At postal site, online service elicits no purr

Trudy Walsh

Since 1997 I've reported on government efforts to improve service by using the Internet. Ah, the Internet. How efficient and convenient! How much money it will save us all. Recently I encountered online government as a citizen-user. I found one service saved me neither time nor money. But it did serve up headaches.

Dec. 10, 2001: Preferring cyberspace to handwritten forms, I'm pleased to discover that the Postal Service has a change-of-address Web site at www.MoversGuide.com. No need to walk a block to the post office to fill out a form when I'm moving three blocks.

The MoversGuide site requests an e-mail address and credit card number. They'll send back a seven-digit code to confirm the change as well as a "move validation letter" to the address I'm leaving. Cost: $1, charged to my credit card. The old paper method is still free.

Dec. 13: My confirmation code and paper confirmation both arrive. I wait for the letters with the little yellow stickers to pour in.

Dec. 19: I move to the new place. My cat, however, refuses to budge. I leave him in the old apartment and walk back the three blocks each day to feed him and get him over this emotional hurdle.

Dec. 23: USPS mails a nice welcome kit to the new address, filled with pizza coupons and directions to the nearest post office.

Dec. 24: During the busiest mail period of the year, I'm getting holiday cards only from the people who know my new address.

Dec. 26: I finally move the cat by catching him with oven mitts.

Dec. 27 to Jan. 3, 2002: Each day I check the mailbox. Only a few catalogs arrive, addressed to the previous tenant.

Jan. 4: I call USPS and talk with a customer representative, Joseph, who says I should be receiving forwarded mail by now. He assigns a case number and says he will investigate.

Jan. 20: Still no mail. I call Joseph. The person answering the phone says to call my local post office and leave a message for my carrier. I do, but I never hear back.

Feb. 1: Still no mail. I call the main USPS number. I carefully state my name and case number.
"The case number doesn't help us," the representative says. "I just need your old and new addresses."

I give them. She puts me on hold. Five minutes later she's back. "They had some problems with people submitting their change-of-address information over the Internet," she says. "Your mail has been held up, but you should be getting a lot of it soon."

What went wrong? Repeated calls and e-mail to a USPS official go unacknowledged.

The vendor behind the change-of-address Web site, however, was happy to talk to me. USPS contracted out the MoversGuide site to Imagitas Inc. of Waltham, Mass., last September. Since then, the site has received 400,000 change-of-address requests, "exceeding our expectations," said John Kelley, chief marketing officer for Imagitas.

"Every year, 17 percent of the U.S. population moves," Kelley says. That's about 40 million people.

MoversGuide.com underwent rigorous security certification by the Postal Service, Kelley said. But Imagitas can't access the online change-of-address information, only postal officials can, he said.

The site does offer helpful moving tips, including moving suggestions from the author of a book titled, "Is Your Cat Crazy?" I should have read this part more carefully.

Feb. 22: I finally receive a check that had been mailed to my old address on Jan. 10. I also get a bill from the vet, and let's just say cat therapy is not cheap.

Trudy Walsh is a senior editor at GCN and writes about state and local IT. You can e-mail her at twalsh@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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