Extending Postal Services outside the Post Office
Extending Postal Services outside the Post Office
Posts who underestimate the needs of their customers in our 24/7 society are missing the chance to engage with people that want postal services on their schedule. And while non-postal locations or self-service options may go against the long-established forms of postal engagement with customers, posts must move with the times or risk becoming a 21st-century anachronism.
After decades of providing postal services in a bricks-and-mortar location, the modern postal operator faces several digital and competitive challenges. The always-on nature of the connected society means that people do not want to be tied to the time-sensitive requirements of the physical post office, with the average customer expecting to be able to conduct postal business when they want.
As a result, posts should always be aware that customers have several options to choose from, not least of which is the high-profile distribution and shipping companies that are part and parcel (no pun intended) of the logistics landscape. Additionally, people are now essentially tech-savvy and want to leverage the digital – and time-saving - tools that they access daily, with mobile apps and location-specific self-service machines already changing the way we interact with the physical aspect of required transactions.
Leveraging engagement points
For the last decade or so, companies have looked to an omnichannel approach to the customer experience. People want different things at different times, and the changing perception of what a “store” actually is has meant that customer-facing organizations are often balancing the convenience of digital engagement points with long-established (and successful) methods of physical interaction.
In the retail world, customers expect companies and brands to have a complete view of all engagement channels. More often than not, people want relevant experiences within the transaction itself, irrespective of whether that happens online or in a physical location. The rise of eCommerce, for instance, is cited as being a key factor in how we interact within brands, but it is worth noting that its disruptive influence only accounts for around 10 percent of all retail sales. The rest of the transactions occur in the physical realm, with bricks-and-mortar locations still (it appears, anyway) a preferred option for most people.
In other words, customer transactions are more likely to occur in a physical location rather than a virtual one. People are creatures of habit, and posts should be building on the relationships that have existed for many years when it comes to offering services to its customers both in and away from the post office itself.
With this in mind, posts need to complement existing full-service post office counter solutions with self-service options and with elements that replicate the experience in a non-postal location. Building more postal locations is not the answer, as the average person wants to be able to access postal services at a time and place that is convenient for them.
For example, one of Escher’s customers has recently doubled its consumer engagement points from 12,000 to 24,000 by adding more pick-up/drop-off locations to its ecosystem. These locations – which are normally operated by a third-party agent or franchisee – leverage the technology contained in, say, self-service kiosks and allow the end customer access a variety of postal services without visiting a post office or standing in line.
Posts essentially mirror the working practices of retailers – albeit one that is primarily known for offering shipping and other logistics options, rather than pure “selling” – and the modern postal operator must understand that its existing ecosystem can be extended to a plethora of locations that can include airports, colleges, or shopping malls. When you factor into the mix, the knowledge that the average person is comfortable with engagement in both physical and digital worlds, then it becomes clear that postal operators do not have to be shackled to the traditional post office environment itself.
Handing control to customers
Self-service options have been a staple part of numerous industry sectors, handing control to the consumer and putting convenience first.
A full-service counter at a branded postal location is always an option for someone who needs to send packages or purchase post-related items, but the postal services on offer are now digitally transferable. A customer doesn’t need to go to a post office to print out a label or form, while buying stamps online – long considered to be the main reason to go to a post office – is simply a matter of point-click-pay. Additionally, the so-called exclusive services (government forms, to name one) that people went to a postal office to complete are location-agnostic.
If we think about shipping, for instance, the location itself is immaterial. A non-postal location may have more flexible opening hours or not be subject to seasonal spikes that increase pressure on counter staff. A third-party may be able to offer customers a more personalized experience that relies less on the traditional face of the post and more on understanding the most efficient way to complete the transaction.
By the same chalk, a PUDO option is – once again – not bound to any one specific format. A secure box or locker (accessed with, say, a code sent to a smartphone) in a location like a convenience store or airport concourse can provide the customer with a variety of places to either pick up or deliver letters, parcels or even returned goods.
The caveat is that a person does not engage with a postal employee, but the additional revenue that can be derived from both extending the postal network and competing with other delivery services can outweigh the need for potential time-consuming (for the customer and employee) counter service options.
Knowing the customer is key
Naturally, the more posts know about what their customers want, the better off they will be, and it is not as simple extending postal services beyond the post office. Alleviating the pressure at a physical location might be a good short-term solution, but the effectiveness of the project is likely to benefit from a phased approach rather than all-out assault on what customers have become used to.
Integrating technology and effectively putting the customer in the driving seat also requires posts to understand how an extended network can be an alternative engagement channel. Certain people or communities might prefer the post office option, which puts pressure on the postal operator to ensure that the services being offered elsewhere remain uniform. To put it more simply, a successful expansion may hinge on what the customer expects from the working practices and offerings of the post itself. And, importantly, where they can access what they need.
Ultimately, posts already know that the logistics and distribution environment has changed. Some of that can be attributed to the connected society, while there is a consensus that customer expectations themselves have evolved to embrace the confluence of the digital and physical worlds.
What is not in question is the more options that are available to a customer, the more likely it is that the overall experience will deliver the results that both parties require. A visit to a post office was not always a pleasurable experience for the average person, extending postal services outside of a postal location may help operators move forward and allow customers to get what they need when they need it.