You might be annoyed if you think the line is too long at the local post office or your mail is always late but there’s at least one man in Santa Monica who is guaranteed to be at least, if not more, concerned about the issue than you are: new Post Master Noel Hodges.
Hodges has been on the job since April and he said he wants to define his term in Santa Monica as an exercise in customer service.
“All customers have an option,” he said. “They’re out there choosing to come to the Post Office and mailing a letter and we have to make them feel like ‘thankyou for coming.’ Customers don’t have to come to us, we need to treat them with dignity and respect. I don’t think any complaint is too small, I want to address all of them.”
To learn the routes, Hodges has taken what he calls “field trips” with carriers and gained an understanding of the community. He has also fielded complaints from locals and implemented technological upgrades to help track and streamline delivery.
In some cases, he said improved service was simply about matching skills to problems. For example, he said if a carrier physically moves quickly, they should be assigned to a route with extensive walking while someone who reads quickly can be assigned to a route with extensive sorting such as large apartment buildings.
He said part of his approach is educating the existing staff. For mail carriers that means evaluating how they deliver and looking for efficiencies.
“We can track every carrier and know where they are for real-time management,” he said. “We can increase the on-street observations and that’s a way to help them and help the community too.”
He said his goal as a carrier was to be so reliable, customers forgot about the individual delivering the mail and just came to rely on the service.
“I didn’t want the customer to know I was there, I just wanted them to know the mail was in the box,” he said. “Customers should never have to worry about the U.S. Postal Service.”
For office staff, he said they need to understand the reason residents are complaining and be aware that poor experiences will drive people away from the service, particularly if it’s a repeat issue.
“A customer is not calling just to be calling, they have a gripe,” he said. “Why can’t we address their complaint? I’ve always been service orientated, I always put myself in the customers’ shoes. How would I like waiting in line a long time or getting my mail delivered late?”
He said the changes are paying off. When he took over, the office was sitting on about 300 complaints at any given time, that’s down to about nine now.
In addition to retraining existing staff, Hodges has brought in two fulltime complaint resolution specialists.
Complaints can be called into (310) 255-0419 and anything that can’t be handled by the customer advocates can be quickly escalated to Hodges himself.
“I really want (customers) to understand that I’m their voice,” he said. “Don’t ever feel that you can’t call and talk to me. I want you to feel your voice is going to be heard no matter how small your issue may be or how big it may be. I’m really here to help you resolve any issues that you’ve got.”
Hodges is responsible for the 90401 through 90411 ZIP codes and the office has more than 200 employees delivering to 63,589 street addresses and 2,693 Post Office Boxes.
He said the local Post Office does more than just regular mail and cross training employees to handle the different product will create a stronger workforce that’s better able to adapt.
The Santa Monica office delivers about 400 Amazon Fresh deliveries per day. The bags of fresh groceries can be sent from Playa Del Rey to Malibu and from the time the first truck arrives to deliver the morning route, to the time the last carrier returns from a 9 p.m. delivery, the facility is staffed almost 24 hours a day including Sundays when carriers work 20-30 routes for package delivery.
He said the use of automation and better management will help carriers work through the changing demands at the Post Office and create a service customers value.
Hodges is the 23rd Postmaster for the City dating back to William H. Williams in 1875.
He began his postal career in 1990 as a carrier in Los Angeles. He worked his way up through the ranks to become Postmaster in Culver City in 2012 and most recently served as Post Master in Compton.
Hodges said he was excited to be in Santa Monica. The commute is better for him as it allows him to share a ride with his wife, Una Person-Hodges, who is a postal worker at the V.A. Post Office in Los Angeles.
“I like Santa Monica, I used to come here as a kid to go to the beach. We still go work out on the stairs a lot and I really like the community,” he said.