Eyewitness News looks into complaints at post office in North Houston

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- It's a story we've been working on for months, and affects almost everyone in the Houston area. After being contacted by many of you about Post Office delays and lost shipments, we started digging.

Mitchell Robinson earns a living with his online store.

He tells us "We send things out through the USPS mail daily, 40 to 50 packages a day."

For roughly a year now, Robinson says he's seen an increase in delays. "I answer about 5 to 10 emails a day, where's my item. People are wanting to know because it still shows in Houston after 6 days."

Bob Boyce has also been affected, telling us "It's bank papers I had to send to my son to have him sign."

Important documents, including checking and savings information, and Social Security numbers. Boyce says it was shipped by Priority mail.

He explained "The envelope was mailed back to me on August 29th, and here it is September 9th and I still don't have it."

Boyce says after speaking with customer service, "nobody knows where it is."

Kathy Thornberry said "my mother recently passed away and we are settling her affairs."

Thornberry tells us a bank issued cashier's checks and sent them to her certified mail. However --

"Now we are at 60 days since those were at the North Houston hub, and so now the Post Office considers them officially lost." Thornberry told us.

As for getting the checked reissued? She says "Consequently I have to wait 90 days for those checks to expire, and then start the process of getting those checks replaced."

These are just 3 out of nearly a thousand viewers that reached out to us. Many providing tracking numbers showing delayed or missing mail centered around the North Houston sorting facility. Now earlier this year, the Barbara Jordan downtown Post Office shut its doors for good, meaning the North Houston facility would be the only processing center for mail going in and out of Houston.

So what is the Post Office doing about these customer complaints? They told us that they have increased staffing at the North Houston facility by adding about 750 employees from February through August of this year, and are continuing to hire additional employees. They tell us they're expanding their processing capacity by bringing in state-of-the-art package sorting equipment to help maximize efficiencies. Special postal teams have also been deployed to our area to assist with continuous improvements.

As for Ms. Thornberry and her missing certified envelope, it was finally found after we started inquiring about it. It was delivered to her personally, just a few days after our interview. Mr. Boyce received his package as well... 25 days after being sent. The Post Office tells us they're working closely with Mr. Mitchel as well to help him resolve those shipping issues.

Post Office Statement:

    In 2012, the United States Postal Service initiated the consolidation of mail processing facilities in the Houston District, with the result that certain operations have been transferred to the North Houston Processing & Distribution Center (P&DC). These changes were undertaken as part of a nationwide consolidation program designed to save about $2 billion a year in system-wide operating costs.

    The Postal Service developed plans for implementing these operational changes at hundreds of mail processing plants between 2012 and 2014 with as little disruption to customer service as possible. Implementation of these process improvements in such a large organization can be challenging. In North Houston, to further minimize service issues, we have dedicated a team of operational experts to that facility to assist local managers and employees in making the changes necessary to improve operations and to ensure that these improvements remain constant.

    As a part of this network realignment program, the North Houston P&DC was expanded over the last year to accommodate additional operations and mail volume. This included additional sorting equipment and operations designed to address the growth in package volume. In January, revised nationwide service standards took effect that resulted in significant changes to letter sorting operations for First-Class Mail. These changes are part of one of the most significant operational changes in postal history, which have been undertaken to make the mail processing network more efficient, consistent with the drastic changes in the mailing practices of its customers. Single-Piece First-Class Mail volume has declined by 35 percent over the last decade. Significant declines in overall First-Class Mail volume and revenues which fund postal operations have required that the Postal Service business model be adjusted to ensure that the network of processing facilities, Post Offices, transportation routes, and other interconnected infrastructure operates with greater efficiency than ever before. Our goal is to make these operating changes in a manner that provides a level of service that is consistent with our new business model and that meets the expectations of our customers in the Houston District. We appreciate the patience of our customers, as we strive to meet (and exceed) expectations.

    In the case of Ms. Thornberry, the mail piece was delivered personally to her recently, and she expressed her appreciation at receiving it. Of course, this is not the level of service we strive to provide and we are disappointed when such situations occur. Although an apology is no substitute for poor service, we offered one to our customer. All customer inquiries and concerns are treated alike, regardless of involvement by other parties. In this case, as in all cases, the Postal Service never stopped researching and monitoring the movement of this mail piece and as soon as it was located, we delivered it to the customer.

