A Postal Service IG report serves as a reminder that agency efforts to improve customer service must take into account that large numbers of customers do not speak English as a first language, or at all.
The USPS is one of the more active agencies in seeking to improve customer service because unlike many other agencies, its customers have other options to obtain many of its services. Meanwhile, the report noted that census data shows that the share of the U.S. population who speak a language other than English continues to grow, now above 21 percent, with primarily or exclusively Spanish speakers accounting for 13 percent of the population.
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. However, auditors found that clerks at half of 40 retail offices they visited “were not able to assist us when we approached them as Spanish-speaking customers” and that price boards and forms at all 69 offices they visited were only in English–even in Puerto Rico.
Also, “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 … 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 … 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.”
The report made recommendations including using 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.