Embrace Disruption To Save The U.S. Postal Service

If your business revolves around charging people money to deliver their messages by hand over a period of days, how do you survive in a world where anyone can send anyone else a message for free instantaneously?

That’s the question the U.S. Postal Service has been worriedly asking itself as it gazes into the mirror for the past ten years.

Yesterday it decided that the answer to that question was “we cut next-day mail and close half of our processing plants” (paraphrasing).

That’s their response to the crisis, which they perceive as a budgetary crisis. They’re trying to save $2.1 billion a year in the face of collapsing revenues.

Those steps may save them their $2 billion, but they will also create a service that is even worse in comparison to the technology that disrupted it in the first place. It will speed the end of the Postal Service altogether.

If the Postal Service wants to survive in this new era, it has to embrace the disruption that has happened all around it. It has to transform itself, shed its baggage, and get with the times, damn it.

Embrace the disruption!

How should it do this?

Here are a few ideas.

For starters, make all delivery of personal mail free. That’s right, free. No stamp needed. Just drop your letter in the mailbox and away it goes.

Wha? Why? Well remember – we’re living in a world where sending messages is free. How can you make it as an organization charging money to deliver messages in that kind of world? You can’t. If you’re going to stay in business, you’ve got to ride out and meet the competition. Free delivery of messages.

Next: double (or triple) the price of delivery for junk mail to compensate for that freebie to writers of real letters. That will have the combined effect of increasing revenue per transaction, and also decreasing the number of non-primary transactions that happen in the first place. It will free up resources to focus on real mail being sent. With all of those free resources, it might even increase the ability to deliver real mail to destinations same-day.

Then: advertise on the backs of letter. Attach a little advertisement sticker to each (free) piece of mail that goes through the Postal Service. Now suddenly you’ve got revenue for your free mail system. Will people care? No, they’ll love it – just like they love free web pages that have ads on them. People love free services and don’t mind seeing a few ads in exchange for them. The web has taught us that a couple billion times.

(Conversely: people hate spending their time searching for stamps to attach to letters. Life has taught us that over and over again.)

Finally: remember who the customer is and what the mission is. The customer is the people of the U.S., and the mission is getting their messages securely to their destination. There are a lot of ways to go after that, just one of which is delivering mail. The Postal Service should be ruminating on that idea, and ought to be reinventing itself in different ways along those lines. I think there could be lots of ways to go there.

If the Postal Service took these steps, or similar ones to transform and reinvent itself, we might see a leaner, healthier service, and one that was actually optimized to the world around it, instead of one that was slowly but surely collapsing in the face of newer solutions to old problems.

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