Post office problems

Customers at the post office in Aeon Bukit Indah mall queue
to pay at the counter because the Post Automated Machine
is out of order
The introduction of the one-stop payment centre to pay bills from a number of utilities and services like Tenaga Nasional (electricity), Telekom Malaysia (telephone), Syarikat Air Johor (water) and Maxis (mobile devices) was very welcome.  When customers pay their bills in one place, they can save on time, energy and fuel.  Complimented by an electronic queue management system, paying bills became a breeze as customers can sit in air-conditioned comfort while waiting for their number to come up in sequence.

When the payment counters in the one-stop payment centre in Johor Baru’s Telekom Malaysia were closed and replaced by self-service terminals, customers had to learn to use the machines.  Support staff members were on posted at the terminals to guide users and I remember observing how they reassured customers that the new balance will be reflected in their next bill.  That’s because these machines do not dispense any change and any excess paid will be rolled into a credit account.

In early January 2010, Post Malaysia launched the Pos Automated Machine (PAM) in Kuala Lumpur and the service gradually extended to post offices in other cities including Johor Baru.  The PAM is a self-service machine that boasts of offering first-of-its-kind integrated postal services as well as a one-stop payment machine for bills.  By this time, customers who are familiar with using Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) and other self-service terminals, quite readily accepted this convenient mode of payment installed at selected post offices.

Disappointing message on the Pos Automated Machine
at the post office in Aeon Bukit Indah mall
Recently I was at the post office in Aeon Bukit Indah with my sister who usually pays her bills using the PAM service.  Besides paying her utility bills, she also needed to buy stamps to post a small package containing family photos to a relative in Hong Kong.  When we arrived at the post office, we were greeted by a queue of people waiting in line to reach the counter inside.  A man was in front of the PAM but when he turned away from the machine, it was clear that the PAM machine was out of service!

While my sister joined the queue to inch her way to the counter for her turn, I browsed around in the nearby shops.  I thought I had killed enough time but when I returned to the post office, the queue was even longer and my sister was still waiting for her turn to be served.  Finally my sister emerged from the post office looking flustered.  “What happened?” I anxiously asked.

“Unbelievable!” she exclaimed and took a few more moments to collect her thoughts before she could tell me what transpired between her and the post office staff serving at the counter.  After she got her bills paid, my sister gave the staff the A6-size bubble-lined envelope to weigh and calculate the postage to send it by air mail to Kowloon, Hong Kong.  The staff returned the envelope and said the postage was RM16.00.  Then she tried to pass the sheets of stamps, valued at various small denominations, to my sister.

The queue is even longer after a few minutes!
Postage stamps should be affixed to the top right-hand corner of the envelope but the sheets of stamps this staff tried to sell to her would almost cover the entire space in front of the A6-size envelope.  When my sister hesitated to accept the stamps, the staff insisted that it was all right to also paste some stamps on the reverse side of the envelope.  The staff did not have any higher value stamps in stock so my sister declined the many stamps she offered because she did not want to risk having her package end up failing to reach its destination.

She suggested we go to another post office so I drove her to the post office in Taman Sri Tebrau.  I waited in the car and when my sister came back empty-handed, I was glad she managed to send that package off.  But when she came into the car, she was shaking her head in disbelief again and I was compelled to ask her an uneasy, “What now?”

We had come directly from the post office in Aeon Bukit Indah where that staff said the postage for the package was RM16.00 but here at the Taman Sri Tebrau post office, my sister was asked to pay only RM6.80 to send the same package to Hong Kong.  She was amazed that there was almost an RM10.00 difference in the rate given by two staff of the same postal services agency.  It just made us wonder if it was simply human error or a dire need to train staff better!

This experience is certainly an eye-opener especially for customers who are not as mobile – like hop into the car and head to the next post office – or less insistent about the international standard of pasting too many stamps on the front of the envelope that it may obliterate the address.  This also calls for staff to be consistently trained so that customers are not short-changed in the quality of service at every branch.  And if automated technology in PAM is employed to share the work load with staff, then these machines should be regularly maintained to ensure that customers always have a choice of either using the PAM or be served by a staff at the counter.

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 18 April 2015

P.S.  My sister's relative in Hong Kong called to confirm that they have safely received the envelope she sent!  Whew... 

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