Friday, 12 October 2007

The Fax of Life

It seems like management at the Royal Mail and those lazy, good-for-nothing layabouts currently masquerading as post men may have come to an arrangement that could end the recent bout of industrial (in)action.

No doubt that will come as some relief to folks eagerly awaiting mail that's languishing in a sorting office somewhere, and might be reasonably good news to mail-order companies. But, for the most part, it seems this dispute has served to illustrate how easily we can do without the Royal Mail.

Email is making the postal service increasingly irrelevant to many people - so much so, in my case, that I can't remember exactly when I last posted a letter. I do know that, so far this year, I have done so on exactly three occasions. When you compare that with the thousands of emails and dozens of faxes I have sent over the same period, the absence of a working postal service has approximately no detrimental impact upon my life. In fact, if anything, I've noticed a slight improvement - if postal strikes guarantee the continued absence of junk mail that usually floods through my letter box at whatever time the Royal Mail feels like delivering my post today, they can stay on strike forever as far as I am concerned.

Other folks seem to be reaching similar conclusions, too. According to Personal Computer World, amongst other publications, sales of fax machines and scanners have risen by 25% during the postal strikes. And why not? At around £50, basic fax machines are not unduly expensive, and the average fax takes only a minute or two to send - well with the minimum call charge of most telephone service operators.

Instant delivery and low cost compares very favourably with the Royal Mail's minimum first class charge of 34p, and they can't even promise to deliver your mail the next day. Whereas, a fax doesn't need to be sent before the "last post" deadline, you don't need to run out to a post box, or discover that you've run out of stamps again, and you can even send one on a Sunday - unlike the Royal Mail, which from Oct 28 2007, won't even collect mail on a Sunday, let alone deliver it.

It's a no brainer for anyone who sends even a moderate number of letters, or even for someone who just wants to be sure their correspondence is going to arrive. And, having bought a fax machine, you can bet folks will use it. The bone idle, belligerent lads and lasses at the Royal Mail are to be congratulated for selflessly demonstrating, by taking their service away, just how unimportant that service is becoming.

Sure, some things still need to be sent by post, and probably always will. But, for many other things, there are viable alternatives which are becoming increasingly popular. Pay and working conditions are the least of the moaning minions problems - ensuring that they have some work to be paid FOR might be more appropriate. If they want to keep their jobs, they need to prevent the Royal Mail from becoming so badly sidelined as to be a last resort in cases where alternative delivery methods are not possible.

To do that, the mail needs to be fast, frequent, reliable and, if not free, then at least reasonably priced. A minimum first class charge of 34p for a letter that might, or might not, be delivered tomorrow, but, if it is, probably won't be delivered until later in the day, and if it isn't, won't be delivered until later the NEXT day (assuming that's not a Saturday or Sunday) won't cut it.

There need to be two, or preferably three, domestic deliveries on week days, at least two on Saturdays and maybe one on Sundays. First class mail MUST be delivered within 24 hours of posting, anywhere in the UK, with no excuses for outlying areas allowed. First class mail posted within 20 miles of its destination should be delivered the same day. Collections must be increased rather than decreased, with late pick-ups up to 8PM being the norm at every post box. Pricing shouldn't be much more than the cost of a fax for letters.

These are the services that the Royal Mail is in serious danger of losing to alternative means of delivery, and, if it cannot compete, the loss is richly deserved. Where the Royal Mail could stand to gain is in package and parcel delivery. Until someone gets around to inventing the matter transporter, they will need to be delivered in person. That is a premium service, with the only realistic competition being expensive couriers. Prices could rise - in line with improved customer service, naturally - for rapid delivery, and, if people could be sure that their important package would be with its recipient within 24 hours (less for local deliveries), they would pay.

I know from personal experience that this model works very well for smaller (and even very small) independent courier companies who, despite charging whacking great fees, go from strength to strength. Surely, with all its existing infrastructure and expertise, the Royal Mail could provide a better service at a lower price and still make a go of things?

Well, maybe. But, at the moment, all the Royal Mail looks good for is pouring incorrectly addressed junk mail through my letter box. Once it was an institution to be proud of. Now, with greedy workers who can't even see that they're doing themselves out of a job, I'm not so sure.

Billy Seggars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I must say, these postal strikes are rather annoying. I have use for the post on occasion (not right now, but it's nice to have the option) and it'd be rather nice to know my parcels/letters are actually going to reach their destination. They are as you say "doing themselves out of a job".