-profit company, you can easily lose customers as the bad-word-of-mouth spreads.

But what if your organization is a non-profit or government agency that serves the public? What do you have to lose if you don’t try to upgrade the public’s perception?

For decades the US Postal Service has had a reputation for poor service, despite millions spent on customer service training many years ago. There are stories of individual carriers and clerks offering stellar service, but the tales are overshadowed with the many stories of surly or uncaring employees. When your organization suffers from a reputation for bad service, all it takes is one or two examples to keep the public saying, “See the USPS just doesn’t care. They don’t have to — it’s the government.”

But now the situation is different. The USPS has suffered major financial setbacks because we are mailing fewer pieces and they can’t adequately compete with the premium mailing services. They also know no one is going to say, “I’m not going to mail this letter through USPS because they have bad service” since there are so few options for inexpensively sending snail mail.

That doesn’t excuse non-customer-focused behavior, however. If the USPS wants the public to continue to support them, they need to treat the public — their customers — as the treasured stakeholders they are. We, the public, underwrite their loses, whether or not we ever send a letter or package through them.

So imagine my frustration when visiting my local USPS branch last week. I use the automatic weighing and postage purchase machine in the lobby as there is usually a long line for a clerk. This day, the machine froze as I put in my credit card, despite my trying several times.

Luckily, there was only one woman in front of me when I went inside to mail my package. Two women clerks were helping others and a male clerk stood behind his open window. I asked the woman why she didn’t step up to the man’s counter. “He only helps those picking up packages.” “So he couldn’t help anyone else when no one had a package to pick up?” I wondered.

When my turn came, I asked the woman clerk a question she couldn’t answer. “You’ll have to ask my supervisor,” she said, pointing to the man waiting behind the counter for someone with a package to pick up! Really? This man doing nothing was the *supervisor*!

I went to his window to ask my question and mentioned the machine outside was broken. “I know. There’s nothing we can do about it.” he responded. “Couldn’t you put a sign on it so others don’t waste their time trying to get it to work?” He shrugged.

On the way out, I grabbed a form and wrote “Not working” in large letters and placed it on the non-functional machine.

When the organization’s supervisors don’t see how they are continuing a negative perception of their service, I don’t know that there’s any way to help.

Questions for you:

* Do supervisors step in when customers are waiting? If they are within view of customers, it looks like they are slacking off and not caring about the customer wait.
* If something is broken, do you communicate that to your customers so they don’t waste their time?


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