Once upon a time, in about 1775, Youspus was born. Youspus was destined to become a giant. His father, Ben Franklin, envisioned Youspus growing the family business, providing a service that would become an integral part of the lives of all the colonial residents. Ben hoped Youspus would live hundreds of years.


Well, as the years went on, Youspus took over that fledgling delivery service and found ways to enhance his product offerings. Not only could residents send the written word by his service, but they could also send packages.


Soon, word of the new service spread and was so well-received that Youspus decided to offer other services. He offered security: small, locked cubbies to hold customers' written messages and gave them the ability to unlock their assigned cubby to retrieve their correspondence.


Many years passed. Competition from upstarts like Ray L. Rode threatened Youspus. Railway Express could carry larger, heavier packages better than Youspus. To protect his letter delivery system, Youspus encouraged lawmakers to pass laws that would give him exclusive rights to deliver the written word.


Many more years passed. The colonies had grown into states, and citizens became more mobile. As the geographical boundaries expanded to accommodate this growth, so too did Youspus' business. Youspus was very proud of his service and sat back to watch the revenues and importance of his business grow.


Youspus relaxed and grew complacent. Alas, while Youspus slept, another upstart had an idea for a parcel delivery business and soon had a product to offer the public. Youspus wasn't worried and did nothing to protect his own parcel delivery business. Soon there were more: UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. But Youspus was not worried. The others charged more for their services, and everyone knows that people won't spend more than is necessary to achieve their objectives. Why would people use the services of these companies when Youspus could do it for less? He knew they were destined for failure and soon he would have all that business back.


Except they didn't fail. Youspus couldn't understand this. He had a good product and offered it at a lower price. Youspus hired the services of a research company to conduct a market study to determine the problem, and he soon learned that these other, more costly companies were offering services that he wasn't. He studied the reports and knew he could offer those same services but decided that he could be satisfied with the income being generated by his letter delivery business and his post office cubby rentals. Once again Youspus rested.


Refreshed, Youspus again turned his attention to business. He heard rumors of a new business with the rental of mailboxes among its services. "Why can't they just let things be?" Youspus wondered. When he sent his inspectors to find out the particulars of the mailbox rental business, he learned that they planned to charge rates that were 1,000% higher than his rates. "How could anyone in their right mind expect to charge 10 times the rates I'm currently charging and expect people to use their service? They must think people are really stupid. Oh well, time will prove that I am right."


As time went on, the consulting company issued periodic reports on the success of the mailbox rental company. Youspus couldn't believe it... people were actually paying the exorbitant price to rent mailboxes from his competitor. But WHY? His consultants conducted focus groups, exit interviews and other marketing studies and determined that people are willing to pay the price for services they deem to have value. Unlike Youspus, this service provider offered its customers access to their mailboxes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Customers could also call the other company to ask if there was mail in their boxes, thus saving them a trip. Customers could also ask their service provider to send their mail to them at another address.


Time passed and new product opportunities and new revenue streams were brought to the attention of Youspus or his deputies and vice presidents. But Youspus was getting older, and he didn't hear well. Feeble attempts were made by Youspus employees to grasp the concepts of these new opportunities, but acting on them required an understanding of the needs of their customers and finding ways to satisfy those needs. "Why can't people simply use the products I currently offer instead of always making life difficult by asking for more? Don't customers understand that we, at Youspus Headquarters, are very busy designing products that serve our needs? We do not appreciate being interrupted from our daily routine. We certainly have better ways to spend our time than having to think of our customers' needs above our own."


As time passed, Youspus was visited by certain customers who needed a special mail forwarding service. These were people on the move... people who traveled on a regular basis to new destinations. They were RVers. These people, some of whom are full timers, do not have a fixed domicile. Their homes were where they parked them. The first attempt by the Youspus employees was a program called "Follow Me Mail." Unfortunately, this program was not suited to the RVers. It was designed around the concept that as mail is entered into the system, optical readers would compare the addresses to those in the Youspus system and would re-route it to the current address. The problem with this concept is that it did not account for the fact that the full-time RVer sometimes changes locations daily. For an RVer, this program was aptly named as their mail would truly "follow them." Unfortunately, although their mail would truly follow them, it would never get delivered.


Finally recognizing that his first attempt would not satisfy his mobile customers' needs, Youspus commissioned his market researchers to find out what product would be of value to those people on the move and what price should be charged for this service. Armed with the results, Youspus requested approval by the Postal Rate Commission for an Experimental Premium Forwarding Service. The proposed service:

            a) was much more expensive than what was commercially available

            b) was more restrictive than what was commercially available

            c) did not incorporate any state of the art features available using the Internet


However, market studies did not include those individuals who are currently using the services of mail forwarders in an attempt to design a product that would meet their needs.


Once again, Youspus designed a program in a vacuum. Experimental Premium Forwarding Service served Youspus' needs, not those of the customers. The RVers and others knew, furthermore, the charges for use of this program should reflect the savings by Youspus of the street time of the letter carriers. The fact is that the costs for creating a label and boxing the mail to be forwarded have been calculated down to the penny, but no credit was given for the savings. Currently, Youspus is responsible for the costs associated with forwarding First Class for up to one year and periodicals for two months. Nowhere in the proposed service was credit given for these savings.


This was an opportunity for Youspus to evolve into a whole new customer-responsive arena, one where Customers can have their mail where they want it, how they want it and when they want it. It was an opportunity for Youspus to shed the old image of "I know what's best for the customer, and that's what I will give them." But, as usual, opportunity knocked, but no one answered.


The moral of this fable is: If you don't give your customers what they want, don't worry... someone else will.


Alan Kline is president of Net Outcome, a postal consulting organization. He has over 31 years experience in the Postal Arena, and has served on the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), an advisory board to the Postal Service, for more than 20 years. You can reach him by e-mail at alankline@mindspring.com.