Q&A: Innovation and customer experience design at EP&PS

by Matthew Wittemeier

The European Post & Parcel Services (EP&PS) conference in Amsterdam wrapped up yesterday and with a conference theme of "Innovation in focus: future trends in postal services and delivery", I was keen to catch up with Alex van Winckel and Markus Sekula, consultants for INFORM's Logistic Division who attended the event, to ask them to share their insights.

What were the main takeaways from this year's EP&PS conference?

Two themes reverberated throughout the conference: customer experience design and technological innovation as a business enabler. The presentations and experts we engaged with throughout the conference kept coming back to designing products and services around the customer's expectations. As customers within the industry, it is refreshing to see major players taking such a user-centric view in the future of their businesses.

We expected to see technological innovation at the conference, and we were not let down. Technology underpinned nearly every presentation. It drove home the importance of technological advancements in both the business and consumer markets. It also was quite clear how, increasingly, technologies in our personal (consumer) lives are perpetually interconnected with the business world.

What are some examples of how customer experience design is driving service and product innovation?

Customer experience design is a shift that has affected businesses in almost every industry around the world. As a software provider, where the concept was developed, INFORM knows this all too well. You could argue it was only a matter of time before the parcel industry adapted it. At its core, customer experiences can now be measured and analyzed in ways that weren't possible five or ten years ago. This constant feedback loop, subsequent data points, and business intelligence combine to enrich the product and services design process. Further, this shift in thinking acknowledges that when customers win, so does business.

There were a few standout presentations that drove this concept home for us: SingPost's presentation on e-commerce in the East, Fietskoeriers.nl rethinking last mile presentation and Omniva's presentation that included a portion on parcel lockers. Each of these highlighted how careful consideration of the customer strongly influenced their service and product design.

In SingPost's case, they presented a very interesting case study of how they've become heavily involved in the customer facing process for their major clients. This, in turn, eliminates middle-man processes, decreases costs and improves quality. These have led to measured improvements in customer satisfaction and has improved the experience and service for everyone.

Fietskoeriers.nl presentation delved into innovation in last mile delivery using bicycles combined with technology to enable improved delivery experiences to customers. In their example, delivery could be made to a dynamic location, meaning customers wouldn't have to wait at home to receive packages. Instead, they could get on with their lives and have packages come to them wherever they might be. Finally, Omniva's presentation included an element of the increasing use of parcel locker technology. In Germany, demand has been slow to grow, because if you're not home, it is very common for parcels to be left with your neighbors. However, during their presentation, they pointed out that this isn't common in most cultures. Looking at the customer's cultural expectations influences a parcel operator's service design in the locker space.

What technological innovation did you see?

A common expression at the conference is that our smartphones are the remotes of our lives. We live in a time where technology has evolved into an enabler of the customer experience journey and not the experience destination in itself. Fietskoeriers.nl's last mile bike delivery is a great example - the entire venture is underpinned by technology.

There is technology in an app (or interface) that enables Fietskoeriers.nl and its customers to communicate locations and delivery windows accurately and undoubtedly, a complex optimization system in the back-end crunching all the data to pull this service off. The sheer number of moving parts in this example make it a technological masterpiece. But, the end game is an improved customer experience around parcel delivery - i.e., technology = passive enabler, not the experience.

Another notable technological innovation was the presentation delivered by what3words on delivering a globally-scalable addressing system (you've got to give their technology a go, we've got three words for you: wise.zwar.wirkung). The complexity of what they've built, at a technological level would be impressive on its own; however, the simplicity it delivers when compared to current address systems is succinctly powerful - it is the real innovative winner in our book.

What is the largest challenge still facing the parcel industry?

Leveraging big data; the world is keen to move on from big data to artificial intelligence this year. But, the adoption of big data in business and industry is still moderate at best. Further, big data and business intelligence is one thing - operationalizing these insights is another. Without action, big data and the insights it can provide are just fancy graphs you show at board meetings.

Where should INFORM be focusing in the post and parcel space?

As a provider of Agile Optimization Systems for over 40 years, INFORM is uniquely qualified to help parcel operators leverage big data business insights and use them to improve operational processes in their parcel center yards and further into their hubs. INFORM's latest software innovation, Smart Link, features a direct link between a hub's sorters and all inbound loading units, allowing hubs to balance peaks and troughs within their sorting center through improved yard management. This leads to improved overall hub utilization. It's an exciting combination of technologies: the yard management system, the parcel sorting system, big data insights, and Agile Optimization coming together to enhance the design of parcel sorting facilities.

Did you attend the EP&PS conference; have we missed something you found interesting?

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About the author

  • Matthew Wittemeier

    Matthew Wittemeier is Director Marketing and Sales at INFORM's Terminal & Distribution Center Logistics Division where he’s become a thought-provoking contributor to many industry publications and conferences. He’s also co-author of the award winning 2038: A Smart Port Story - a story about the future of technology and the social challenges it may bring.

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