Sunday, 25 January 2015

Signalling the last post: from Penny Black to Amazon drones

Published here in first, read the pre-edit version here below.

Signalling the last post: from Penny Black to Amazon drones.
Historic British vs. efficient Irish stamps
I am fighting a home front battle against former-monopolies and outdated working practices, as I have finally succeeded in brokering an agreement to send e-cards next Christmas.  As a low volume personal customer I object to subsidising business post, sometimes known as spam mail, by paying 62p for a first class stamp and nine pence less for a second class stamp whilst business account holders pay much less, as little as 35p, would you believe it ? (on SPAM ) It has been so long since I purchased stamps I had to look up the pricing, having bought in bulk a couple of years ago to avoid having to stump up for the beyond belief pre-privatisation price hike. Call me Victor Meldrew if  you like, but it has been working....

The foundation to my griping is not the pricing per se, but service.  (on griping  ) It annoys me profoundly that the world’s largest German courier service Deutsche Post (trading as brand DHL in UK) can get boxes to me, quickly, and even when I’m not in the house.  They have pioneered an innovative garage agreement (Garagenvertrag  ) that allows the insurance liability to transfer following delivery to a specified place such as garage or neighbour.  Yet Royal Mail parcels insist on having me drive 13 mins to Woking, to a tiny sorting office, show specific identification that matches the name on the package and say thank you to them for not delivering it in the first place. And then drive home again. 

You see, I have a healthy online shopping habit, I spend big without the inconvenience of leaving my house. Historically I have found it very difficult to arrange a re-delivery because more often than not the 17 number package identifier on the ‘sorry we missed you’ slip is missing.  I am sure the Weltmeister’s would have a scanable sticky label as part of their quality assurance process.  (on Weltmeister ) Royal Mail don’t try automatically to redeliver the next day (like those nice DPD people do) or allow me to easily call a speaking robot (no ID, no work) to re-arrange for a time slot that suits me, I spend fully 25 minutes on hold waiting to speak to a very lovely and helpful real person, eating up pretty much my travel time to the depot.  Should be called a partial delivery service ? 

From my home office I interact with new entrants, who can have funky names like Yodel, using portfolio employment concepts ideal for retirees who usually use small, clean private cars, to pop by in the evenings when people are often home. Helping to make the roads less congested, delivering first time with happy, smiling staff who might deliver ten packages each shift…why is this kind of business model innovation so hard ?  Yet the propaganda of the freshly minted red army is intent on whining about being cherry picked by urban efficient Whistl (formerly TNT ) in a competitive market whilst beholden to the universal delivery obligation, every household nationwide, six days a week.  Letter delivery is a dying business, let us be upfront about this, bye bye Penny Black. Regulator Ofcom should continue to hold its ground deflecting the inevitable restructuring as long a possible.   Public ownership brings an even sharper stakeholder focus on the profit motive, but let’s not allow excessive profiteering take place in a terminal wind up.

I note that whilst Amazon the-virtual-shopping-mall is keen to capture your delivery experience for its trading associates, it does not invite the same feedback on its own service.  I would have recommended quite strongly to change its agreement with the Royal Mail, Amazon representing circa 6% of its packages volume.     It has figured this out without my help, with recent announcement that the trade-logistics western super power is building its own same day delivery using Connect Group’s newspaper distribution network.  
I’ve asked if the Royal Mail sells a safe store box, the Australians are on it already, the whinging POHM’s (Post Office of Her Majesty ?) offer Smart Lockers to solve the fake delivery note problem. 
The answer: no, and it does not recommend one either.  There is, however, a charged for service called SafePlace for business customers. Gouging a delivery premium for a basic service surely ? Hermes has recently arrived in our community of grocery store and customers rave about the pricing being one tenth that of the Royal Mail for packages to Australia. UK Mail have just emailed me a one hour delivery window and I can sign up for a free text alert for a tighter timing.  (For balance I have to note that my poorly wrapped drum has arrived damaged, again.)  And even if you do have a nominated safe place, they will not use it if the package needs signing for.  Customer empathy, what is that ?  The rules is the rules.  Of course lots of things in the Royal Mail system need signing for.  I assume through better tracking the newbie operators know where the packages are and can spot patterned theft.  I need not link up the gaps here… 

Now, to be clear - this isn't a rant about people in the Royal Mail, it's about the company.  Our posties are decent chaps (I'd say people - but both ours are men).  I particularly object to the whinging about the universal delivery obligation and being cherry picked when change focuses on squeezing additional sales revenues and shoring up a limited delivery offering.

I am delighted that finally in the 21st Century we are getting our postal delivery in the afternoon.  No pretense here, and the latest impressive performance stats show next day first class deliveries at 93.3%, 0.3 over target and second class 99%, half a point over target. Not just after at 11:00 - properly in the afternoon, in what is no longer an over night promise.  Great.  Of course, making deliveries in the afternoons makes that ‘next day’ delivery window that much easier to achieve.  Umm, is there not competitive pressure from our growing instant gratification culture to see same day deliveries ?  Customer problem solvers Amazon have city centre lockers, Prime for fast delivery and the headline capturing intention to drone.

I think the Royal Mail is in dire need of a CIO, Chief Innovation Officer, a Director for Service Excellence, and a Director of Marketing, not communications propaganda, which is terribly old fashioned. Look at how nimble, yet cash strapped, services are in the Irish Republic, innovating using generic reels of a sticky stamps, the price inked on at your point of order.  Resulting in fast and efficient service, gone the cost and hassle of managing high value stock books of paper money. Perhaps a broken economy helps drive the e-economy agenda harder. When will Royal Mail be introducing virtual stamps that you print yourself using PayPal or another online micro payments system ?  Australia Post, no longer targeted for privatisation, has got a clearer idea of its role in offering essential services for remoter communities.

Instead of droning on about the draining universal obligation, how about revolutionising the existing offer ?   Less Penny Black and more virtual enabled instant gratification is needed please.