You’ve got (modern) mail: postal services are reinventing customer service

From the opening of England’s first post office in 1829 to the invention of the tracking number in the late 1970s to current self-service checkouts, the postal industry has come a long way in modernising services. Yet, the post office faces a dual challenge today. The first is the existential one – what is the future of the postal service itself, in the centuries-old march of information exchange that goes ever faster? And second, how to improve the current service model, and digitise current customer experiences.

In today’s digital era, nothing frustrates a customer more than a delay in receiving an order. Digital shoppers expect to check the status of their mail whenever and wherever they feel like it. Any good postal business knows that adopting digital is essential, but how are the best ones already responding to this challenge? In this article, we will focus on the challenge of digitisation and set aside the longer-term existential question of the future of the postal services themselves.

Smarter services deliver mail quickly and on time

As technology evolves, so too do customer expectations for a seamless mail experience. In today’s digital era, postal services across the world are embracing digital transformation – using technology to improve business processes and meet the growing demands of digitally-savvy customers – to ensure they remain commercially viable into the future.

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Using artificial intelligence (AI) to inform customers when their shipments will arrive is a good example of the way technology has disrupted traditional postal practices. PostNord, the Swedish postal service, embraced technological innovation by developing a machine-learning bot, which scans all real-time transactional data. The bot searches for patterns in the data that indicates a delay will happen before it even occurs. At the back-end, PostNord is using AI to identify potential IT incidents that pose a threat to production – for example, a data anomaly or service interruption – and apply a solution before the problem escalates. This enables PostNord to ensure the customer doesn’t experience a delay in their delivery, as any potential issues are detected and remedied in real-time.

Automating in-branch services

Digital communication is pushing in-store postal services to scale up. We all know how quick and easy it is to place an order online from the comfort of our own homes. To remain relevant, postal operators need to give customers a reason to walk into their branches, and more importantly, enjoy a seamless experience.

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Implementing self-service PoS solutions is one way the postal industry is revolutionising in-store operations. Today there are more than 11,000 post offices across the UK, which are increasingly adopting automated checkouts. This improves the customer experience by reducing wait times and giving them control over their payment process. The back-end infrastructure provides tracking capabilities so customers can track the status of their mail from the moment they drop it in the post box. Automated payment systems also drive business efficiencies, by freeing up staff to perform higher-level tasks, as well as giving customers a choice of how they want to engage with their own purchasing experience.

Looking ahead

The potential of digital transformation in the postal industry is immense. The choice may be between transformative experiences for the organisation and its customers on the one hand, and irrelevance, on the other. Digital dexterity is critical to customer experience, and operational efficiencies, but also, to the speed at which new products and services can be launched, as post offices look to innovate on the high street. The Post Office, like any other business, has to ask the fundamental question: ‘what business are we in?’ but the answers to that may lie not through traditional big strategic rethink sessions but through the ongoing digital experimentation at the edge, led by small and apparently marginal digitisation.

Written by Ved Sen, digital evangelist, Tata Consultancy Services

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