Where's My Camera?

By Ron Rosenberg

Some things should be easy.  For example, when you forward your mail, the postal service should actually send your mail to the new address.

If you create a "hold-mail" order for when you're traveling, the postal service shouldn’t deliver any of your mail during that period.

You'd think these two tasks would be pretty straightforward, but, as you've probably guessed, this wasn't the case.

Let's Go to the Lake!

We're fortunate in that we get to spend part of our summer in the Adirondack Mountains of update New York. This has two very distinct benefits - first, we get to spend time with Lorie's family and with some very special friends; and, second, we're able to escape North Carolina's hot and humid summer weather.

Our preparations include the annual ritual of forwarding our mail to the New York address and putting a "hold mail' order on it for the last week of our trip so the postal service doesn't send anything to New York after we've left, since it takes a few days for the mail to be rerouted.

Where's Our Mail?

We were expecting a few important letters to be forwarded at the beginning of our stay, and when nothing showed up there, we checked at the local post office. They called our post office in North Carolina, and were told that "Oops - I guess we didn't process the forwarding order."

This is in spite of the fact that we had gotten an email confirmation that this was all set up. I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but we've had problems with our home post office for many years, and the Postal Service is aware of this, having what amounts to a "revolving door" of postmasters there for the last few years.

I'm not sure what the problem actually was, but this wasn't the first issue we'd had with them, and it probably won't be the last.

Time for an Upgrade!

A few years ago, our daughter and son-in-law got us a Nikon 3300 DSLR camera as a holiday gift. It was great because both Lorie and I had dabbled in photography at various points in our lives back in the dark ages when people still used film to take pictures.

Many of the techniques I'd known previously came back slowly, but there was still a lot to learn, so I immersed myself in YouTube videos and online courses. I ended up using the camera more then Lorie, so it sort of became "mine" and not "ours."

I was starting to reach the point where the basic nature of this "entry-level" DSLR camera was limiting what I could do with my photography.

So when a trip to Tuscany for one of Lorie's clients was approaching, she made me an offer I couldn't refuse: she would take the D3300 camera I had been using, and I could upgrade to a more advanced model.

Have I mentioned that my wife is awesome?

So after a bit of research, I settled on the Nikon D7200 model, which has a near-professional feature set that would help me produce better photos.

Timing is Everything

I ordered a factory-refurbished model, and these were in limited supply, so I ordered it near the end of our stay in New York,  anticipating that it would take about a week to arrive, and we'd be back home in North Carolina by then.

And even if it did arrive early the "hold order" we had in place for that last week would ensure that it was held at the post office until our mail was resumed.

So, needless to say, I was surprised when I got a notification that the post office had attempted delivery of the camera, but, since it required a signature, they couldn't leave it, and would try again.

Remember, this is five days before mail delivery was supposed to be resumed in North Carolina!

Naturally, I was worried that the post office might try a few more times and then ship the camera back to the vendor as "undeliverable." I figured a simple call to the local post office would require just a few minutes and would take care of everything. I was very wrong.

You're Entering "The Twilight Zone!"

I should have known there would be a problem when I couldn't find a number for the post office on the USPS website. A bit of digging gave me three possible numbers, none of which were answered. One had a voicemail message that said the mailbox was full and wasn't accepting more messages.

I tried a few more times over the course of two days, with the same disappointing results.

Next stop was the USPS 800 number. On my first call, it said the average wait time was approximately 35 minutes, so I hung up and called back a bit later.

This time, the recording said that the wait time was 55 minutes, but I could leave a number, and then someone would call me back when it was my turn in the queue. Cool!

About 65 minutes later the phone rang, and I answered it fully expecting to hear a live person on the other end. In fact, all it did was put me right back in the queue, where I waited for about 20 minutes before giving up in complete and utter frustration.

My next step was to try and find the customer service number for the district that our post office reported to.

A quick search revealed that we are part of a mid-Atlantic district based in Richmond, Virginia. But a call to the number that was provided revealed that the person identified as the primary contact hadn't worked for the Postal Service for several years, and by the way, it was the Greensboro, North Carolina, district I needed to call.

I called the number the woman gave me, but got a message that "Consumer Affairs is not available - please leave a message." So I did. And didn't get a return call.

I called again, and this time, a different message suggested that I try the area "hotline number." I called that number and left a voicemail. Again, no callback.
Finally, I tried the District number again, got through to Derek. He said that If a hold order was in place, they shouldn't have attempted to deliver the package, but instead, should have scanned it and held it for redelivery.
With respect to the problems with the 800 number, he said they actually discourage people from using it, and recommend the "hotline" number (yes, the one that I tried with no callbacks.)
He apologized for the inconvenience and said he was going to try to contact the local post office and see what the status of the package was.
He called back later in the day and said the package was in the post office and would be redelivered when the resume order was activated.
Interestingly enough, on the day the mail was to resume, I happened to be outside when the mail truck pulled up. The letter carrier handed me a stack of mail, and when I asked if there was also a package, she looked puzzled, went into the back of the truck, and said, "Oh yeah, there is a package!  Here you go."
Don't Complicate Things That Should Be Simple!
None of this should have been difficult - it's not like this was the first time in the history of the Postal Service that someone has forwarded mail or placed a hold order when they were out of town.
Answering calls at a local post office shouldn't be an exercise in futility. And when you request a callback, you should actually be called back, not put into an interminable queue hoping that someone might actually speak with you.
And remember, this is an organization that has very detailed and well-documented processes for everything they do!
It's worth taking a close look at the experience you provide for your customers, clients, and members, and make sure you're not putting them through a similar situation when they reach out to you for help.

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Russell Trahan

PR/PR Public Relations

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