    It is critical that customers follow these recommendations if they experience issues with mail delivery. They should immediately contact the Postal Service by calling our nationwide system of Customer Care Centers at 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777). These centers, located in four sites throughout the United States, are staffed with experienced and knowledgeable agents, all of whom are postal employees. They have a deep understanding of postal operations and can provide assistance in many cases. If an agent cannot resolve an issue right away, the matter is sent to the local postal management team (usually the Post Office that serves that customer) for research and resolution. On their first call, the customer will receive a unique case number. Customers are urged to take note of this case number and keep it for future use, if needed. Our goal is to provide a response within three business days. If customers are not contacted within that time frame, they should call the 1-800-ASK-USPS number and provide the agent with their case number. The agent will then be able to pull up the active case file and escalate the issue to the next higher level, usually to the district consumer affairs team, for additional investigation and monitoring.

    Customers can also contact us via email with concerns, with the same goal of a response within three business days. Finally, if an item is not located, customers have the option to file a claim online at usps.com, depending on the type of mail product used. (Express/Priority have free Insurance, for example.)

    Regarding Mr. Boyce:
    The Postal Service takes the safety and security of the mail very seriously. Mail is reliable, trusted and secure - more than 200 federal laws protect the sanctity of the U.S. Mail. These laws are enforced by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. U.S. Postal Inspectors are federal agents, mandated to safeguard the nation's mail - including the people who move it and the customers who use it. The specific customer mentioned here has been working with the local consumer affairs manager, who spoke directly with him about his mail piece. The mail piece was delivered to the customer on 9/23. Again, this is not the level of service we strive to provide, but we continued to work with this customer, monitoring the mail piece and delivering it as soon as it was located. We are committed to protecting the sensitive information entrusted to our organization by our customers. Additionally, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service provides information and assistance if customers suspect identity theft involving the U.S. Mail.

    Regarding Mr. Robinson:
    The Postal Service values our small business customers and we have solid relationships with thousands of eBay sellers across the country. The specific customer referenced here has, according to the information received, been working closely with the Houston consumer affairs team to resolve issues involving his mail service. The Houston team reports they regularly consult with him directly, as needed, to provide assistance with his questions and concerns, and that he has direct communication with Houston customer service personnel. They remain available to continue working with him as needed.

    The Postal Service is in the business of delivering the mail - that is our core mission - and we are committed to ensuring our customers have confidence in the U.S. mail and that they receive the highest level of service. The Houston District is among the largest in the nation, in terms of population, delivery points, and mail volume.

    As stated before, the issues brought to our attention do not reflect the level of service we wish to provide. We still offer an apology to customers who have not had the positive experience we want them to have when doing business with us.

    It's important to point out that the Postal Service team in Houston is dedicated, committed, hard-working and focused on continually improving their performance. Last year, the Postal Service, nationwide, handled 155 billion pieces of mail - 40% of the world's mail volume. In the Houston District, they handle approximately 8.6 billion pieces of mail annually. The 10,500+ employees of the Houston District work every day with one goal in mind - delivering the mail timely, accurately and safely. The vast majority of the time, we meet and oftentimes exceed our stated goals for service. As we said before, we don't want to minimize or excuse those instances where we fail to provide that service - but in the larger scope, we perform exceptionally well, each and every day.

    We always seek to drive exceptional performance and continue to make improvements in Houston. Some of the steps we've taken include:

    Increasing staffing by adding about 750 employees, from February of this year through August, and continuing to hire additional employees up to the present time. In fact, the Houston District is hiring right now and potential applicants can check www.usps.com for information.
    Expanding our processing capacity by bringing in state-of-the-art package sortation equipment, and by increasing processing capability on existing machines, to maximize efficiencies.
    Deploying special teams, consisting of national and regional operational experts, who have been brought in to assist with our drive toward continuous improvement of our processes.

    Our strategy includes additional plans, being formulated right now, that will further enhance our ability to assist customers who have questions or concerns. The North Houston facility is the cornerstone of our mail processing operations in Houston and it is our goal to continue making rapid improvements in our operations, in order to give Houston-area customers the service they deserve.
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