Two Steps Ahead: How Some Posts Are Moving Faster Than Customers' Evolving Expectations
If you’ve been involved in strategic planning, you’re most likely familiar with the catch-22 of digital transformation projects. You’ve got to align initiatives into your enterprise’s five-year plan, but you’ve also got to keep up with technology - and customer expectations - which move much faster.
The postal industry is not immune to this challenge. Posts are competing with private couriers, the higher expectations created by “the Amazon effect”, and several nimble startups angling to claim the last mile. And they’re trying to reconcile this with their legacy systems. But posts are also uniquely positioned to own the delivery market. In most cases, postal operators dominate the last mile, and in many countries, they deliver to almost every address six days a week. Forward-thinking posts are taking advantage of this opportunity, expanding service points through PUDO locations, diversifying service offerings, and reducing costs every step of the way.
We sat down with Escher CTO, Wayne Haubner, to discuss how his company is helping posts take digital transformation to the next level. The key takeaway? A focus on modular technology that leverages your existing IT infrastructure to grow your revenue, lower your cost model, and put the customer back in the driver seat!
CEP-Research: Escher does a whole lot more than just provide POS counter solutions for posts. Everyone in the postal industry has heard of Escher, but not everyone may appreciate the full breadth of your capabilities. Tell us how Escher helps postal operators generate new revenue streams, reduce costs, and enhance the customer experience.
Wayne Haubner: The counter has been a very traditional way for posts to engage with customers, and we’ve built a great reputation in the industry providing posts with robust, point of service solutions for the last 30 years. However, there's been a major shift on the retail front of every postal operator around the globe. The always-on consumer turns to mobile and other self-service options first in many industries. Postal services are no exception. The traditional “manned” post office business model is rapidly evolving. Posts are investing in more self-service solutions and other online services.
We recognised this fundamental shift early on and have been working closely with posts around the world to help them shift to a modern customer engagement strategy that puts the customer first. With our purpose-built customer engagement platform, posts can add kiosks and mobile channels to complement their counter service. They can also accommodate a range of offerings such as parcel, letter, retail, and in some countries, financial and government services. Our platform also enables posts to offer full service, guided, and self-service modes of engagement as well as serve customers at the branch office, kiosk, pick-up/drop off points, doorstep, third party locations, and more.
Escher’s customer engagement platform makes this all possible. The latest version of our platform is incredibly powerful helping posts reduce costs, add new services quickly, and expand and deepen points of engagement across all channels with a new level of speed and responsiveness. It’s quite remarkable.
CEP-Research: Yes, please talk to us about the latest version of the Escher platform, its advantages, and how posts can benefit.
Wayne Haubner: Absolutely, and I’ll tell you why the latest version is critical for postal operators everywhere. I spoke about the changing consumer behaviours and how posts need to adopt a customer-first approach in all aspects of their business. But as you know, there are major shifts taking place. Letter mail is experiencing a secular decline, parcel volumes are rising exponentially, competition only grows stronger, and there’s an urgent need for all aspects of postal operations to move faster. With these changes, incremental improvement will not help. A complete transformation is required, which is what the Escher platform helps posts achieve.
The latest version of Escher’s platform enables posts to dramatically improve the customer experience, making it far easier to conduct their postal transactions on their terms and helping posts expand and deepen points of engagement. It also drives incremental revenue because it’s easy to quickly expand services and lower costs by shifting to a variable cost model.
Because the system is completely configurable and modular, the Escher platform can suit the unique environment of any postal operator. Additionally, because it’s infrastructure agnostic, the system can work on a post’s existing IT infrastructure and integrate with all existing business systems and processes.
The Escher technology allows posts to engage anywhere, anytime, across all channels, services, modes of engagement, and physical locations. The platform accelerates every retail or postal transaction, results in faster time to market, and allows IT to move at the speed of posts.
From a purely technical perspective, the platform is purpose-built for posts, it's highly scalable, channel agnostic, offers intelligent automation, can integrate with any third-party application or business system (making it future proof), offers complete visibility over operations, and provides enterprise-grade security, resiliency, and replication capabilities.
In fact, Escher's customers have never lost any data or experienced system down-time unless it was scheduled. Other aspects of the platform that our customers value are its ease-of-use and the freedom they have to innovate on the platform by adding new points of engagement or new services. We actually encourage this among our customers.
CEP-Research: The first mile and last mile continue to challenge postal operators. What is the company doing in this area to help posts and can you elaborate on Escher’s new PUDO Bundle Solution?
