By Kevin Meyer
A recent CNN article pretty much describes the problem at the US Postal Service, although that wasn't really its intent. You see, there's this new startup called Outbox that is working to digitize traditional paper mail, and our beloved USPS is having a bit of a conniption about it.
I think this is a terrific idea as I've been trying to make more and more of my life electronic – and thereby location independent. A few years ago I subscribed to a voicemail service that emails me the voicemail so I don't have to be near a phone. Last year that service even began transcribing those voicemails (with remarkable accuracy by the way) so I don't even have to listen to the audio file – I can just rapidly scan the "voice"mail. For the last year I've also been able to take a photo of checks with my phone and deposit them to my business or personal bank accounts. Another app on my phone lets me photograph documents, sign, convert to PDF, and email or fax them to a recipient. No more going to banks, fax machines, or sometimes even a computer. I can work just as efficiently from home, the car, or Tahiti. In your face Marissa Mayer!
Almost. The missing piece has been incoming paper mail. But with Outbox and a couple of other competing services, that may soon be resolved. Unless the USPS gets in the way.
A driver of a white Prius with a giant, red plastic flag affixed to
its side is rolling through the hilly streets of San Francisco,
undelivering mail from mailboxes. The driver is not a
thief. He and the car are part of a startup called Outbox that is
attempting to pick up where the embattled United States Postal Service
leaves off — by digitizing physical mail.
He collects the letters, bills, magazines and
advertisements that were deposited there by official postal workers and
delivers them to a warehouse. There they are opened and photographed,
and the resulting digital files are sent electronically to the recipient
through the Outbox website or iPad or iPhone apps.
The company already has
more than 600 customers in Austin, Texas, and starting Tuesday it's
rolling out in its second city, San Francisco.
And it all costs $4.99 per month. Even with the USPS standing in its way.
Creating a shadow, reverse postal service may not be the most efficient
way to improve the struggling mail system, but Outbox is unable to
intercept clients' mail any sooner in the process. The company has met
resistance from the United States Postal Service, which has refused to
collaborate with Outbox or let its workers pick up mail directly from
local post offices.
Why does the USPS have a problem?
"The Postal Service is focused on providing an essential service in our
mission to serve the American public and does not view Outbox as
supporting that mission," the USPS said in a statement. "We do have
concerns regarding the destruction of mail — even if authorized by the
receiver — and will continue to monitor market activities to ensure
protection of our brand and the value and security of the mail."
And that statement describes why the USPS is a sinking ship. "Protection of our brand and the value and security of the mail." But what about the customer? I mean the home customer, not the providers of bulk junk that is increasingly the primary revenue source of the USPS.
Imagine a different path. A postal service that is focused on increasing value to its customers rather than protecting its "brand." Instead of fighting startups like Outbox they'd be creating that innovation themselves, converting paper mail to electronic digital formats for folks like me that immediately scan and shred anything we have to keep anyway. Or maybe they go even further an enable the sending of original mail electronically, instead of trying to entice companies to remain paperbound to create "demand."
But no. That would mean thinking of value from the perspective of the customer. And that's apparently not as important as the brand – whatever value that has anymore.
David Hallsted says
Protecting your brand is not uncommon. Companies set up with departments are always concerned with the departmental goals (brand), not the customer. I remember attending a company continuous improvement meeting stating that our improvements should always focus on the customer. Never in my life have I seen so many blank stares. Then the meeting continued to talk about department improvements. Unless the company is reorganize into value streams, the company focus is always about department goals regardless of the” customer is first” motto the company pretends to support.
Why should the Post Office NOT consider the party buying the postage as the customer?
“Met resistance?” Gee, I wonder if these guys have anything to do with it.
The USPS isn’t really a private or public company and it is subject to congressional oversight. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 puts burdens on the USPS that other companies don’t have. The USPS must fully fund its retirement commitments AND isn’t allowed to changes its rates without approval. So government (in this case passed by a Republican Congress) has gotten in the way of business.
I struggle though with the idea that you and me are the customer of the USPS for receiving a letter. The sender is the customer, they decided they wanted to send you a physical piece of mail. The sender likely has access to email and the web just like you but choose to go to the USPS to send a letter. They paid money to send the letter, they are the customer. The service above conflicts with the paying customers wishes to send you paper.
The USPS could offer this service to receiving customers like the Swiss http://arstechnica.com/business/2009/07/swiss-postal-service-lets-users-check-snail-mail-online/ But then its a short step to realize that the waste of transportation and processing as well as costs could be reduced by just using email. This would only accelerate the demise of the USPS.
Warwick Carter says
Australia Post has been offering this service for some time now. They viewed it as a way to maintain relevance for their brand & mission…