Exploring Customer Experience and Business Agility with PostNord

Customer Experience and business agility is the topic I am exploring today. In a recent post, I was discussing some of the options organisations have today to address the changing customer engagement paradigm across their value chain.

I was arguing that, even though the aim of creating experiences that customers desire and want might sound easy, it often brings new challenges to firms.

I was concluding that beyond the technology itself, this changing customer engagement narrative requires new focus, new expertises, and the active participation in ecosystems.

When I was preparing this paper, I began to realise that this raises one fundamental question:

Many organizations have today implemented some kind of iterative, agile way of working.  They see this as an enabler of their strategy. Positively or negatively.

On the one hand, it helps firms with co-creation and new product development for instance.

On the other hand, it may result in companies wasting investments into a multitude of un-efficient, scattered projects. I call it the “Fragmentation syndrome”. Simultaneously, with those release trains, they lose the “big picture”, the actual visualization of the strategy for moving from A to Z.

My question is: How can organisations regain a long-term vision and a sense of direction, while being agile and flexible to changes in the business environment?

How can organisations regain a long-term vision and a sense of direction, while being agile and flexible to changes in the business environment?

To find out, I am speaking today to Anne-Christine Lane, Vice President and Head of Analytics & Automation at PostNord, the Nordic Postal Services company.

Her scope of responsibilities, bringing together analytics and automation, is very interesting in this discussion. Anne-Christine brings to the table today her unique experience of driving data-driven Customer Experience initiatives within a very complex industry.

Anne-Christine, welcome! I am delighted to have you here!

With PostNord, you are in the complicated business of logistics. It is all about the delivery experience: Getting a package to the customer at the right time. It is not an easy task. Behind the scene, it requires an extremely high level of sophistication and coordination across the network of PostNord locations.

Q.

Didier: Could you tell us about PostNord in 3 or 4 figures?

Anne-Christine: Absolutely. In 2019, PostNord delivered 2.9 billion letters and shipments, 179 million parcels to the Nordic region’s 27 million residents and two million businesses. We are around 28,500 employees with a net sale of 38 billion SEK. Our market is mainly the Nordic countries.  

Q.

How has Covid-19 complicated the delivery experience? Could you give us a glimpse of the kind of complexity you are facing?

Anne-Christine: Covid-19 has helped us becoming more customer centric. Due to a growing e-Commerce market and to Covid-19, PostNord has gained more business which means more parcels to handle and deliver from Business to Consumer.

We learned that consumers want home delivery, both attendant and un-attendant, within a fixed time range, with the new way of working and living. This of course puts new demands to our production, last mile delivery, terms and conditions on our products, development of digital tools, etc. 

Exploring Customer Experience with PostNord

Q.

Anne-Christine, are you primarily a business person or a technologist?

Anne-Christine: I’m both, a mix of business and tech; I studied Information technology and holds an executive MBA. That makes a great combination for me understanding business needs and the possibilities with technology.

Q.

You are Vice President and Head of Analytics & Automation, what does Customer Experience mean for you? What are the components of it?

Anne-Christine: A customer experience needs to be a smooth self-guiding experience. Effortless. If you have a business with your customer, use all data you have about your customer instead of asking for data again and again.

In terms of shopping on the internet my way of measuring great experience is “if I can shop while attending a meeting without anyone noticing then it´s a great, smooth and effortless experience”. It should be easy, maximum 2-3 clicks, and done.

Didier: I will keep this in mind for my next meeting!

Q.

I know you are very data-focused. How do you use data to support the customer experience and, more generally, all throughout your operations for your customers?

Anne-Christine: Everything we do is about data. We are moving around a lot of data that looks as parcels and letters. Almost everything in our production is traceable with an id and we use that information together with your choice of contact for notification, an e-mail address or a phone number. We connect this data, and the state of the product we are producing, and we have everything we need to understand what you as a customer can probably want from us at this point of contact.   

Q.

At the end of the day, is PostNord a data company that happens to be in the delivery business?

