This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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1) Customer service is poor and inconsistent. First and foremost, customer service is outsourced to Pitney Bowes Government Solutions (PBGS), a wholly owned subsidiary of Pitney Bowes. Located in Plainfield, Ind., PBGS has had the contract since 2008, and provides customer service and order fulfillment service.
Beginning in early 2010, I experienced a series of customer service issues (including a lost or stolen package sent to the wrong address, mailing list issues, unexplained and inexplicable cancellations of orders, misleading and false information, and even some unbelievably unprofessional remarks from customer service agents). I raised these issues with both the U.S. Mint and Pitney Bowes management, and as a result, was asked to participate in a conference call with three people who claimed to be senior managers at PBGS. They assured me the problems were going to be resolved, and one of the three gave me his direct phone number and cell number, and asked me to call if any of the problems occurred again.
Some of the problems were solved, but some persisted, and after calling the senior manager more than a dozen times, I was finally told he was no longer with PBGS. After a half dozen more calls to as many people, I finally heard from another PBGS senior manager who made the same promises, including one to delve into the problem, stating emphatically that he would not give up until it was solved, at which point, he would call me to tell me the solution. That was three months ago, and I’ve given up on hearing the resolution.
2) The new website really isn’t new. The Mint recently announced changes to its website, but the sad truth is it only updated the graphical user interface, which is to say it gave it a slightly new look but did not change the most annoying features of the site. This begs the question why the Mint would spend so much time and money to do so much that has so little impact? Clearly, the goal was to match the same somber looking exterior packaging of its products, but users still must contend with a site that is extraordinarily cumbersome, challenging for many customers to navigate, and simply outdated by at least a decade. The site makes it difficult to set separate shipping and billing, and of course, the order-tracking feature typically includes outdated, inaccurate, and even patently false information.
Once a leader, but now is a laggard? The U.S. Mint’s customer service, product quality, and delivery mechanisms (including its website) pale in comparison to the Perth Mint, Royal Mint of Australia, the British Royal Mint, and I suspect, many other mints worldwide. Order something from the Perth Mint halfway around the world, and it will likely appear in your hands in less time than a U.S. Mint product sent from a few hundred miles away. Perth’s order processing and tracking are impeccable, and if that weren’t enough extraordinary service, you will also receive a very polite email within 24 hours any time you have a question or need additional information.
3) Congress, the Treasury Department, and the Mint do not understand consumers (including collectors). For generations, U.S. citizens have rejected dollar coins in spite of politicians and Mint officials doing their level best to convince people otherwise. Sac dollars and Presidential dollars are ridiculed as car wash tokens or game tokens. Kennedy halves are not even circulated, yet are still manufactured and sold. The 50 states quarters program created a glut of low-quality, uninspired coin designs, and yet was followed in rapid succession by the Territory quarters and America the Beautiful Quarters® programs. It should be noted the 50 states quarters program generated some buzz with consumers and some short-lived interest among collectors, but the same sentiments have not carried over to the two most recent programs.
4) Back-orders, inexplicable cancellations, erroneous tracking, and order limits have fueled criticism and mistrust. These are all subsets of bad customer service, but are examples of how the Mint and PBGS have continued to alienate customers. Order limits are ridiculous, as the Mint is unresponsive to widespread reports of profiteers paying a “bounty” to people who circumvent the Mint’s policies.
In this era where many politicians are screeching about cost cutting and fiscal responsibility, it seems a strange irony that Congress, the Treasury, and the Mint continue to do such hugely irresponsible things when it comes to U.S. coins, which are not only vital to business and commerce, but also should symbolize all that is great about our nation. Here’s a short list of solutions:
1. Improve customer service. PBGS and the Mint need to stop finger-pointing and start working together to fix problems. (By the way, it’s not very professional to “vent” to your customers about problems outside your facilities or even within them.)
2. Improve the coin design process. The current process for developing, reviewing, and approving coin designs needs drastic reform.
3. Improve materials and manufacturing quality. Why do so many recent issuances look and feel cheap? The reason is directly tied to the materials and manufacturing, which also create design limitations, hence, the scorn and ridicule of the Mint for turning out “tokens.”
4. Start running the Mint like a business. The Mint needs a serious, objective, and no-holds-barred audit of all its products. If it’s a circulating coin, it should be manufactured and distributed based on demand, and not by foisting products on consumers. There needs to be fewer types of collector coins issued each year, and the quantities should be determined through pre-sales, advance marketing, and/or surveys.
5. Adopt a global perspective. Look at the coin designs, particularly the Coin of the Year contenders, produced by other Mints. Check out websites, ordering systems, and every aspect of the delivery mechanisms used by other Mints. Let it all sink in and then develop a best practices guide to reform your systems and restore the U.S. Mint to world class status.
Of course, finding workable solutions will require cooperation among the Mint, the Treasury Department, and Congress. That may take some time, particularly in the current political era, but surely there are issues the Mint can take ownership of now.
The most urgent and important thing the U.S. Mint can and should do now is listen to its customers. After all, we vote for against everything the Mint does – not with ballots or through lobbying – but with the orders we place.
This Viewpoint was written by Bill Davenport, a hobbyist who is from Arlilngton Heights, Ill. Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Numismatic News. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.