Posted 3/06/13 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
It’s been almost two months since representatives from the U.S. Postal Service were in Watford City to discuss the deteriorating service that postal customers were experiencing. During the meeting, Dakota District Manager Roy Reynolds discovered that western North Dakotan residents were not pleased with the level of customer service that their oil-impacted offices had been delivering and that a number of issues needed to be addressed before a satisfactory level could be achieved.
Since that meeting, most everyone from Reynolds himself to area businesses and residents agree that, although things are not 100 percent, improvements are beginning to be seen.
“At the meeting we learned that one of the biggest issues was people having to wait in line for an hour or more,” states Reynolds.
But that is just one issue that arose from that night. Other customer concerns were untimely first class mail delivery, the sending back of mail and packages addressed to physical rather than mailing addresses, and a general feeling of being disregarded by postal employees.
“It is not 100 percent yet, but from everything I can tell it is getting better,” states Reynolds.
And most postal customers are in agreement with Reynold’s assessment.
“Since the meeting, it was impressive how quickly things were done to help,” states Brenda Berquist, Member Service Coordinator with McKenzie Electric Cooperative. “Right away there was an improvement. However, there have also been days that reminded me of what it was like before the meeting.”
Barb Becker also says that she has seen some improvement at the Watford City Post Office.
“They are improving,” states Becker. “There have been bumps in the road. I’ve still had trouble with packages, but it is clear that they are trying and doing their best.”
But businesses that rely on first class mail service and the careful handling of urgent mail are not singing their praises as loudly.
“I do feel like some things have gotten better. I don’t believe that as many original legal documents have gotten lost, and 2012 was a bad year for original legal documents,” states Ari Johnson of Johnson & Sundeen. “Our biggest complaint is the post office’s refusal to deliver mail to street addresses. I understand why they can’t do it, but I can still complain about it. You can’t use a post office box for everything, and it is frustrating as a professional to have clients sending us important mail and having it lost forever.”
That being said, Johnson is in agreement that the overall customer service is better, and the evidence of that is very visible.
One of the big reasons for the improvements, according to Reynolds, has been the post office being able to hire additional staff and install additional parcel lockers.
“We have hired three or four new clerks to work both retail at the counter and in the back sorting and putting mail in the post office boxes,” states Reynolds. “They have made a difference. The hope is that as they become more familiar with the system and the local residents, their efficiency will improve.”
Alternatively, while parcel lockers have nothing to do with getting mail out timely and efficiently, the lockers keep people from having to wait in line to pick up a package. This, according to Reynolds, keeps people out of the line and helps keep wait time down, ultimately serving to improve the customer service they provide.
“Our employees are also trying to identify packages that have street addresses and match them up with customers who have post office boxes,” states Reynolds. “We are trying to make sure that we are not sending anything back that should not be.”
Reynolds states that Sen. Hoeven’s office seconds the notion that mail service in oil-impacted communities has gotten better and the lines have gotten shorter. However, though Reynolds feels that first class mail delays, customer wait times and package issues have improved, he knows that the post office still has a long way to go.
“I plan on being back there in six months as promised,” states Reynolds. “At that time, I would like to see a fully-staffed office with individuals that are living in the community.”
To that end, the postal service is doing its best to offer competitive wages for oil country in an effort to attract local workers. In doing so, Reynolds states that the housing issue will not be a factor and they will come already having a knowledge of the community they are serving.
Currently, the position for Watford City Postmaster is posted and unfilled, and according to Reynolds, Watford City’s office is still managed by a temporary Officer in Charge. Upon Reynolds’ return in six months, he hopes that will have changed as well.
“Stability and consistency will be the key to the office improving for the long run,” states Reynolds. “Having the same employees there, who have a knowledge of the community as well as the post office policies will help greatly in any further improvements.”