Anne-Christine: Today, yes definitely. And there is a lot more we can do with our data to become more data driven. With the huge number of data we handle, we have the ability to train models to see patterns and make different type of predictions to act instead of react.

Balancing target vision and flexibility for creating a great customer experience

Didier: Let’s talk about the way organisations address the customer experience and innovation topics. One thing that is consistent to many firms I am speaking to, is that they all want to be agile in some ways. And they are adopting new ways of working to be able to adapt their processes and people to changing conditions.

This is actually a very interesting phenomenon. Agility brings new opportunities, but also complications, with sometimes a lack of clear direction, of what to prioritise, of where to invest, or even no actual sense of completion…

Q.

Considering this risk, how important is for organisations to take a more high-level, holistic approach to Customer Experience?

Anne-Christine: You´re highlighting an interesting topic that also brings confusion into organizations.

I have experienced this not only in my daily work but also in benchmarks with others. I think it’s “easy” to see this type of transformation described in the article as a separate project. It needs to be done in a 360 perspective, I’m thinking: how we are organized, process ownership, who owns the full experience of the value chain, competence within stakeholders and a willingness, understanding and support from the senior executive leadership. It brings a complexity you can’t really foresee before starting the journey, and all organizations looks different.

I think a great thing is to dare to start without the full plan as this is an agile transformation and behavior and needs are changing along the way.

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Fine-tuning the agile way of working

Didier: You are bringing the topic of agility. But becoming agile is not straight forward. I have seen a few common reasons for slowing down the pace: how firms that are not structurally optimised to be agile become more agile?

Didier: Considering that traditional companies have quite often rigid structures and procedures, then working horizontally across those structures can be difficult. It may ultimately lead to the co-existence of 2 parts within the organisation – an agile one and a non-agile one.

I think it is easy to understand the complication this brings in terms of coordination, communication, and alignment efforts between those 2 groups at the end of the day.

Q.

So, how do you balance this complexity at PostNord?

Anne-Christine: We probably share a lot of challenges with other large companies. Only by being large makes complexity. Our business is also in transformation, with letters declining and e-Commerce logistics growing and strong customers with high demands.

There is no “one solution way of working” in our business. We strive to become more agile and in the same time we need structured processes. We need to be precise and exact. We started our agile journey within IT-development, Administration and Digital development, supported by senior executive leadership, implementing the model “with common sense”.

We made huge organizational changes over the past years improving ways of working. We are on a constant transformation journey due to digitalization and fast-growing e-Commerce market.

Q.

In your view, what are the challenges or mistakes that you see companies making when going agile?

Anne-Christine: I think agile is a lot about leadership and management. It’s easy to underestimate the need of change and adjustment inside an organization. If you compare this with being at sea, and you change from a motorboat to a sail ship you would ask yourself if you can do this with the same crew, is the crew enough trained to manage the new situation and the equipment, is there a need of new competence, different roles and changed responsibilities and so on.

Going agile requires you to build an organization with ability and competence to solve problems when they appears, develop new ideas and optimize processes when needed. Nurture your organization to dare changes and take ownership.

Q.

In some cases, we must admit that agile may not be the way to go. Do you have exceptions when you are using a waterfall methodology instead of SAFe / agile?

Anne-Christine: For example, when we design and build new terminals/buildings and develop machines/hardware in our core production I’m sure waterfall methodology is a great way of working.

Q.

Thank you so much Anne-Christine for this conversation, and sharing some very good lessons learned. Can you leave us with 2 or 3 takeaways, advice that everyone can learn from your experience?

Anne-Christine: Understand what problem you need to solve before starting. Never decide on the solution or technology before understanding the business needs. And always start from the customers view to understand how you are perceived. I know it´s all easier said than done.

Didier: Thanks so much Anne-Christine!

I hope you enjoyed the article! Please leave us a review, I love reading them!

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About the Author

Didier Dessens

CRM and Digital Experience Advisory

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