Comment: The Romanian Post – probably a case of 'managers-not-leaving-their-desks-to-see-how-the-company-works'
I am a frequent customer of the Romanian Post. The one that is up for sale but which is so much indebted that so far no investor has been willing even to buy the task book and be part of the bid.
I am sure I have no idea how privatizations really go in Romania and what it takes to attract investors, but as a frequent customer of the Post, I think I might know more about this company than many in its management. Why am I saying this? Because I am almost certain that none of the general managers appointed to run the Post and take it out of its slump actually went into one of its offices to see how it works. You know, go incognito and try to use its services. I am sure there were some official visits, and everyone in that Post office was well prepared for them, and things might have even looked good, as if everything was working smoothly. My advice to anyone trying to restructure the Post? Go into any of the busy Post offices, anywhere in Bucharest, at around 13:00, and try to judge everything you see with the eyes of the customer. I am sure that anyone, and I mean anyone, with a little knowledge of efficient systems would come up with at least five ideas of how things can be improved at the Post. I am sure restructuring involves many other things, and numbers need to be crunched, but maybe they have been crunched too much and the reality has been forgotten.
Let me tell you a little story which will cast some light on how things really work there. I use the Post's services quite often, because every month I send my mother some money. She lives in the countryside, and the post office there is the only way I can send her money. I am quite happy I can do it like this, because money arrives the next day. They could add more services, and send money to the countryside on same day, but I am not complaining.
The Post recently closed down an office near my house, so I had to go to a new one, slightly bigger, but more crowded. Upon entering, the postal office looks like a mix of old and new, and smells like furniture from the communist period. I can live with that. Now, when deciding which one of the counters is the one I should queue at, that's a different story. All of the eight counters have these computer printed papers, with a slightly small font, saying what sort of services they offer. Most of them offer the same services- and they list them one underneath the other, but the paper notes are created in a way that you will surely miss the one service you are in for. So almost always I get the response: please go to the desk X, we don't do that here. So practice teaches you to always ask where to go, even if you have to step in front of the queue just to ask. Wouldn't it be easier if upon entry they would install an easy to understand system directing you where you need to go? That would make me a happy customer right from the start. Wouldn't anyone that had turned up for the first day of an MBA, or anyone with just tiniest scrap of common sense for that matter see that this irritating and inefficient situation could very easily and quickly be improved? The Post's bosses either don't know or don't care.
Then, strike 2, it's 13:00, that exact time when the shift ends and a new lady comes to take over - and this happens at almost all desks at the same time. So very often you'd get the answer – please go to my colleague, I am finishing my shift. Frustration and anger. These ladies who work for the Post – and by all means, I am not blaming them, I am sure they didn't create this system -have to count their cashings at the end of their shift, as well as the products they had up for sale, so on many occasions the person whom I was expecting to help me was actually counting stamps at the end of their shift! This way of organizing work is very counter productive, hasn't anyone in the Post management noticed it?
When it comes to the people who work at the Post, I must admit I have seen an improvement in recent years, they tend to be more polite and helpful – even if exceptions occur – but from what I have seen, this is crippled by the inefficient internal rules.
Then strike 3. You manage to get the service you were there for, you pay and then wait for the bill. And wait. And wait. Because many post offices have what can probably be called the first generation of printers, and it takes more for the bill to be printed than it took you to make the entire transaction. So you stay there like a fool waiting for your piece of paper. I know the Post is losing money, and buying one new printer per post office must be expensive at this point: 7,100 new printers at an average cost of let's say RON 600 (I'm sure they'd get a discount for such a large order), and some EUR 1 million, but money well spent. It will speed up all transactions and they would serve more customers, hence make more money. I would not try to find any other alternative option, just to avoid the trip at the Post.
While I am waiting for my bill, I usually look around in the office. In the area behind the counter, it's chaos. The Post seems to sell everything. Don't get me wrong, it's a good thing you can pay all sorts of bills there, you can pay fines and even your taxes, but what about the multitude of little books, post cards, pens and pencils, magazines no one has ever heard of? They are placed all over the walls in their tiny desk areas, and make it look so last century. I wonder if anyone ever buys that. Streamline! Choose the services you want to offer, and for the rest, either give up, or install some machines where people can buy those postcards by themselves. I've seen books sold in such vending machines, and yes, it was in Romania, so I think it could work for postcards and even for envelopes and stamps. It would make the Post offices look neater and more organized, and they would look like they care.
Just a few ideas, I have many more, and I am sure anyone who has ever went into a post office in Romania could add their own. Maybe we should offer our consulting services to the Post to speed up its privatization. The alternative is to wait for a private investor to buy it at very low price and then implement some common sense changes and make it run as it should be, making lots of money in the process.
By Corina Chirileasa, email@example.com
(photo source: Posta Romana)