Why the Self Serve Machine in The Post Office Sucks

Alex Jeffers
Aug 1, 2016 · 3 min read

I meant to write this the other week after going into The Post Office on Cardiff Queen Street to return a t-shirt sample I ordered. Trying not to be reactionary with my negative comments though so I thought I’d leave it for a while and think about how frustrating it was. I had to go back in there today to return some more bits — and the process drove me to writing about it (the equivalent of having a long sweary rant in 2016). As it turns out I’m not the only person who has gripes with the system.

What’s Wrong With The Self Service Machines in The Post Office?

First and foremost — it’s too complicated to use. Posting a parcel is a complex procedure and something that post office staff need training to do. Whereas self serve machines in a supermarket work like this:

  • Place the items on one side of the till
  • Scan the items past the scanner where there is a barcode, look for the product in a list if not
  • Place the items on the other side of the till
  • Repeat until payment required
  • Pay and take items.

Whereas the process for posting a parcel is something along the lines of (I’m doing this from memory, so I think I’ve missed out a screen or two)

  • Put items near till
  • Select what you want to do (post parcel, buy stamps etc)
  • Choose the service required (first / second)
  • Select the size of the parcel
  • Weight items
  • Pay for items
  • Call a person over to stick the correct label on the package
  • Hand package to member of staff to post

As you can see, there are at least 8 steps in the process, rather than 5 and these eight steps are not clearly laid out in a methodical order for anyone to follow. In fact the last two steps of the process include the interaction of a member of staff — making this a non-automated service!

When I was in there today, the lady who was helping me go through all of the steps was called away three times to help other people with their packages — slowing down the whole process compared to if I could have just seen a member of staff behind the till.

Why Couldn’t you see Someone in Person?

This is bug-bear number two with the post office in Cardiff — you have to go through a ticket system to see anyone in person. This could potentially work, but the store has no signage to tell you that you need to first visit the terminal, or even where the terminal is. To be fair, the terminal is placed in front of one of the doors, but there’s another door which is in a more accessible position. This more accessible door doesn’t lead to the terminal and leaves you feeling confused.

Maybe if I had specifically asked to see a real person, I could have gotten through. However today an elderly lady was struggling with the self service machine just as much as me to buy some stamps. I have a feeling that she should have been pointed in the direction of the counter by someone in-store.

How to Improve The Post Office Self Service Machines?

The obvious solution would be to do away with the self serve machines all together. I understand though why The Post Office would want to be seen as a progressive organisation. So how do we fix the problem of the unintuitive, clunky process of self serve machines?

First off — simplify the process of posting a parcel. Reduce the number of screens you pass through before getting to the payment page. If I could weigh the parcel, then select service type and size of the parcel on one screen, then pay, then the machine prints the correct receipt before telling me which bin to put it in — we would completely remove the need for the person (other than to provide required assistance).

Secondly — Only make people go to the self service if they want to. If the process was simple enough then I would happily use it. I can only imagine the elderly lady I saw today using the machine didn’t want to use it.

Thirdly — Spend some time with the users / audience and find out whether or not they would like to use the machine and what suggestions they think could be made. There’s no point developing a system — especially one for a public service like The Post Office if no one wants to use it!

(Image Source: http://www.postoffice.co.uk/mail/post-go-self-service


Originally published at www.jeffers.biz on August 1, 2016.

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