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Wednesday, November 15, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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TROUBLESHOOTER

Need phone number of post office? It's available

Seattle Times staff columnist

At last! The U.S. Postal Service is bowing to consumers' requests and altering its 800 line so that callers can actually get phone numbers for local post offices if they ask.

Beginning today, when you dial 800-275-8777, you should be able to get the location, hours and phone number of the post office nearest you.

That's the information consumers have missed the most since the Postal Service began listing only its 800 number and local post office addresses in phone directories.

In addition to not liking the 800 line, readers said that operators answering the 800 line did not always give accurate information.

The folks who answer the 800 line are not postal employees, but are said to have extensive training. They are monitored by postal managers.

For the past three years, callers have had to wade through a menu on the 800 line before a live operator would try to connect them with a local post office.

If an operator couldn't connect them in two attempts, the consumer was told to call the 800 number again. That frosted a lot of consumers, who really just wanted a local phone number.

It was definitely not convenient. Frustrating and byzantine were the words consumers mentioned most often.

Before you start congratulating yourselves on having made a difference and winning this war, you need to know that complaints from the public weren't the only reason for the change.

The 800 line also cost money. The Postal Service spends "millions of dollars" on a service called "transfer connect" when consumers call the 800 line and ask to be transferred to their local post office, according to Ernie Swanson, communications programs specialist.

If callers aren't transferred as often, that will be one area of savings. There could be more, if the Postal Service finds it does not need as many employees in its three call centers in Denver, Tampa and Kansas City, Kan., which serve the 800 line.

New menu

Here's the new menu for the Postal Service's 800 line:

After choosing whether you want information in English or Spanish, you'll have these options:

-- For a change of address, press 1.

-- For ZIP code information, press 2.

-- For rates and mailing information, press 3.

Keep this number

-- For post office hours and locations, press 4 and enter your ZIP code. This is the option that will get you the phone number for the nearest post office. Put this number in your phone book or up on your refrigerator.

-- If you got a notice that the post office is holding a package for you and you'd like to schedule delivery of that item, press 5.

-- To place your mail delivery on vacation hold, press 6.

-- For all other postal information, press 7.

The Postal Service is hoping not all callers will instantly press 4.

Swanson said about 80 percent of questions to the call centers involve general information available on the 800 line.

I hope the Postal Service goes the next step and puts phone numbers for local post offices back in phone directories along with addresses. It makes sense.

Shelby Gilje's Troubleshooter column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Scene section of The Times. Got a consumer problem? Write to Times Troubleshooter, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Phone, 206-464-2262; e-mail address, troubleshooter@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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