Farragut Post Office Pilots “Triple-A” Customer Service Initiative for USPS

I rarely have an opportunity to visit the Post Office, so I was really excited when selling a pair fish-tail exhaust pipes on eBay gave me an excuse to drop in on my favorite bunch of happy-go-lucky government employees at he Farragut Post Office at 1800 M. St. in Washington, DC . They truly exhibit the United States Postal Service “Triple-A” customer service philosophy: Antipathy, Aggravation, Abuse.

My mission to the Post Office in DC was so memorable, I just had to go to USPS.gov and find out how to give the workers there the credit they deserve. Rather than calling the USPS customer service line and using up the last few thousand minutes I have on mobile plan holding for a representative, I decided to give the USPS.gov email contact form a try.

It’s worth noting that even the USPS.gov contact form works to keep things positive: they’ve substituted the ubiquitous “Complaint” form with a “Compliment” form. I did explore the “Problem” form, the “Suggestion” form, and even the ambiguous “Information” form, but each option’s sub-options remained focused on positive feedback. After all, why would anyone want to complain about the United States Postal Service?

Since I had received such wonderful service at the Farragut Post Office, I chose the “Compliment” option. Here is what I submitted to the USPS:

This compliment is in regards to the two postal service employees working behind the counter at the Farragut Post Office at 1800 M. St. in Washington, DC.

I really appreciate that the two postal employees behind the counter took the time to stop listening to the radio and chatting about what to do for lunch and help me instead. I was the only tax payer, um, customer, in the Post Office, and it was 9:30 in the morning, and the Post Office had been open for a whole half hour, so I understand how pressed they were to make a decision about lunch, and I appreciate that they let me interrupt them.

I also appreciate that the worker who did help me decided to only talk to me in a condescending manner, rather than just beat me over the head for asking stupid questions about the package I was trying to ship.

I also appreciate that, rather than punching me in the nose when I told her that I found the answer on the USPS.gov FAQ using my iPhone, she just turned around in the middle of the conversation and walked behind a closed door.

But her co-worker also deserves accolades as well. I watched in awe as another customer walked in and asked if special packaging was required for international shipments, and without even looking up, she was able to give an answer. The answer was more along the lines of “yes, special packaging is required.” After a brief exchange, the not-so bright customer realized that she needed to ask WHERE to find that special packaging.

But where the real customer service initiative was exemplified was when the customer returned with the incorrect packaging, and the postal worker took the time to stop what she was doing, and to deliver a firm lecture on how the customer should pay attention. It was much like that lecture one would give a four-year-old who consistently misbehaves, and whom you wish you had drowned at birth, which the customer’s parents apparently should have done since she came into the world not knowing how to ship a package to Brazil.

So kudos to the Farragut Post Office in Washington, DC!

And kudos to the USPS Web team for leaving out “complaint” in the “Inquiry Type” select menu on the USPS.gov Email Us form. This is pure genius! I imagine that your ratio of positive to negative online customer service reports increased significantly with this simple change.

In retrospect, my Farragut Post Office experience may not have been one hundred percent positive, but one thing I’ve learned from this is that good customer service is really a subjective standard. Some people may like spending their tax dollars to they can be verbally abused, harassed and humiliated by angry men an women. In many parts of the world, you have to go to a red light district and pay good money for that kind of experience. In the US, it’s just the cost of postage. And dignity.

Replacing Long Strings In SQL Exports and Other Large Text Files

I’m migrating a web forum from one MySQL server to another, and it’s usually a straight-forward task consisting of exporting the data from one server importing an other server using phpMyAdmin.  This forum has been particularly active, so the SQL dump file containing the discussion table is almost two gigabytes. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if I were just importing into an identical database, but “business requirements” dictate that I change the name of the database.

Normally I would use Find/Replace in Dreamweaver, but being the bloated application it is, it kept throwing “out of memory” errors at me each time it hit the discussion export file. I suspected Notepad++ wouldn’t fare much better, so I started to Google for a solution.

A lot of options came up for Linux and Perl (which has always been awesome at parsing text), but I really didn’t want to have to move the file off my Windows 7 workstation over to the LAMP virtual server and just add more complexity to the confusion.

So I hit Google again with with a modified search (I just added Windows). I popped open a few tabs and browsed through a couple of options that would require yet-another GUI program installed on my machine. Some looked promising, but shareware always comes with a price, so I started digging into some of the more “hardcore” alternatives.

StackOverflow is one of my absolution favorite developer resources, and when I saw the link to “How can you find and replace text in a file using the Windows command-line environment?“, I knew my chances were good for finding a solution. StackOverflow contributor Mile Schall proposed a solution using Windows Power Shell, which proved to work extremely well.

First, anyone who isn’t familiar with Windows PowerShell should get familiar fast. It’s major upgrade over the old command prompt, gives access to some nifty .NET functionality, and will generally make life easier for anyone working with Windows Servers and Clients.

Following the StackOverflow advice, I launched PowerShell on my Windows 7 machine by going to:

START > All Programs > Accessories > Power Shell > Power Shell

I then navigated to the directory containing my SQL dump file, and entered the following command (of course the target text strings and file names have been changed for privacy):

   Get-Content SQLexport.sql | ForEach-Object { $_ -replace "replace this string", "with this string" } | Set-Content SQLexport2.sql

After a few minutes, the PowerShell prompt returned a new “SQLexport2.sql” file appeared in the directory.

This snippet has worked great for my large SQL files, and I suspect it will also work well for other large text-based files.

Now, the next trick is to get by the 2 MB file limit in phpMyAdmin so I can import the updated 2 gigabyte SQL dump file back into MySQL.