This article was originally written for www.gapersblock.com. You can see the article there also.
So I was at the post office the other day, mailing something to my special lady friend. It’s long distance so you really have to send letters and what not to keep points on the scoreboard, so to speak. I had tried FedEx and UPS, but their prices were astronomical – $60 bucks when USPS was $10 – $20.
There I was, putting some stuff in a box and filling out all the appropriate forms, when some girl came in to ship something. It was only the two of us there at the Post Office, so I could easily hear her conversation with the USPS employee. The girl was trying to pay for her purchase with a credit card that said “See I.D.” where the signature bar is on the back. The USPS employee was not down with that. You see, their policy is that you have to sign your cards. “You can sign your card right now, but we won’t take it if it’s not signed,” the employee told the young lady – the damsel in distress, you might say.
“I work at a bank,” the girl protested. “We tell all of our customers to write ‘See I.D’ on the back of their cards because it’s more secure. Your I.D. has your signature and your picture on it. It helps protect against theft.”
“Hard to argue against that logic,” I affirmed her silently in my mind. This was, after all, the same policy that I myself practiced.
“Our policy says that you have to sign the card,” the employee persisted.
“But you can just see my I.D.” the girl continued in futility.
“Ma’am you can either sign the card now or pay with cash,” repeated the error message, reminiscent of the infuriating experiences we’ve all had with some type of electronics that malfunction despite all forms of reason. The customer yielded, her white flag waving as she handed over the cash for her purchase. Her head hung low as she marched out of the building, defeated.
“Not me,” I thought rebelliously. “You’re gonna see my I.D., and you’re gonna like it.“ I walked over to the counter, my chest inflated with an air of defiance. Having rung up the costs of shipping my blindingly romantic, swoon-inducing package, the employee asked for my payment. I offered up a credit card that pleaded for the merchant to ask for my I.D.
“We don’t take cards that aren’t signed,” the employee spouted like a recording as she pointed to the little sign with their policy printed on it, the section regarding I.D. highlighted.
“My Father works at a bank. Putting ‘See I.D.’ is more secure,” I said. True story, my Dad really does work for a bank.
“Do you want to talk to the post master?” the employee said, appealing to their ultimate authority. “Finally” I thought, “I can speak to someone with a mind.”
I was wrong.
A bald man in his 50’s or 60’s puttered out from “the back room” where the dark alchemies of postal service are performed and came up to the counter to speak with me. “Is there a problem?” he said.
“Yes. I am trying to pay with my credit card. It is unsigned, but it says ‘See I.D.’ on it. This is actually more secure than signing it, because if someone steals my credit card then they would need my I.D. as well. Then, were they daring enough to offer up both the purloined card and the I.D., you’d be able to quickly tell that you were observing a fraud because their face would not be my face.” Triumph filled the air, echoing off of the walls with my flawless words. My tone was clear and stern, but peaceful. I did not yell or scream like an undersexed suburban mother, protesting the end of a sale at Kohl’s. No, I just presented truth calmly and succinctly. I had changed the world in a small way, for the better.
“Our policy says that the card has to be signed or we can’t accept it,” the man said nasally, extinguishing the fireworks of victory.
“But didn’t you hear what I just said? That’s not secure.”
“Well if they steal your wallet they would have your I.D. anyway,” he said, making that face that people sometimes make when they feel threatened, as if they are clenching their ass cheeks in anticipation of a punch to the face.
“Right, they would. But they wouldn’t have stolen my face too, would they? Unless we’re dealing with an Eddie Gein character, in which case I would suppose credit card theft is the least of our worries.”
“It’s our policy. Our national policy.”
“Understood, and I’ll pay with cash. But maybe you could use your Postmaster powers – great as I assume they are – to affect a positive change in the system?”
“I have. This is our policy.” He said, still standing with a slight lean backwards, ready to flee.
“Okay then.” I said. I left the Post Office, my faith in humanity and customer service shat upon once again by reality.
I then began thinking, as thinkers like myself tend to do. What if this were health care? While I agree that the American health care system works just as well as punching yourself in the face does for relieving headaches, do I want to have this experience every time I need to get some kind of medical work taken care of? The talk of death panels is sensationalistic crap, the talk of communism/fascism is bloated rhetoric, but I can’t ignore the experience I just had with a business that is operated by the government. It is so mired down in bureaucracy that the idea of “customer service” is as present as the days when MTV actually had music on it. It’s a vague memory and a happy one, but the present is such a stark contrast that the pictures in the photo album are faded beyond recognition. These Post Office employees literally have no motivation or incentive for being flexible for a customer. What the hell do they care? There’s still going to be a Post Office tomorrow whether I continue to patronize their establishment or not. They have their mouths firmly attached to the government’s bountiful teat, why on Earth would they choose to “go the extra mile” to have “service with a smile”? The customer may always be right, but they don’t give a damn about what’s right. If “right” isn’t in their policies, then “right” means nothing to them.
Are my fears well founded? Or am I just being a pessimist? I ask you the question that Third Eye Blind once asked all of us: How’s it gonna be?