The funny disease.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Going Postal: A Cursed Customer Service Misadventure

Way back on the 11th of March, Sweetface and I mailed off our Illinois state tax return. We sent them Certified Mail, so we would be able to track our tax return. We also sent another, unrelated letter on the same day to Pittsburgh, PA. (Short, boring story, which I won’t go into here.) The taxes had to get from lovely downtown Chandler, Arizona to the gloriously in the middle-of-no-where capital of Illinois: Springfield. It didn’t have to travel across most of the entire U.S. to get from the Southwest to the North Eastern part of the country.

I knew this didn’t necessarily mean that our state tax return would reach Illinois before the letter to Pittsburgh. But six business days passed and still, the tracking number didn’t bring up the comforting message: “Arrived safely in Springfield so now you will not have to worry about possible jail time for not filing a return for a measly $13 refund.” Since it took Sweetface and me four days to drive from Naperville, IL (A good four hours North of Springfield) to the lovely Phoenix area, I thought for certain that our tax return would take 6 days at the longest.

After clicking my way through the slightly user-friendly United States Postal Service (USPS) web site, I found an 800 number for tracking. I was pleasantly surprised to get an automatic prompt requesting me to answer verbally. I love the verbal response menus, because I get the satisfaction of yelling at someone, without ever hurting anyone’s feelings. Pounding the buttons on the handset to provoke strident beeeeeeps and boooops, is nice, but sometimes the tracking or account numbers don’t record correctly if I have too much fun taking out my anger.

And usually, the recorded voice is annoyingly cheerful, which makes it all the more enjoyable to yell. Oh, I know that my conversation may be recorded for quality assurance, and that it is even possible that they’re tracking the tones of people’s voices to weed out the crazies, but I figure most systems probably aren’t that fancy yet, and if they are I might be routed to the customer service agents that are good at handling confrontation, which probably means they are good at their jobs.

So, after yelling “Customer Service” three times, I was invited to press one to be connected to Customer Service. I immediately got Mary, who told me there was nothing they could do until the 28
th of March. I reasoned that by then, at least we’d still have two weeks to resend if they’d lost it. At another cost of $4.88, which would never be refunded if they recovered the first tax return. (That would be a total of $9.76 to the Post Office, which is 75% of a $13 refund.)

The 28
th of March rolls around and I call the USPS 800 number again and Chuck tells me that he’s putting in a claim on the lost tax return and tomorrow I’ll get a call from a representative. He even makes me feel all fuzzy warm and secure by giving me a confirmation number. The next day I am out checking the mail—it’s as if they had the box wired with a sensor—and I get a call from Jerry. When I get home Jerry tells me, via the answering machine, that there’s nothing they can do about my lost mail at the moment and I have to wait 15 days before they can do anything. And does Mr. Jerry Smart Guy Postal Carrier leave so much as one digit of a contact number? No!

Thank goodness for caller ID. I called what turned out to be my local Post Office, and find out that it wasn’t Jerry who called me, it was Bill. How he made Bill sound like Jerry, I still haven’t figured out. I assumed the local Post Office was confused about the date I sent my tax return, but I was partially mistaken. James, my bestest postal buddy in whole wide world, told me that I had to wait a full 30 days before I could put a claim on my tax return.

Flabbergasted that he would call Mary and Chuck, two of his hard-working colleagues liars, I reiterated my ordeal thus far. James stood by his claim that I needed to wait 30 days before any Postal employee would lift so much as a pen chained to a counter to search for my lonely lost tax return, chock full of personal financial information. I repeated, “So, Chuck was jerking my chain yesterday when he told me that I could file a claim? And there’s absolutely nothing the post office can do to find my letter?”

Silence. Followed by, “Well, I guess you could file a Form 1510 Mail Loss/Rifling Report.” That was followed by “Oh good, you found your last undamaged brain cell.” Which I only thought, because I knew I might still need his help. “We hardly ever loose Certified Mail,” he comforted. He then recommended that I call the Post Office in Springfield.

I tried to call Springfield about five times in a half-hour period and kept getting a busy signal, despite my heartfelt prayers to Ma Bell. So I decided to call the USPS 800 number again. I got Shirley. Who proceeded to tell me that the same thing happened to her last year. “You know those white, plastic tubs that the Post Office uses?”

“Sure,” I replied, for the sake of getting her explanation on the road.

