The Postal Service faced every challenge imaginable last year, from handling a historic volume of mail-in ballots to delivering a surge in packages.
Through it all, USPS dealt with critical shortages of its employees, mail delays and a slew of federal lawsuits raising questions about its ability to handle election mail under tight deadlines.
Despite these challenges, the public still holds the Postal Service in high regard. A survey from its inspector general found 91% of respondents held a positive opinion of the agency. That approval rating, the IG noted, is consistent with approval ratings in surveys from 2017 and 2019.
USPS OIG conducted the survey last October, with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC), and gathered feedback from nearly 3,700 respondents.
Given the timing of the survey, respondents’ comments do not reflect on the agency’s level of service during its peak holiday season. During this time, USPS delivered a record-breaking 1.1 billion packages, but also saw widespread challenges with on-time mail and package deliveries that led to an apology from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
The survey also provides valuable insight into USPS customers’ habits and preferences at a time when DeJoy and the agency’s Board of Governors are rolling out a 10-year reform plan that would put the agency on firmer financial footing.
The plan, however, would set longer delivery times for 30% of first-class mail, and cut post office hours at less-trafficked locations.
Despite the pandemic’s challenges, 75% of respondents said USPS provided excellent customer service in 2020, a 7% increase from the year prior.
Nearly 83% of respondents said they enjoyed receiving mail, and 66% said they enjoyed sending mail — both higher ratings than in the 2019 survey.
According to USPS market research cited by the IG report, customers who felt isolated during the pandemic turned to mail as a way to stay connected to family and friends they couldn’t visit.
“The Postal Service has long been a trusted and valued public institution, delivering mail to every address in the nation nearly every day. During these unprecedented and challenging times, the Postal Service has continued to provide a means for people staying at home to receive essential goods and communicate in a more personal manner, as well as served as a backbone for businesses seeking to deliver to consumers who can no longer visit stores in person,” the IG report states.
Respondents said they ordered medication and medical devices through the mail more frequently during the pandemic, and predicted they would continue to do so at least monthly, even after the pandemic ends.
They also predicted their online ordering habits would remain higher after the pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic levels. Those deliveries, however, would fall short of peak orders during the pandemic.
While online and over-the-phone bill payment has gained momentum, the survey found 67% of respondents still received bills in the mail, and 29% chose to send their payments by mail.
At a time when USPS is considering cutting hours at some post offices as part of its 10-year reform plan, survey respondents said they still preferred handling their postal needs in-person at a nearby office.
Ancillary post office services, including money orders and passport services, dropped during the pandemic, but respondents said they would continue taking advantage of those services after the pandemic ends. The IG report said demand for these services will rebound post-pandemic.
Respondents predicted their monthly volume of online orders would stay above pre-pandemic levels, but said the frequency of these orders would see a decline from peak pandemic levels.
Despite largely positive feedback of USPS operations, the IG report found a “small but growing group of respondents” held a lower opinion of the agency’s services in 2020 than in previous years.
Respondents who don’t think the Postal Service provided reliable products and services rose from 6% in 2019 to 9% in 2020, as did respondents who thought USPS didn’t provide secure products and services.
“While this group represents less than one-tenth of the population, a 50 percent increase on these measures signals a significant jump,” IG auditors wrote.
Fewer respondents said their letter carriers handled mail and packages with care — a 5% decrease from the previous survey — and more customers said their letter carriers didn’t deliver mail at a consistent time every day.
Auditors note, however, that critical employee availability shortages during the pandemic have likely contributed to inconsistent delivery times.
Seven in 10 respondents said they would be comfortable visiting a post office during the pandemic. Of those who went into a post office during the pandemic, the IG survey found 81% said their post office and staff had implemented COVID-19 safety protocols.
USPS Vice President of Customer Experience Kelly Sigmon told IG auditors the agency had “no concerns” about the findings.