November 1, 2010

Transparency at the post office

Customer view - additional computer screen for customers to see what the server is doing on her screen.  As seen at Cornell Post Office - picture taken by permission.

I saw this computer screen at the post office a couple of weeks ago and thought it was interesting. It allows customers a view of what the server is doing on her computer screen. It is nothing more than a duplicate screen of what the server sees, but I thought it was a good example of process transparency. It also forces the process to be simple enough that a lay customer can understand what is going on. Additionally, it allows customers to check on what's going on - am I getting charged for something I didn't want - and begins the training of customers on a self service option.

In general, most would say that transparency is a good thing. But when I asked the postal workers what thy thought if it they grumbled a bit and said they were not impressed by it. They said it often didn't work and that they had to shut it down when they were logging in.  It sounds like it just added additional work for the servers.  Unsaid, but a bit implied was that it gave customers a bit too much of a feeling of control, that is, I assume customers might start questioning a bit what is going on, especially if servers hurry through screens.  So it might actually slow down the process if customers are able to see it.

So, is it the right thing to do?  Under what conditions does added transparency work?  Under what conditions might it harm things?

On a separate note, I was impressed by this offering:

This is a prepackaged, ready to send gift in the line at the post office.  Think about it, if you are waiting in line at the post office to send your cousins and nephews and nieces all their Christmas gifts and you still have one gift left to get and suddenly a reasonably priced Christmas classic dvd appears in front of you ready to ship - talk about impulse buy! 

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