So we've all seen those fantastically naff People's Post Office ads where Wendy Richard and Keith Harris (they really broke the budget with those two, huh? Was Madonna not available?) do a 'funny' skit with the post office counter staff (all delivered with appalling comic timing). Everything is happy, jolly, lovely and there are no horrid queues.
The reality of course is very, very different.
I just witnessed a prime example of the appalling customer management that has driven the Post Office into the dirt. I was in a central London post office branch, one of the few that haven't been relocated to a basement in WH Smith. It was 1.50.
There was a queue of about 40 plus people, reaching out onto the pavement outside, waiting to be served at one of the 19 counter positions. Problem was, only 7 of these positions were staffed. And of that 7, 4 were for the bureau de change and were not handling dull stuff like stamps and letters and you know, the kind of thing that customers might want to do in a post office.
The queue put up with this until suddenly one of the three saps doing some work behind the counter got up and walked off, closing her position. It was 2pm - she'd gone for lunch. Various people in the queue snapped and shouted for the manager. He came out from his snug little office and shrugged. "Short of manning a position myself, what can I do?" he said, clearly hoping this would be taken rhetorically and we'd all appreciate how difficult and stressful his job is.
"Man a position then!" came the all-too-inevitable cry.
Hoist somewhat on his own petard, he had to take up a position. So he did - on the last remaining bureau de change position. No stamps and envelopes for him, no sireee. So now there are five people on the travel bureau and two left to cope with a queue that's getting no shorter.
"Why are there no staff on?" shouted someone near the back. The manager looks up and sniffs: "They're at lunch. Presumably you have a lunch break, sir?" "Yes," came the reply, "I spend it in this bloody place waiting for t****rs like you to serve me!"
At which point - rather wonderfully I thought - the queue broke into spontaneous applause.
One of the first rules of good customer management is anticipating customer demand and the peaks and troughs thereof. Now maybe I'm ahead of myself here, but I don't think it takes a genius to realise that lunchtime is most likely a prime time for people to pop out and run errands. So maybe you schedule lunch breaks for your counter staff at a non-peak time slot?
It took me at least 40 minutes to get to the front of the queue. When I left, it wasn't much shorter than it had been when I arrived. But our manager wasn't bothered. Even the bureau de change couldn't hold his interest long enough to stick around.
Mind you, it was coming up to 3 o'clock - time for a mid-afternoon snack! You do get a mid-afternoon snack, don't you dear reader? Well, you would if you worked for an incompetent, badly-managed, customer-contemptuous broken-down wreck of an institution like the People's Post Office!