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Monday, May 5, 2014

UPU News : Thinking of the customer

As Posts face increased competition and position themselves to seize the opportunities of cross-border e-commerce, customers must be able to choose among a range of products and services that meet their needs, says Royal Mail's Chris Powell, chair of the new product strategy and integration group under the UPU’s Postal Operations Council. 
Why was a product strategy and integration group created at this particular time? 
Several Congress resolutions and the Doha Postal Strategy are pushing for a more integrated approach to products and services. For example a resolution on merchandise returns was adopted specifically for the return of parcels. But why should we restrict ourselves to parcels when our customers’ needs extend beyond that? Customers don’t care if it’s a parcel, a packet or an EMS item, they just want to return unwanted goods. 

So it’s about keeping the customer top of mind… 
Indeed, integration challenges us to think more about the customer. We need to change our approach because we’re not the only game in town. As the market changes, we’re moving to parcels and packets, a more deregulated marketplace where there are lots of players and cross-border opportunities. If we want to be around for years to come, we have to offer a sustainable product range. 

Have we been so negligent of customers’ needs in the past? 
Moving into an increasingly competitive marketplace forces us to look at customer needs more thoroughly. It’s not just about looking at what we may need to change; it’s about how to make those changes through the UPU regulations that creates challenges for my group.
For example, an e-commerce customer may want one price for the product she’s buying, including postage, packing and customs charges. We should work with the customs group to create a better proposition that motivates customers to use cross-border e-commerce, which is what we want. 

Do member countries stand to win or lose from product integration?
When we talk about our three product streams, the remuneration member countries receive for processing international packets, parcels or  EMS items all come under separate remuneration schemes. If product integration puts remuneration under the microscope, designated operators might have more to win or lose from working in an integrated way. But ultimately it is important that the customer be the winner. If we can get rid of silos in the portfolio of products that go through the UPU network, we will have more sustainable products and be able to compete more effectively with the integrators and others. 

How do you define sustainable products? 
At the moment, there’s confusion between our product ranges and thus for the customer, too.
At Royal Mail, on a 2 kg item there are nine service options. This is confusing for the customer. In the United Kingdom domestic market, we are eradicating this by having a more streamlined option.
We need to do the same at the UPU to eliminate overlaps and enable the customer to choose clearly between express, parcel and packet. While still offering proof-of-delivery, track and trace and other options, we need to see how we can do that in a more streamlined way so it’s more user-friendly for customers. That’s what I mean by sustainable product. 

The goal of product integration is to prepare Posts to be more competitive and face the challenges of e-commerce. Won’t this require the UPU to move fast?
When we put our mind to it, we can make things happen. In 2001 we implemented pay-for-performance for EMS and the approach has since moved to other areas. The UPU also worked quickly in setting up the Global Monitoring System.
If we have to decide quickly, we have the structure within the Postal Operations Council and the Council of Administration to handle that.
Yes, we have to work with the organization and 192 members. But it’s still better to go through a multilateral approach than negotiate many bilateral agreements. 
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