November 7, 2018
Our objective was to evaluate the U.S. Postal Service’s customer service to non-English-speaking customers.
The Postal Service, established in 1775, has as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. In addition, it shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient postal services to patrons in all areas and communities.
U.S. census data shows that the percent of the U.S. population who speak a language other than English grew annually from 19.6 to 21.1 percent between 2009 and 2016. Spanish, which represents the largest non-English language group, more than quadrupled since 1970, increasing from 9.6 million to 39.1 million in 2016 and accounted for 13 percent of the nation’s population. Other non-English languages spoken in the home include: Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, and Korean.
To provide its basic function and efficient services, the Postal Service has had to adjust to changes related to technology, community growth, and population mix.
What the OIG Found
The Postal Service has established ways to communicate with non-English-speaking customers, including adding Spanish and Chinese websites and Spanish language options in self-service kiosks (kiosks). However, some improvements could be made to better serve non-English speaking customers. Specifically, the Postal Service could make improvements in the following areas:
- Retail Offices: Retail clerks at 20 of 40 sites (50 percent) we visited in the continental U.S. were not able to assist us when we approached them as Spanish-speaking customers.
- Signs and Forms: Price boards and forms at all 69 offices we visited in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico were only in English, even in Puerto Rico where, according to the Census Bureau, 83 percent of the population “Speaks English less than ‘very well.’ ” With few exceptions, informational signs and marketing posters were also only in English.
- Webpages: The Postal Service website was only available in three languages including English, compared to 20 and 30 languages for two Postal Service competitors. Additionally, 27 percent of the links we tested on the Postal Service’ Spanish website reverted to English when activated.
- Self-Service Kiosks: Kiosks were not used to bridge the non-English communication gap. Kiosk languages were only available in English and Spanish, and clerks unable to assist us in Spanish did not direct us to use available kiosks. Eight of the 20 post offices (40 percent) unable to assist us in Spanish had a kiosk, but did not direct us to use them. In addition, some kiosk product information was written in English without a Spanish translation or product description.
- Call Center: A customer care call center automated Spanish message was distorted. Also, when we opted to speak to a live agent in Spanish we were transferred to an English-speaking agent and put on hold without an explanation in Spanish.
- Point of Sale (POS) Survey: The POS register receipt invitation to take the survey was only in English, even in Puerto Rico. In addition, parts of the surveys were poorly translated into Spanish or not translated at all.
These conditions occurred because the Postal Service:
- Retail customer service clerks did not use available tools and resources to facilitate communication with non-English-speaking customers.
- Does not have a centralized outreach program that proactively seeks to identify and meet the signage needs, based on demographic data, of non-English-speaking customers.
- Does not have centralized oversight to improve the functionality of its non-English-language webpages.
- Has not utilized industry best practices to promote kiosks to service non-English-speaking customers.
- Overlooked a distorted message and communication gap when programing the customer care call center’s Interactive Voice Response system.
- Did not provide sufficient oversight to the work performed by contractors to maintain and update translations of POS surveys.
As a result, non-English-speaking customers may opt to use competitors’ products, negatively affecting revenue, customer satisfaction, and the Postal Service.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management develop:
- New ways to overcome communication barriers based on industry best practices and train managers and retail customer service clerks to use existing tools and resources to assist non-English-speaking customers.
- Proactive policies and procedures including use of demographic data to create and display signs, posters and product displays.
- A plan to integrate translations among the web links that revert to English.
We also made recommendations related to kiosks, the Interactive Voice Response, and POS surveys.
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