What the IRS Knows About Service (and The Gap Doesn’t)

irs buildingA week ago, I thought the post office should be more like The Gap .

I’ve changed my mind. They should be more like… The IRS?!

I was at a Gap store on Sunday and it was mobbed. There was a long line for the dressing room, and once you got in, the staff was completely overwhelmed. There were only two people trying to manage what seemed like thousands of t-shirts, jeans, and skirts. The clothes were overflowing shelves, piled on top of racks, and falling on the floor.

I found a top I wanted to buy, and headed for the cash register. Again, there was a long line, with only 2 cashiers (out of 6 registers). I took one look and left without the top. Sorry Gap, no sale. While I’m sure that $14 more or less won’t make a significant impact on their bottom line, those lost sales do add up. I wonder how many other people abandoned their purchases that day?

Oddly, I did find a startling example of good service two days later… at the IRS. I wanted to check on my refund. They’ve got a site that gives you the estimated mail/transfer date, based on when you filed. Or, you can type in your Social Security or Tax ID number and get personal information! Wow! I’m impressed. If you want to check on your own refund, the site is here.

Photo: /functoruser

Why Can’t the Post Office Be More Like The Gap?

stampsThere were 14 people in line at the post office Tuesday.  The branch near me has 10 windows, but only 5 of them were staffed.  It took me 25 minutes to get to the front, get my envelope weighed, and hand them my $1 postage.

The post office can operate like this because they have a semi-monopoly. There are other choices for packages and specialty shipping, but for ordinary mail and stamps, they’re pretty much it.

Now, imagine the post office worked like The Gap. There would be a floor manager with a headset. She’d direct people to the right line and offer assistance finding stamps or forms. If it got busy, she could call into the back room and get more clerks out to staff the windows. The line could move faster, customers could be helped more quickly, and waste less time standing in line.

Your business probably isn’t a monopoly, and it’s likely you don’t have the luxury of running it as if it is.  So, are you making it hard for your customers to buy your products? Is your staff helpful? Are you more like The Gap or more like the Post Office?

Photo: kevin dooley