“Well, the post office fills them and then they out to the Department of Revenue to be processed and then they go back to the Post Office to be scanned in.” One of my flaws is a faith in people, an inner belief that everyone makes sense. I requested clarification from Shirley, but was still unable to grasp the convoluted compost she shoveled at my feet. So after three choruses of an absurd story that, if I remember correctly, involved a Certified Public Accountant, a ball-peen hammer and a leprechaun in a white, plastic tub, I thanked Shirley for her help, and then immediately called back, hoping that crazy wouldn’t strike twice.

Sensible and wise Pat was next up at bat in the Customer Service cue. She reaffirmed the importance of Form 1510. Seeing as that must be the usual course for people with lost mail, and feeling much better now that sanity had been restored, I thanked Pat in earnest, and not just because if I had to talk to her any longer I was going to have to be medicated.

I tried Springfield three more times, and after lighting a candle for Ma Bell, I finally heard the blessed sound of ringing. Barbara answered, and I explained my impending charges of tax evasion. She said they might be backlogged. The letter may have been scanned in and not yet shown up in the system. Nevermind that once a Certified letter is physically scanned in, the tracking system is entirely electronic after that. Then I got her tax time speech, which was probably typed on a three by five card, taped to her desk. “We have thousands of letters for the Illinois Department of Revenue come through here every day at this time every year. It takes time to scan everything in.”

Of course it takes time to scan in a barcode on a letter. Why, it must take three whole seconds to scan in each letter. And of course, the Springfield Post Office that serves the IL Department of Revenue gets swamped every year before tax time. It’s not as if they could anticipate that the volume of mail will increase every March and could go by the
Henson Robinson Zoo in Springfield and pick up a truckload of monkeys to help. (Okay, so it would make more sense to go to Dominicks and the Jewel to hire scanning professionals part-time, but it’s not as if the Post Office needs a posse of neurosurgeons on short notice.)

So I awaited my Form 1510, and copied the copies of my tax return and prepared a new letter to send out on the weekend. I woke up in a cold sweat and recounted nightmares of being in prison with repeat offender shoplifters, drug-addicts, single mothers and prostitutes, and Sweetface said, “Don’t worry, tax evasion is a white-collar crime.”

Then on the 31
st I went to the USPS web site and typed in the tracking number I have memorized. It’s almost too bad the tracking number is 30 digits long. If it were shorter it could be a new pin number. The following message appeared on the screen:
Status: Delivered

Your item was delivered at 11:42 am on March 31, 2006 in SPRINGFIELD, IL 62702.
I suppose now I can put down my latest craft project, which I think is in this month’s Martha Stewart’s Living: “With out of proportion, irrational worry and hours of cell phone use, you too can knit your own brain tumor.”

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Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Monkeys are funny... The IRS gang raped us again this year. Hey Bush, you asshole, where's this frikkin tax break you were always yakking about?? Or do you have to be a "Bush-buddy" to rate??

4/04/2006 7:41 PM

Blogger Sarah Letnes said...

I don't think the tax breaks are supposed to kick in fully until like 2019, or some other interminably distant future.

Except for the "Bush-buddy" rate.

4/04/2006 9:08 PM

Blogger rob said...

I am glad to see that its not just the british post office that is totally inefficient! :o)) great post.

4/04/2006 11:17 PM

Blogger Tea and Books, etc said...

What a harrowing tale, Sarah. I applaud your restraint and endurance. If I'd had to go through all that, my head would be shorn, my outfit would be an orange jumpsuit, and my accessories consist of shackles at ankles, wrists, and neck.

And just so you know, the tax break has already gone into effect: the wealthy got wealthier and pay less taxes, the poor got poorer because they have no money to pay taxes, and the middle-class get poorer, too, because all their money is going to taxes.

4/04/2006 11:50 PM

Blogger nanuk said...

Ever notice how those notices of reassessment or demands to pay from the reveneurs arrive almost instantaneously? And never get lost in the mail?

4/05/2006 5:19 AM

Blogger Sarah Letnes said...

Rob--I suspect most Postal Services suffer similar bungling. Thanks for the compliment.

Tea--Isn't that always how taxes work?

Nanuk--Yep. It's all part of the wondrous miracle of modern communication.

4/05/2006 10:03 AM

Blogger Lena said...

Ah....hahahahaha! I read each and every word of this hilarious post and felt your pain.

The post office, the DMV. They pride themselves on giving below average service. They have contests to "underdo" each other. The entire time you beseech them they dismiss you smirking and flipping through their Government Workers Catalogue of Perks.

4/05/2006 10:51 AM

Blogger Dirk the Feeble said...

Now you understand the term "going postal."

4/06/2006 9:42 AM


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