Thursday, July 17, 2014

Good Service

Good service is something we often take for granted.  If we get bad service we often don’t return.  If we get good service, if convenient, we return again and again.

Many almost make a career of bashing government.  Government is “bloated” and “inefficient”.  Little do they consider all the ways that government makes their lives easier.

Two favorite targets of government bashers are the Postal Service and the Internal Revenue Service.  So effective are these government bashers that others parrot their complaints without considering how necessary and effective these services are.

Five days a week, our mail carrier Sarah comes to our door and deposits mail in our box.  She almost always has a smile, whether she trudges through knee-deep snow bundled up for minus twenty or she easily strolls across mowed grass in shorts.  This attitude is found throughout the Postal Service, at least in Minnesota.  If you stop at a Post Office with a long line at Christmas, the clerks treat each customer as if they were their only customers.  When they have finished with your request, they ask, “Anything else?”

Filing taxes is a chore most of us dread.  Why so many details to note?  Did I remember every donation?  Did I remember every dividend check?  And on and on.  As we plow our way through all these details and curse that we still owe money, we curse the IRS.  But the IRS didn’t create all these rules except at the bidding of Congress.  And Congress created a complex tax code to satisfy thousands of lobbyists.  To top it off, Congress doesn’t fund the IRS sufficiently to do all that it is required to do effectively.

A few weeks ago I received an IRS letter.  Oh, boy!  Did I screw up some calculation or miss an item?  Do I owe even more money?  I opened the letter to get the pain over quickly and found that I will be receiving a refund check!  I used a wrong percentage for a calculation and have less taxable income than I reported.

I know most of this is automated but real people had to be involved to double check and order the refund.  As all large organizations do, the letter said I would receive payment in four-to-six weeks.  I think I received it in a week or ten days.

But that same Congress that bashes the IRS bashes the Postal Service.  It saddled the Postal Service with the requirement to fully-fund future pensions, farther out than many corporations are required.  For example, as of the last letter I received about my Unisys pension, it was only funded at 77 percent!

The result of this pension burden on the Postal Service is that it has to cut services.  But if the Postal Service cuts services then what costs will be incurred by the public?  When rural post offices are cut, how many people will have to spend time and money to drive thirty or more miles to the nearest post office?  If the Postal Service consolidates sorting centers, how much longer will it take for businesses to provide service to their customers?

For example, Netflix has a Duluth distribution center.  Instead of two-day turnaround for a DVD, turnaround from the Duluth center could be four days.  That means, Netflix would probably close its Duluth distribution center, taking jobs direct and indirect with it.

UPS often uses the Postal Service for the “last mile” for small packages.  I’m not sure exactly how this works, but if the Duluth postal sorting center closes, then USPS will have to change its procedures to have its center nearest the Postal Center handle these “last mile” packages.  That will take a major reworking of UPS’s operational procedures.

I did not expect to write so much on government service.  This leaves me less space to praise all the businesses local and national, big and small that provide good service.

I’ll start with a few that know me by name or at least recognize my face.

Every so often I buy something from Denny’s Lawn and Garden, but more often I come in with a question or a broken something.  Tom is always ready to answer my questions or explain what has to be fixed.

Across the street at Denny’s Hardware, Yvonne always has a smile and is ready to point me in the right direction or to the right person.  Even when the person is new to me, they seem to know where what I want is located.

Whenever I want to buy a book,  The Bookstore at Fitgers can quickly tell me if its in stock or if it has to be ordered.  Northern Lights Books provided the same service.

I buy boots and jeans every few years at Minnesota Surplus, but Rick and others recognize me and cheerfully serve me.  Similarly, I buy a couple of shirts every few years at Mainstream for Men, and maybe a belt.  Doug and Tom always treat me as if I were their favorite customer.

Oh dear, the word count is going up too fast.  I have some favorite corporate places, but I’ll just end with a bit about Menards.  Often a clerk will walk half-way across the store to show you where an item is.  The king of service at Menards was Roy.  People sought him ought for advice because he always seemed to have the right answer.  He’s been retired for many years, but many still remember him.

Mel buys both local and corporate; he drinks Duluth beer and Italian wine.  And he forgot to mention Brandon and crew at Mt. Royal Bottle Shoppe.

Originally published in the Reader Weekly, 2014-07-10 at