Tomorrow is Christmas Day. It is also a Friday. On Boxing Day, Saturday, most major retailers in Britain will be open and happily doing business, and so will most on Sunday too. Although Monday is technically a public holiday, you can fairly safely predict that most shops will be open then too. Lest anyone is in any doubt, retail involves people and for the retailer to be open that means that people will be working.
Most service businesses are operating either as normal or with a limited service over the long weekend that Christmas Day and Boxing Day have created this year. For weeks, shops and other businesses have had signs up telling us of their opening hours. They know that they must compete, and that being accessible to the public is a vital component of that.
That so many people will be working over Christmas is isn’t surprising – despite the huge volume of seasonal well-wishing that is happening this year, the vast majority of it is just that – seasonal – rather than Christian. According to recent surveys, 66% of the population have NO personal connection with any Faith group, and roughly 25% of the population that do are not Christian, so “Christmas Day” only really has meaning to about 3 out of every 10 people in the country. It has returned to being a seasonal celebration as it was in Pagan days, much like the American Thanksgiving. The concept of it as a spiritual celebration have long gone.
We know that the use of the postal service is in decline. So, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect them to be thinking of ever better ways of delivering their service, of doing so in ways that cost less than their competitors, and that are as accessible.
So it came as a bit of a surprise to me to take my post up to the letter box in our village today several hours before the advertised, normal collection was due (4:45pm) only to discover that it is not going to be emptied again until next Tuesday. No warning, no card in the window on the box, nothing. It seems I wasn’t the only person who was caught out by this, as the box is already nearly full.
I do find it a little amazing that, in this day and age, the Royal Mail has decided to close down for four and a half days. I find it particularly strange as they keep telling us that they desperately want our business and don’t want to go bust. Perhaps we should stop looking at the Police as a place for institutional racism, and instead look towards the Post Office, if it really has such a disproportionately high number of devout Christian workers who want the time off.
While I find these decisions amazing, what I object to is the discourtesy that they have shown, indeed the arrogant disregard, for people’s time and energy, that failing to tell them that this is what they are doing represents. It is an institutional complacency born out of their once massive nature that is simply no longer justifiable.
I had already been looking at the number of physical greetings cards that I send each year and how many more this year were sent electronically. It seems to me that there’s a simple technology gap that will soon be filled by someone. At the moment, most people will not print out the electronic greetings that they receive, but I am sure that the growth in digital picture frames will mean that someone, somewhere, is working on a device and a formatting standard that will mean that greetings sent electronically can be displayed in our homes without having to turn on the laptop and point it into the room! It is easy to do, it just needs a little work to make it practical and convenient. I would not be a bit surprised if Hallmark aren’t beavering away at it as we speak. There are millions of people accepting that they can’t send an aesthetically pleasing card, but instead using instant messages on Facebook and the like as a way of making contact with one another. When the facility I describe comes live, I am confident that there will be a huge demand.
So next year, I shall send even fewer greetings cards. I shall not be surprised at the news that the Post Office has gone forever. And I shall look forward to a resurgence of people sending aesthetically pleasing personal greetings, albeit electronically, rather than in sound-bite emails and instant messages as they do today.
Incidentally, I did try ringing the Royal Mail complaint’s line to express my amazement. The response I received was really quite dismissive. The person on the other end of the line assumed that I was Christian and therefore was going to be taking the time off myself. He tried telling me that it would be too much work for the post men who collect from these boxes each day to slip a notice in the display panel with the Christmas closure times on it. He explained that closing like this was a tradition that “goes back hundreds of years” (which I can categorically say is not true as my Grandfather was a postman and he used to work on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day). He was “personally astonished” that I wanted to complain about the lack of information and that I expected them to collect at 4:45pm.
He did however, register my complaint, taking my address and telephone number, and gave me a reference number for them. I asked what kind of response I could expect. He explained that I couldn’t – the complaint would be handled internally but I would not be contacted.
Another case of institutionalised contempt for customers.
WAKE UP ROYAL MAIL – THE WORLD IS CHANGING AND YOU NEED TO CATCH UP WITH IT!
On that not so positive note, to those of you who fall into the minority, I wish you a wonderful Christmas. To those who treat this as a seasonal celebration, I wish you the compliments of the season. To the millions of people who will be working tomorrow (not only in the armed forces, the emergency services, the retail sector, the services sector, and those in remote roles where it is simply not practical to switch off and come home) I thank you for your diligence, and wish you a very happy new year!
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