Postal executives are continually faced with the need to balance many priorities. Finding ways to enhance customer service, reducing costs, increasing revenue, streamlining operations, expanding the network, rolling out digital services, and leveraging customer data.
These are all very good priorities – things every Post should be continually reviewing and incorporating into their business plans. But with so many demands and so little time, not to mention budget constraints, how does it all get done? Of course, we don’t live in a bubble and time doesn’t stand still. We know competition is only accelerating, customers are more demanding, and the need for digital is not going away. So what’s the best way forward?
Engineering the Post Office of the Future
We face these questions every day from Posts around the world. And while it may seem like a quandary, with the right framework in place, postal operators can approach priorities like reducing costs, diversifying services, automation, network expansion and the like, in a methodical way, that takes into account available time and resources. In effect, what we are doing is engineering a postal operator that can thrive today and easily adapt to changes in the future.
A Framework to Address Three Key Priorities
Enhancing the customer experience, expanding the postal retail network, as well as automating and streamlining postal operations. Many Posts will agree these are three key priorities that are important. Let’s review an approach you can use to tackle each one.
1. Enhancing the Customer Experience
We will first explore a framework you can use to enhance the customer experience. In order for Posts to enhance the customer experience, you need the right tools to respond quickly to customers’ evolving preferences as well as other external factors. Any system must take a customer-first approach, providing complete transparency, flexibility and convenience for the customer throughout the entire system. Next, federated real-time data that allows the process to adapt dynamically is also essential. Data needs to flow securely throughout all systems involved. The data needs to flow to and from a number of different data sources (both internal and external), so there needs to be tools and mechanisms in place that federate the data, presenting and sharing the data in a meaningful way to its intended audience, whether that be the customer or IT staff at the post office, or partners. Streaming analytics is also part of this, which enables the continual analysis on all these moving streams of data. All of this can help Posts know and act upon activity and events happening in (and outside of the Post) at any given moment. AI tools, machine learning and automation can help respond and react to changes in rules and regulations such as when providing cross border services. By moving in this direction, you can begin to incorporate predictive analytics, route optimization, and more. Finally, collaboration enables participation by third- parties to extend a Posts’ capabilities, scale, and compliance.
Also, as you move further along this path of improving the customer experience, it’s no longer about multi-channel or even omni-channel, but about creating a unified commerce experience for customers where all digital channels and physical channels are seamlessly integrated. Customers begin to define their own journey using all the touch points you make available to them. The service experience is also consistent whether the customer is shipping domestically or across borders because you’ve implemented the right shipping solution, or because you’re gathering customer insights from all self-service interactions and are using AI to alert you and provide recommendations to improve the customer experience.
So what is the outcome of your customer experience enhancement initiative? You not only took steps to improve customer experience, but it’s reasonable to expect these measures will improve revenue as customers appreciate the improved shipping experience, and greater convenience provided through the unified commerce system you have put in place. Costs are reduced as you introduced automation (by gathering customer insights and AI) but also customers’ natural desire to select digital-first and other self-service point of interactions which are less expensive.
2. Expanding the Retail Network
Moving on to your next priority, you know that expanding the postal network is going to help you increase revenue but it will also aid in improving the customer experience too as postal services will be closer and more convenient for your customers. Since a Post-owned post office expansion is expensive, it is wise to choose to expand postal services through existing third-party retailers. And by far the most cost-effective approach to expand is by using technology such as a Universal ePOS solution to integrate directly with the third-party retailer’s POS system. With this approach, Posts avoid many fixed costs related to new post office leases, hardware, support and maintenance by shifting to this variable-cost model.
Now if your preference is to expand your post office network through franchise expansion, then you will want to leverage a post specific POS-as-a-Service solution similar to this Post Office on-Demand solution. This makes the process of onboarding new franchisees as simple as other gig economy sign-up processes like Uber or Instacart. This is also incredibly cost-effective if you consider the alternative. This type of a solution is also one of the best choices available for adding temporary pop-up postal locations in busy malls during holiday periods. Disaster recovery is another excellent reason for choosing a POS-as-a-Service solution. Should a natural disaster occur, Posts can quickly set up temporary locations to keep postal servicing running.
In this scenario, you have implemented solutions to help expand your retail network. And because you’ve done so using a variable-cost model, your expenses are far lower than a post-owned retail expansion. These two solutions (combined with the unified commerce solution introduced in the previous example) also moves you closer to a more agile retail network, which also allows you to scale down with ease should demand change. With a larger network and greater convenience for the customer, your revenue will increase and you’ve enhanced the customer experience as well.
3. Automating & Streamlining
This last priority of automating and streamlining your Post’s existing network, really requires a complete digital transformation with the goal of improving operational efficiency to keep costs low and move more quickly. Some of the initiatives discussed earlier will help in this area, such as leveraging POS-as-a-Service solutions as well as Universal ePOS. But this priority really has to do with examining your existing network to reduce complexity at every point of interaction with the customer, route optimization, last mile delivery and more.
For example, the last component of an agile retail network is the idea of Posts leveraging a hybrid self-service model in the branch which is an ideal way to streamline service delivery. Perhaps your Post doesn’t require a full-scale ATM-style self-service kiosk within the walls of your post office. Perhaps a few self-service tablets mounted on the wall or counter area could work as well. Using this self-service hybrid model, a Post could still process many transactions such as picking up or dropping off parcels or Click2Ship without the need of a full POS terminal. So more customers can be served, generating more revenue but at a fraction of the cost.
Leveraging cloud technologies will certainly help Posts with automation and streamlining the network. AI and analytics come to mind. AI-based technologies that are working in the background at your Post, assessing every data stream in real-time, then proactively making recommendations to improve efficiency, reduce costs, or even generate more revenue will add incredible value helping to automate analysis and decision making. The AI-based technology can then proactively follow up with you to ensure you’ve implemented its suggestion. AI-based assistants are a part of this solution as well. Just think, your very own Siri or Alexa for your Post. Gone are the days of generating a report based on data from last month. Posts can simply ask questions, and based on retail level data that extends across your Post’s network, you get just the answer you need.
And then finally, improvements can be made to make last mile deliveries less expensive for Posts, leveraging enhanced track & trace, dynamic routes, optimized delivery routes and more.
Looking at the outcome, you have improved efficiency across the network because of the automation and streamlined processes introduced. You have completely moved to an agile retail network, and you’ve further reduced costs, further increased revenue, and further enhanced the customer experience.
Engineering the Post Office of the Future
By implementing these three initiatives using this framework, you can successfully achieve the key priorities outlined in this blog post. There are of course many more priorities your Post has and this framework can be tailored. But we hope you can appreciate the thought process and the benefit that such an approach can have for your Post.