When saying goodbye, say it nicely

Friday, April 5, 2013

There are shining examples of how to conduct business. Lee Iacocca at Chrysler. Steve Jobs at Apple Computer.

Other businesses are known for treating customers badly. There are many accounts of electronics big box retailers that eagerly load on unneeded extended warranties that customers can seldom use.

There are ways to conduct business that makes a customer feel appreciated, and ways to show a lack of concern.

Take the case of the United States Postal Service in Freistatt.

Here's a little town without a gas station that shows a lot of pride in its post office. People rallied in a big way when plans surfaced to close the postal branch in 2011.

Granted the postal service is losing $5 billion a year. First-class mail volume has fallen 19 percent since 2001. These could reflect difficult times for a business anchored in community service.

With those kinds of losses, most smaller post offices should be out of business. But if you kill the network, what have you got left?

The closing of the Freistatt Post Office seems like a classic case of how to alienate your customer base with the maximum effect. In this case, the holding company leasing the building in town had no idea of a problem before informed by village officials. One part of the Postal Service gave all the appearances of continuing business while another proceeded to shut down.

The decision to close on the premise of having no lease advanced rapidly. The Village Board of Trustees had a visit from a major postal official 10 days before the end of weekday business days, suggesting the closing was imminent. There was no appeal this time. It seems like a safe bet this kind of thing will happen more often. Post offices will simply close as the leases run out without any formal appeal process or significant public notice.

At the same time there is the building leased by the Postal Service in Wentworth. Postal operations moved out after damage from the tornadic storm in May 2011 moved through from Joplin. Despite making repairs, the owners have seen no effort to move in again. The Postal Service continues to pay on its lease for an unused building.

On top of that, as the clean-up crew stripped the Freistatt building at the end of last week, as they left, they cut down the flag pole and took it with them.

The Freistatt Village Board may take a while to make decisions, such as getting public input over putting up cluster boxes to replace delivery at the post office. It's a board that doesn't have to move at a rapid pace or deal with rapidly breaking business.

But in a community with a significant senior citizen population and an American Legion Post, chances are community leaders would have paid the Postal Service for the flag pole, if given a chance.

Taking down the flag pole added insult to injury of closing the post office. It was like a long cold trip and no kiss goodbye.

In a community where patriotism runs high and a lot of pride has been shown in keeping the local post office, the Postal Service's exit from Freistatt seems like a shining example of how not to conduct business.