Last week’s Delivery Conference was themed “Leaders and Heroes” and as I absorbed the sense of mission and energy among the delegates it struck me that this was a very appropriate theme for an industry that has its roots far back in history, where often it took a heroic physical effort from carriers to ensure that “the mail must get through” against the odds. While the noble postie on horseback may have been replaced by a complex and multichannel delivery network, the sense of purpose around delivery remains very true to that philosophy of customer service and delivery no matter what.
It’s also true that there has always been a culture of innovation around delivery; a sense that we can continuously evolve to do it faster, better and more efficiently. The Delivery Conference, with its array of presentations from companies that are pushing the envelope of speed, service and enabling technologies, underlined that this is still very much the case. Delivery has always been a competitive differentiator, too, and more than ever customers are seeing delivery of “anything, anywhere, anytime” as being the cornerstone of the customer service that they expect. It’s a crucial point of differentiation and those companies that truly are faster, better and more efficient stand to reap the ultimate reward of valuable customer loyalty.
So, as we compared notes on the peak period and learned of triumphs and challenges, what are the messages that I took away from the event?
Innovate to exceed expectations – and collaboration is key
Customer expectations around delivery continue to soar and we will need all the entrepreneurial spirit that characterises our industry to meet and exceed them. Innovation is undoubtedly critical and there were some truly ground-breaking ideas on view among the stands and speakers at the conference. However, while technologies such as automated drone and robotic vehicle delivery attract the headlines and appeal to our sci-fi fantasies, it could be that good old-fashioned collaboration is the answer to competing with some of the delivery giants of the world and addressing the challenge of the last-mile. Quinten Francken-Bosman, group shipping and procurement director for Photobox, called on carriers to really get in tune with their customers and think about collaboration to consolidate deliveries, reduce congestion and increase customer convenience. In her heartfelt speech she called for carriers to recognise the “clear demand for consolidation.”
Francken-Bosman wasn’t the only one to voice this opinion. John Lewis’ Operations Director Dino Rocos pointed out that customers don’t care whether their product has been carried in a different branded truck to the organisation they purchased from, while ASDA’s senior director of parcel services Paul Anastasiou expounded the benefits they have seen through partnering with fashion retailer ASOS.
Undoubtedly, for collaboration schemes to be successful there will need to be intelligent integration and sharing of data and systems. As Dino Rocos pointed out: “You need real brains for it – and they exist in retail.” Indeed, ours is an intelligent industry.
Knowledge is power
Speaking of intelligence, the more data that carriers can gather about their customers, the better they can serve them. This means keeping abreast of customer preferences and adapting services to suit. For example, click and collect continues to grow in popularity, with specialist CollectPlus recently topping a customer satisfaction survey in the delivery sector. During the conference I heard several other examples of carriers responding to customer feedback by offering differentiated delivery and returns services so it’s clear that having open feedback channels and touchpoints with customers is shaping the way in which delivery is evolving. Truly, knowledge is power when aiming to gain a competitive edge.
Challenges of GDPR and Brexit
Looking forward to the next 18 months there are two overriding challenges that we are facing as an industry and indeed as a nation: GDPR and Brexit. These were discussed officially at separate roundtables at the event, and unofficially around almost every corner. While organisations are doing their best to get their houses in order and learn as much as possible about the laws, regulations and customs procedures that they will need to comply with, there is still a sense of uncertainty as to how everything will play out. Certainly, with the UK’s relationship with the EU under strain it would seem prudent for UK businesses, whose products are highly desirable in markets outside the EU, to be looking to sharpen up their global fulfilment capabilities to spread risk and take advantage of potential widening overseas customer bases.
One of the most striking things for me about The Delivery Conference was that, for an industry that has been in existence for hundreds, if not thousands of years, there is frequently a sense of the energy that’s more commonly associated with start-ups. Indeed, there are a wave of disruptive new entrants to the industry who are appreciated for the fresh approaches and new ideas that they bring to the table. There is a sense of excitement, mission and purpose and that’s why I’m confident that, whatever the future holds, our delivery heroes of today can take on the challenges and win.