Ben Franklin must be spinning in his grave

And then there’s the venerable Postal Service. Started by Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers, it still uses some of his techniques for sorting mail.”Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” was often considered to be its motto. A recent Bish cartoon suggests it may have changed to: “When it absolutely positively has to be there whenever we get around to it.”The Postal Service has taken a beating from the Internet. There are email, online bill payment and a host of other services that have taken large chunks of their business away, and they’re running huge deficits.The Postal Service’s solution has been to raise prices and slow the mail down, making it even less competitive with the alternatives that are taking its business.Ben Franklin must be spinning in his grave.At his swearing-in, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said, “I am confident that we will emerge as a profitable, market-responsive organization that competes for customers and delivers even greater value to the American people.”Sorry, but in addition to violating this pledge, that plan is a recipe for failure.The Internet is not the Postal Service’s only problem. I hardly ever go to the post office any more. I can buy stamps at my grocery store before the Post Office even opens. There’s no line, and the clerk is pleasant.No doubt there are many pleasant postal employees, and I run across them occasionally. Unfortunately, there are too many of the other kind. There is one I could never forget. He would take his time, and as the line got longer and longer, people complained. He would respond, “Hey, I’ve got to be here all day anyway! What do I care?”He would do his best to infuriate customers. I’m surprised nobody ever jumped over the counter and assaulted him.Sadly, he probably has enough seniority to be unaffected by the cutbacks he worked so hard to cause.Learning to innovateHow could the Postal Service get innovative?Instead of avoiding email as competition, it should have embraced it.If Google, Yahoo, Hotmail and others can make money providing free email, why can’t the Postal Service?When I’m giving a seminar or workshop in another part of the country, I email a PDF of the workbook to a Kinko’s or other printer at the seminar location. They print it, bind it and deliver it to the company or hotel.Why couldn’t the Postal Service do that? If volumes are down, they could convert some excess capacity to providing such services. It’s probably what Ben Franklin would do if he were still in charge.Many bills still come through the mail. Why couldn’t the bills originate as an electronic signal to the nearest Post Office? That Post Office could print it, stuff it in an envelope and deliver it. You get the same result without lugging all that paper all over the country. This would actually speed up the mail and lower the postage, so everybody wins.As more people convert to online bill paying, the demand for this may decrease, but there will always be a demand for some paper. If you got really sophisticated, you could do it with catalogs and cards too.Have you noticed how many bookstores offer coffee and snacks to try to keep their customers? Maybe they could have Internet cafes in some Post Offices.UPS has adapted well. For instance, if you have a broken computer, the company may be fixing it for you, if you bought the 24-hour repair/return guarantee. UPS picks it up, air-freights it to its hub, where it’s repaired by UPS employees under contract to the manufacturer, and it goes back out to you a couple hours later.What the Postal Service really needs is to hire people from an innovative company to show it how to spawn ideas that will take advantage of the new business realities. Then it could stay in business, speed up the mail and actually make money.What about your business? Is it slowly dying because you can’t adapt to new realities? It doesn’t have to be that way.Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or