When I went to mail a package, the clerk quoted a price of $24 instead of the $15 flat rate that I was expecting. I had used an official Post Office box and couldn’t understand why it did not qualify for the “one rate, any weight” postage. It turned out that I had unknowingly used the “mailing box” instead of the “flat rate box”.

As a result, I experienced bureaucracy at its worst.

Both boxes are distributed at the Post Office. They are so similar that they remind me of those “find the differences” pictures – where everything is exactly the same except for the most minute details. These boxes are less than ½ inch different in dimensions: 13.375 vs. 13.625 by 12.125 x 11.875 (yes, they list the size to three decimal places!) – so alike that the only real difference is the name the Post Office gives them.

Because of my egregious error, I got out of line, discarded the incorrect mailing box and repackaged the same exact contents in the clone of a box — and paid $9 less as a result.

What would it have taken for the Post Office to use one box where the clerk could just check off the flat rate option or to have crossed off the wrong title and used it anyway? I wonder if the duplicity isn’t intentional deception: how many people mailing a box even know that there is a flat rate and instead pay whatever price they are quoted.

Don’t let this kind of nonsense happen in your organization. Designate one day to do some “bureaucracy-busting” in your area. Offer incentives for people to point out ridiculous practices like three-digit measurements on a box or twin packaging at different rates. Celebrate those who are brave enough to question your status quo or who make things easier for the user. Maybe you could even mail them their prize – using the proper box, of course.

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