Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for April 18th, 2007

Taxes, the USPS, and other customer service woes

Posted by shannonclark on April 18, 2007

Every year around this time one of the most popular blog posts I made is one I wrote a few years ago about finding a 24hr post office in Chicago. I had a similar challenge last year finding a post office that was open late in the East Bay. And again I had this problem this year (and actually for the first time in my life failed to get my taxes in on time and will have to pay some penalties and will be mailing them later this week).

Go take a look at the USPS website.

It is, I believe, one of the single worst UI’s for a government website (and for the web in general). Try to find a post office – tonight of all nights – and you get an outsourced to a private firm directory where you have to put in a zip code and an address to find a post office (and that is your only options). You can not just put in a city, you can’t search by any criteria other than precise location, nor can you search by hours. So if you are in a city where you do not know the zipcode, you are out of luck (well they have other tools you might be able to use to get the zipcode and come back).

But you still can’t search for say the post offices which are open late.

And here in San Francisco & the bay area – do they choose to keep local post offices open late? Nope.

Do they keep downtown, centrally located, post offices accessible easily via public transit open late?


Do they have directions which do not involve driving to get to the post offices?


And what happens if you call, having found the post office that might be nearby and still open?

Well if you select the first number, the one that shows up in the main search it is a general USPS 800 number, calling that and inputing your zipcode gets you a listing that will only tell you two of the post offices nearby (of course in my case, already closed) then literally the automated phone system hangs up on you by itself.

It does say “Goodbye” first.

If you called one of the post offices that was open tonight late, you got their regular voice mail message, a message about leaving a message for them if you lost money in the postal machines (hmmm wonder how often that happens if it is the only possible reason someone apparently might call and leave a message). But no way to reach an actual, live human.

This may not be entirely universal across the USPS, Chicago at least in years past did keep their downtown, main post office branch open and it was not too hard to reach via public transit (but not too easy to reach either).

However the utter refusal of either the website or their phones to let you reach someone to help, or to get timely information is really frustrating.

Especially as postal rates keep going up.

And if my local carrier is to be judged by, service continues to diminish and drop. About once a week I get mail not addressed to me in my mailbox (usually not even addressed to my building – which leaves me to wonder how often mail for me is not making it to me) and recently a package that was mailed to me was stuffed inside my mail box. In a way that only the postal carrier, literally, could have gotten the package out – as it was exactly the same size of the mailbox, and only the carrier could remove all of the outer doors to the mailbox giving the package enough space to be removed (instead I literally had to get a knife and cut open my package in the mailbox, a process that took some time and had the very real risk of damaging the unknown contents of the package – which turned out to metal puzzles from Mexico my ex-girlfriend gave me, but though I knew the package was from her, I had no idea of what the contents were, nor how fragile the might have been).

In short the USPS, especially around tax day gets my vote for one of the worst branches of government. Ironic, because they are one of the few branches which is self-funded.

My other woes this tax season?

One of the mortgage firms which had issued me a mortgage on my condo in Chicago, which I sold this past summer, did not mail me my tax documents. So I tried to call them. I called the company which had issued me the home equity line. The no longer actually owned that division, instead there was a new number I had to call for that group. I tried that. It was Monday, apparently the day before taxes were due – they were closed and not answering their phones.

I then tried to call the company which had serviced the loan (which was yet a third company). Nope, no luck there.  (oh, did I mention that the number on the documents from the mortgage company was no longer the right number – they couldn’t just connect you, you had to take down a new number and call that – based on a voice tree that suddenly said “sorry you have to call # and the stopped. Did not even repeat the number more than once – so unless you had pen and paper at the immediate ready, you had to call back a second or even third time to get the number down).

So I looked at my past records for who had sent me the tax documents in years past. Yet a fourth company.

I called them. Got one person, she couldn’t help me, transfered me to another guy (putting me hold, having already been on hold for a while). He came on, asked me for my id number (i.e. soc. security) I gave it to him. It failed to look up anything in their system (apparently once you have paid off the loan they no longer count you as a customer). But giving him the much longer loan account number did the trick, he could, in fact, look up my details (and verified my identity correctly before doing so).

Turns out, where did they send the end of the year tax documents for a loan which had been paid off after the sale of the property?

Of course, to the property that was sold. Brilliant.

And it means that somewhere, along this massive chain, my correct address, the one that I had given to all parties at the loan closing (for fear of this very occurrence)  had not be delivered up the chain of companies.

So I was able to get the information I needed and a paper copy of the records will be winding its way to me (apparently it takes them 7-10 business days to mail such information – why, I have no clue, but that’s what they said).

Not my best day.

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