I’ve had a mailbox with the postal service for over a decade. It’s been great. It’s a convenient address for a business, and it doesn’t change. Great for receiving bills, tax refunds, contracts, pay checks and everything else.
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I picked the postal service years back because I figured they are solid. A corner deli or other mailbox service might go out of business. And the idea was to have a box that doesn’t have to change often.
In all those years I’ve always been timely with paying the rent, which can be every six months or twelve months as you choose. Recently I mixed up the renewal. When I went in to pickup my mail, the lock had been changed. I went to the customer service counter to ask about it. Amanda came to help me. She was cordial.
She explained however that the box had been closed. Since it was the day before the holiday, she wouldn’t be able to help with this, and suggested I come back on Monday.
As I like to be agreeable, I agreed to this request. In the meantime she was able to give me my mail. It was nice to see they had been keeping it. After all I was only a few weeks overdue.
Bring me the documents!
On Monday I had planned to return right away. But as my day got going I wondered if I would have enough time. This probably won’t be just a quick stop in. For some reason I sensed the process would be complicated.
Tuesday I set my alarm clock to wake up two hours early. I got dressed & headed straight to the post office. I wanted to get an early start. I went to the customer service desk again, and met Michael. I explained the mixup. Yes I was late playing my rent. Could I pay a penalty of some kind and then renew for another year?
“No I’m sorry, your box is closed now. You’ll have to reopen it.”, he explained.
“That’s no trouble let’s do that. What do we need to do?”, I asked.
“Well, you’ll need to bring all the documents that you opened the box with originally. Driver’s license, second form of ID, and the business document.”, Michael explained.
“Sure I said. I have my driver’s license right here. I can bring the business certificate. Great. And second form of ID?”, I asked.
“A passport would work.”
“That’ll be fine.”, I said. “So if I bring the business certificate & passport, and my driver’s license here, we’ll be able to open the box up again.”, I asked.
“Yes. If you’re able to bring those today or tomorrow, since nobody has opened another box, you can get that same box number again.”
“Wonderful. Thank you. :)”
The endless lunchtime
From there I took another train trip home. The passport was easy enough to find. However the business certificate I had misplaced. It took me quite a while rifling through folders, but eventually I found it. Great I thought, I’ll just return to the post office, and have this task done for the day!
One thought occurred to me, I wonder if they might need a proof of address. He didn’t mention it, but I’ll just bring a recent gas bill just in case. Little did I know what would follow…
As I returned to the post office, Amanda greeted me. Hi there. Yes, I remember you from last week she said. Thx! Michael is at lunch now. He will be back in ten minutes.
So I waited. And waited. Twenty minutes go by. I go back to the counter, and Amanda says she’s not sure where he is, but she is going to lunch now too. When you see him return, just buzz the bell and he can help you.
Another twenty minutes go by and I see Michael return. I buzz the door, and he comes out.
Hi there Michael. I’ve managed to track down the documents you asked for, and I’ve got them all right here. Hopefully everything looks right and we can get this taken care of.
He asks me to fill out another form. On it includes my current address. Which has changed & is different from the original business address. Now I had thought to just write the same address down, as that might “simplify” things. But then I thought, that’s probably not prudent. Better to be honest. Right? I mean honesty is rewarded eh?
He sees the address & explains, I’m sorry but you’ll need a proof of address.
“Umm. Yes of course. I was careful to be very attentive to your requests earlier. Did I understand you correctly that you needed two items, the passport & business certificate.”, I asked?
“Yes but I didn’t see that you didn’t have your address here. You’ll need that too”
“No problem sir. Although it isn’t something we discussed, I did also bring my gas bill, because I thought that might be helpful here.”
“No we don’t accept that. Don’t you have a lease? Do you rent an apartment? You’ll need to bring me the right documentation!”
At this point it really does feel like a scene out of Terry Gilliam’s famous 1985 classic Brazil, where beaurocrat’s control your life. We must have form 27b-6 or else!
Customer thine enemy
At this point I’m getting internally quite furious. It is now my third trip to the post office, and still I don’t have the right forms. Remember I’ve also been a customer for over ten years! But that seems to have no bearing. What’s more I have all the documents required, even a proof of address, but it is the wrong one!
My agitation is increasing, and I’m kind of shaking with frustration. I want to scream or yell at this point. But I realize that will only make things worse.
“With all do respect sir, I’ve returned here three times already. It’s quite a trip back and forth. I’ve brought the documents you requested. “, I explain
It seems his tension is rising too. I don’t know if this is the usual day but he is not bending.
“I’ve explained what you need to do. That’s it!”
“Can you please explain to me again sir.”, I ask
“One more question. That’s all I’ll take from you!”, he says holding up his finger menacingly to me.
“How do I know if I return with one more document, we won’t get further through this process and find something else missing. Then I may have to return again.”
I am despondent at this point. Close to giving up. I have less confidence now that I’ve had throughout. I think he sees my pain at this point. I’m practically crawling on the ground beaten. That must have been enough for pity.
“Well you could talk to Miss Adams. Maybe she can help you.”, he says
“Yes miss Adams you say? Sure let’s talk to miss Adams.”
The magical Miss Adams
I go around to the main post office and ask after Miss Adams. I meet Kelly at the front desk. She explains that miss Adams is at lunch, and will be back soon. But asks what is the problem.
I explain my mixup. About paying the rent late, and how the box must be reopen. I further explain that I’ve returned three times and show her the documents I have. She says they look fine, what’s the problem. Michael explained that a National Grid bill is not sufficient proof of address.
“Why not”, she asks?
It is at this point I have a revelation. There is no rhyme or reason to any of this madness. There may be a rule, it may or may not be followed. Depending on the day, the moon, the alignment of planets. Who knows.
“I’m sure that should be fine. Let’s ask miss Adams”, she says.
And then as if by magic, Miss Adams materializes out of nowhere. After such a trial, I imagine I felt much like fraternity pleges feel as they’ve been beaten and abused for days. Miss Adams is like a saint arriving from the heavens.
“Michael doesn’t take the gas bill as proof of address? Well I do.”, she says.
And with one simple wave of the wand, everything is resolved. Just like that.
Innovation, Customers First & Startups
When I think of this experience, yes I’m frustrated as anyone would be.
But it also really stands out for me in stark contrast. For I have worked with innovation, entrepreneurs & startups for many years. We all approach business from the perspective of solving problems. There understanding your customers, helping them, and simplifying processes is the rule of the day.
When I think of a government agency like the Post Office, I think of FedEx. Their market cap is 60 billion dollars. They exist with the sole purpose of moving packages. Customers will pay an incredible amount of money to avoid every having to deal with the post office.
This is a testament to innovation. And to startups. It’s why I’ve enjoyed working in the startup space all these years. The hard work & the creative problem solving. I live for that.
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Also published on Medium.