The UK’s Post Office is finally finding its feet in the digital world, and the man charged with helping the 380-year-old organisation to take its first steps says transformation is not necessarily all about change.
Speaking to EM360 after his speech at Europe’s Customer Festival, James de Souza, Head of Customer Analytics at Post Office, says: “Transformation at the Post Office isn’t about doing anything a whole heap differently, or necessarily being known for anything different.
“We still want to be the number one for mails in the UK, and a trusted provider for that.”
He says that but then he mentions how Post Office has worked with research agencies to hooking up customers to devices which monitor their heart and sweat rates and other metrics to see how they feel during a visit to a Post Office branch, of which there are around 11,500 — several hundred of which are managed directly by Post Office. The rest are franchise operations.
This level of detailed analysis of the customer journey has never been done before at the Post Office, and the results are quite staggering.
Of course simply collecting large amounts of data does not automatically lead to more sales, but when you look at the figures de Souza and his team have helped achieve, you might think they must be doing something right.
One of the most significant changes the Post Office wants to make is it wants to be seen as a place to go for a mortgage, not just sending letters to mortgage lenders, not that that happens much in this day and age of emails and online application forms.
“Yes, we want to grow our financial services offering because we think we can bring that to people in a way that is relatable, dependable and trustable, in a sector where trust is sometimes lacking.”
Transformation, says de Souza, is about the Post Office brand being a trusted one. “It’s not about doing anything phenomenally different.”
The Post Office, or at least its original forerunner, was established back in 1660 by the then government, or Charles II, to be specific. And it has been supported by the government ever since.
Now, however, with so much access to customer data across the whole of the UK population geographically as well as demographically, the Post Office is looking at becoming financially self-sufficient within a couple of years, says de Souza.
One of the routes to achieving this ambitious break-even point might be financial services.
De Souza says that by using data analytics to refine the customer journey the Post Office has increased the number of mortgage applications in a test region by 45 per cent during a campaign earlier this summer in the past year alone, and the growth is continuing.
How did de Souza and his team achieve this impressive figure?
De Souza explains: “In the simplest sense, our tests were all about saying, ‘We are going to make this product appeal to this particular customer need’.
“So it wasn’t about a demographic, it wasn’t even about loosely saying, ‘If you want to buy a house, buy a mortgage’.
“It was about saying, implicitly, ‘Mortgages can be confusing, we understand that, and what you’re trying to do is not just buy a house, actually you’re trying to buy a life, a dream, get your family onto the property ladder, and so on; we understand that; we’re a trusted, caring brand; you can come into a branch and we have people there who can guide you through this and we have all the relevant digital support behind that as well’.”
The Post Office, says de Souza, uses a hub-and-spoke system of financial advisers, spanning the whole country. This hub-and-spoke system also incorporates an online component, he adds.
Other lenders have also developed a centralised online system for their financial advisers. Nationwide, for example, uses call-centre type management system which uses remote advisers. This allows Nationwide financial advisers to see several customers where before they would have time to see one.
De Souza says: “The Post Office and we as a data analytics team have an opportunity in our network of branches to see customers in person. So our hub-and-spoke system means an adviser can be located in one branch but can visit other branches.
“We have web-spokes as well, which can utilise the digital resources and the resources we have on the ground to see a lot of people because we have so many branches.”
Nationwide, though not as old as the Post Office, was established 150 years ago, and is now the only remaining building society in the UK. Moreover, Nationwide’s shares are listed on the stock market.
The Post Office, too, may end up going to the stock market if it becomes profitable, and with all the growth in online shopping, it may well find its vast branch network gives it an advantage over even the ecommerce giants who are busy building a network of delivery and pick-up points.
But while the Post Office may have an advantage in that it has so many branches across the UK, it seems only now that the government-subsidised company is making use of data analytics and looking more closely at customer journeys to plot its own journey in the future.