Wayne Haubner: Great question. But I do want to add that despite the challenges, postal operators still occupy an enviable position in the market. They deliver to almost every address nearly every day, giving them an operational advantage. With tools like Escher’s PUDO module, posts can completely transform their cost model and benefit from the multi-billion-dollar e-commerce industry.
How? Well, first, you’ve got to give consumers what they want and need. I read an article recently about a post office employee who said customers under 30 didn’t know where to write the address on a package. I mention this not to be another voice mocking millennials, but rather to highlight a huge opportunity. There’s a younger demographic that’s suddenly more engaged with postal services because they’re using posts for new purposes. They may not be sending letters, but they’re picking up or returning goods they bought online. According to our 2019 Future of Posts report, 90 percent of respondents said their success over the next five years will be tied to parcels. So, it’s all about making it as convenient as possible for consumers to send and receive parcels.
The PUDO module offers a suite of tools for setting up a network of PUDO locations using our PUDO Bundle Solution. Younger demographics are overwhelmingly “digital first”. Being limited by things like operating hours or physical service locations is anachronistic to them. Almost all of their other experiences - banking, shopping, communicating - are defined by “always on” access. If they want to switch money between accounts, buy a sweater, or have a video call, there are self-serve options that allow them to do these things on their own schedule, from wherever they please. Forward-thinking posts see this change and are already adapting to this expectation.
The PUDO suite helps posts offer this accessibility to customers without incurring the crushing outlay of capital. It’s easy for postal operators to set up a network of PUDO locations whether those locations are third-party outlets, agent networks, or franchisees. Through the PUDO app, available on Windows, iOS, and Android, partners can easily carry out postal transactions on a post’s behalf without cumbersome set-up costs or ongoing maintenance fees.
I want to add that posts also offer something extremely valuable to online shoppers: security. There’s this growing use of post offices and PUDO locations as a safe pick up point, especially in response to the trend of stolen “doorstep” packages. So, if posts want to expand their retail network, the best option is by using the PUDO suite. Moreover, local partners experience increased foot traffic, creating a mutually beneficial partnership.
The bottom line is there’s a huge opportunity here for posts to offer compelling services and incorporate themselves into the routines of all consumers through self-serve options.
CEP-Research: I understand you have some new products that you’ll be releasing at Parcel and Post Expo. Can you tell us about these and how they help posts?
Wayne Haubner: Definitely. Our customer engagement platform will include new modules that allow posts to configure a solution to meet their immediate business objectives and easily add to it as their needs evolve. The modules can be easily added to our core platform, so posts can pick and choose only what they need.
I want to start with our Delivery module, because it tackles pain points critical to a post’s core business: managing letters and parcels. Our Delivery module automates key post office processes, like drop off, package receiving, pick-up, package management, and shelf management. In addition, this module is deployment agnostic, channel agnostic, and scalable.
One of the big pains of digital transformation projects is integrating new technology into your enterprise’s larger IT infrastructure. Not only does the Delivery module work in different environments (e.g. on premise, secure cloud hosting), it can also integrate with third-party APIs and link up with your enterprise’s other systems. As a channel agnostic platform, it also works with your existing kiosks, POS, or mobile platforms. This interoperability is essential for posts whose digital transformation initiatives may roll out in phases or who want to start with smaller pilot projects tied to specific ROI.
This is why we’re pleased to be introducing other modular elements of the Customer Engagement platform to support these projects. This includes our Assets module, which allows post employees to transfer inventory like cash or stock within the postal system. Employees can initiate transfers to or from other post offices or external partners. Additionally, our Retail module brings a seamless e-commerce experience to posts’ products and services. Employees can browse a nested list of categories, easily search using an item or barcode item, offer price checks, execute sales and reverse transactions, as well as offer promotions.
We’re particularly proud of our Insights module, which helps posts take a data-driven approach to continuous improvement. With the Insights module, posts can easily create surveys with over thirty different question types. They can distribute these surveys through several channels including mobile apps, email, SMS, and more. Once they’ve received the results, they can carry out advanced analytics such as Conjoint, TURF, GAP, and Trend analysis. Insights also offers predictive analytics capabilities. Our AI-powered platform makes it possible for posts to sift through large amounts of data and identify countless data relationships to generate unexpected insights for future improvements.
At Escher, we’re continuously thinking about how we can generate value for posts which helps to explain the series of new product innovations we’ve recently introduced. We’re confident that giving posts the customer engagement platform and supporting solutions to compete in a digital landscape is a smart, and profitable, bet. It has certainly helped many forward-thinking posts stay two steps ahead in a continually evolving industry.