Post Office Ltd is a retail post office company in the UK that offers a wide range of products from postage stamps through broadband services to banking, delivered via a nationwide network of post office branches. It was founded in 1986 as a state-owned private company out of what used to be known as Post Office Counters.
In recent years the firm has struggled with losses and most recently was at the center of a major political row involving an abortive IT project, Horizon. And of course, this year, in common with every organization across every business sector, the COVID-19 crisis has brought fresh challenges. As James Scutt, Head of Customer Experience Strategy and Deployment, told the recent Qualtrics Work Different event:
I've worked for the Post Office for about 15 years now and during that time I've seen so many changes take place, but none as big as the changes we made during COVID-19, and certainly those changes weren't made as fast as well.
The importance of the Post Office as part of the UK landscape cannot be understated. In the UK, there are over 11,500 branches with an estimated 99.7% of the country’s population living within 3 miles of one. Today, the firm offers more than 170 different products and services. Scutt elaborated:
We are number one in mail and parcels in the UK, and that's our primary business, being the UK Post Office. But we've expanded out into financial services - you can buy a mortgage, you can buy credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts as well. So we really are providing lots of services for the people in the UK, much more than just the mail.
At the forefront of Scutt’s role is the customer and the experience that customer has when he or she accesses one or more of those various services. COVID-19 has put this even more firmly into focus as the company adjusted some of its operations to accommodate the new realities brought on by the pandemic. Scutt explained:
I’m obsessed by the things that really matter to our customers. When we took five years worth of data and we looked back across that data, we understood that our customers were looking for six distinct areas in the behaviors that we display when we serve them in branch. We turn to these as customer drivers. They are friendly, professional, knowledge, understanding, efficiency and expectations. That's what you find at the core of [the Post Office] customer experience programme.
COVID-19 has added to this lexicon:
As we moved through the very early stages of COVID-19, we soon realised that a seventh driver was coming into play very quickly and that driver was identified through Qualtrics analytics to be ‘keep me safe’. Customers were talking about this in their droves. Because it was so important to customers, it had to feature in our CX programme, so we put that at the forefront of our decision-making process.
We made a number of physical changes. In branch, [people] will all be used to seeing different screens going up to keep both employees and customers safe. We put in very clear signage, so that customers knew to stay the regulated distance apart. We put in very clear floor signage as well so that customers could be helped to stand in the right place to keep everybody safe. And of course, we made personal protective equipment available to our branch teams as quickly as possible, so that we could help them feel safe in their jobs as well. These were big challenges for our teams to overcome and I know the postmasters that run those branches did an amazing job and really showed that they cared for their customers.
As a direct response to the pandemic, the Post Office also launched three new product offerings, said Scutt:
The first product was Payout Now, where a company would come to the post office and they would sign up to our service and then send letters out to their customers with a unique barcode. Customers could take that letter straight into their local post office and they could scan that barcode and we could give them cash that they could use straightaway.
Our next product was Fast Pace. This is a same day, check-cashing programme where customers who can't, or are not allowed to, come out of their house because they're in isolation or are shielding, can give a check to a trusted person. That person can then come to a post office, any post office, and have that check cashed straight away and leave with the cash to go back with for that person.
The last product that we introduced, possibly the most impactful, was Cash Direct. We've been sending foreign currency orders to customers direct to their home via secure mail for a number of years now. We re-purposed that product to be able to send normal cash to our customers who needed it, who again couldn't leave home or couldn't come out for obvious reasons during COVID-19.
Aware that a new approach was needed in the crisis conditions, the Post Office took a lot of advice, including tapping into data and insights gleaned from Qualtrics, explained Scutt:
With our new driver in place around keeping safe, we had that at the heart of our interest. So the first thing that we did was give very different guidance to our branch teams. We have about 100 area managers across the country. The guidance that we gave to our field managers was to forget about numbers. Do not talk about numbers, because right now what people need is positivity. So don't talk about targets, don't talk about numbers. What we asked them to talk about was the great comments that were coming back from our customers - and there were thousands of them. They were telling us that they absolutely appreciated us being there and were really pleased with the service that we gave.
The virus outbreak also resulted in a decision to pull forward a number of planned initiatives, most notably a new Customer Experience University initiative. This is an important CX innovation for the Post Office, said Scutt:
What this targeted programme does is it allows you to look at things from the viewpoint of your customers, put yourself in your customers shoes, really take into account your own behaviors and match them against times when you're shopping as a customer yourself and see if there are small traits within your behaviors that you could change that would make the experience you give to your customers even better than it was before. All of our area managers have now been through this process, and they’re signed off. We have other people to accredit each other so that we make sure the knowledge is there. And of course, as we accredit an individual branch as going through our foundation level, we will be able to track them through Qualtrics.
It’s been a difficult year for the Post Office as it has for so many in the retail sector, but Scutt believes that the firm has risen to the challenges to date:
It will, of course, be very difficult living through COVID-19 and more so for our branch teams. They’ve really stepped up. They've provided amazing customer experience to our customers, all the way through the COVID-19 challenge, and to our postmasters who kept our branches open as many hours as they possibly could. It was great for me personally, to see that the Post Office got ranked number one for the second time running in the UK customer service index released Carnegie Institute of Customer Service.