USPS: Not the Right Root Cause


Star-Telegram | 03/01/2007 | Long time, no see: Post offices hide their clocks

I can only imagine the discussion behind this move by the US Postal Service:

  • Manager 1: “Customers are complaining the lines are too long.”
  • Manager 2: “OK, then take the clocks off the walls.”
  • Manager 1: “Sir, but people have watches, they'll still know how long they're waiting.”
  • Manager 2: “TAKE DOWN THE CLOCKS!”

My local post office always has brutal lines and I try to “level load” by going at off peak times when I can. Thank goodness for their automated postage machine!

The article has experts who'll make my point for me:

A customer-service expert at Texas A&M University questioned the wisdom of taking down lobby clocks.

“It's silly,” said Leonard Berry, a professor who holds the M.B. Zale Chair in Retailing and Marketing Leadership.

Another expert chimes in:

“Perhaps I am jaded,” said Dzugan, president of Rapport Online. “I think removing the clocks as a remedy to keeping customers in line is right up there with the recorded message, ‘Your call is important to us' played over and over on the phone while waiting for ‘customer service.'”

Yet another says:

“If you distract people from thinking about, or paying attention to, time passing, they perceive that it's less,” Baker said. “But if I was running the post office, I would actually try to reduce the waiting time.”

What do the customers think?

“It's always long here,” groused Al Cunningham, 49, of Fort Worth, who became an insurance adjuster after working 10 years for the post office.

When told that the clock was removed to coax customers to focus more attention on signs and service, Cunningham said: “That's bull. Look, do you see any sense of urgency?”

Nicely put, Al. Maybe the USPS can follow the lead of the Canadian and Japanese postal services, to use lean to drive REAL improvement. Hopefully, part of that lean effort would be a “root cause problem solving” training that would lead to, as Baker said, “actually improve the waiting time.”

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Our local post office has done a reasonably good job shortening its lines. I was there a couple of months ago, and at the counter, one clerk ran over to my guy and said, “I’ve been timing our wait, and it’s under 4 minutes.” My guy grumbled under his breath, “That’s a long time if it’s your 4 minutes.” Some empathy at last.

    See my blog for my recent experience with the USPS online stamp ordering, however.


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