Australia Post and navigating the last mile

Over the years, Australia Post has featured in this blog. And here. And over here too.

You would think I had no more to say on the topic. (Believe me, I’d prefer to have something else to write about – but it’s the summer, it was a long weekend, the weather is frying my brain, etc.)

But Auspost just loves to keep delivering poor service (see what I did there?).

From direct personal experience, four times in about as many weeks Auspost have failed to meet their own service levels for parcel delivery. In short, on each occasion their drivers claimed to have attempted delivery, but did not leave any notification. As a result, the parcels were delayed, and it was only when I received the “Final Reminders” from my local post office that I had any idea these items were awaiting collection.

Each time, I have lodged a formal complaint. In fact, I was encouraged to do so by the counter staff, who indicated that my experiences were not unique, and that they were as exasperated as I was. They also suggested that the front line staff are not being listened to by management.

With each complaint, I have been advised that “the relevant people will be spoken to”, and I have been assured “it will never happen again”. But it keeps happening, and nobody at Auspost can adequately explain why.

OK, so once could be a genuine error. Twice sounds like poor performance. Three times, and it starts to seem like a regular occurrence. But four times, and it points to a systemic problem, a failure which Auspost seems unable or unwilling to address.

So pervasive is Auspost’s reluctance to engage in genuine, honest and open dialogue with their customers (remember the National Conversation?), that at one point, a supervisor I spoke with refused to confirm the address of my local parcel delivery office. During another call, when I asked for some basic information as to whether other people in my area had made similar complaints, I was advised to submit a Freedom of Information request to obtain that sort of data.

After the second occasion, and sensing that Auspost was not getting the message, I also submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman. However, the latter said that “twice was insufficient” for their office to take any action. Ironically, the exact same time as I took the call from the Ombudsman, the postie was delivering yet another “Final Reminder” card, in respect to a third parcel for which there had been no evidence of a previous “Attempted Delivery”. I’m still waiting for the Ombudsman to get back to me….

More importantly, I’m still waiting for Auspost to notify me of what specific steps they have taken to resolve this pattern of poor service.

Meanwhile, Auspost keeps boasting about all the parcels they are delivering, thanks to the boom in online shopping. It’s just a pity that (from my experience), they are doing a really poor job of it.

Next week: What should we expect from our banks?



Update: Health, AusPost, eTaskr and Slow School

Over recent months, I have blogged about health and the digital economy, the challenges facing AusPost, the progress of eTaskr and the birth of Slow School of Business. Here are some updates on each of these topics:

IMG_0211Apple launches developer platform for health apps

On top of launching “Health” with iOS8, Apple has released a software tool called ResearchKit designed to help researchers and developers build and test new health apps.

I think that while we hear a lot about the Internet of Things (#IoT), health is one area where the connection of the physical and the digital will really deliver tangible benefits (not just a fridge with a screen…).

Australia Post plans to raise the cost of sending letters

In the wake of declining letter volumes (and poorer financial performance), AusPost is considering jacking up the price of letter postage, and introducing a 2-speed letter service.

While this is not a surprising move, it does seem shortsighted. Given the increase in parcel volumes, especially from e-commerce and small online purchases, I reckon AusPost would be better off with more refined domestic parcel rates. For example, using exactly the same dimensions and weight, I can either send an item as a “large letter” for $2.10 (which is perhaps too cheap?), or as a “small parcel” for $7.45 (which is incredibly expensive for an item that might cost no more than $25). Maybe different band rates of 50g, from 100g up to 500g (the current weight limit for a small parcel/large letter) or even 1kg  might be a better option, coupled with improved payment and lodgment automation? Just saying…

etaskr secures seed funding

Described as a “private label elance”, etaskr is a graduate of the AngelCube accelerator program, and was a finalist at last year’s Big Pitch organised by Oxygen Ventures.

Following their appearance at the Big Pitch, etaskr have recently closed $1.3m in seed funding from Oxygen Ventures. As mentioned in an earlier blog, etaskr is starting to see traction among corporate clients, including overseas markets, but the nature of the B2B sales cycle has meant that investors, incubators and accelerators are traditionally wary of such startups. Hopefully, this latest development will start to change market perception.

Slow School founder in the news

Finally, Carolyn Tate, the founder of Slow School of Business has been busy launching a new program of short courses (including Three of the Best) a new website and a new book. Oh, and she’s also become a B Corp. (Declaration of interest: I am a participant in, and adviser to, Slow School.)

Previously featured in Slow Living (required reading for the Slow Movement), Carolyn has taken a simple idea based on collaborative and peer-to-peer learning, and created a potentially disruptive platform for professional development and corporate training. Slow School is also tapping into the growing trend for people to work as independent contractors, freelancers and consultants (rather than permanent employees), and the dynamics of the digital economy where participants are also looking to make deep, personal connections rather than just online “friends”.

The new normal?

Post GFC, we’ve been told to expect a low/slow/no growth environment – that this is the “new normal”. I would add to that digital disruption, non-traditional commercial models and emergent ecosystems as being the other key influences on how we do business in this new environment. From what I have skim-read of the latest Intergenerational Report, the language is still couched in traditional terms of “jobs”, “productivity” and “industries”. Yes, there is mention of innovation, demographics, technology and flexible workplaces (i.e., deferring retirement?), but nothing that inspires me to think our political leaders understand what is really going on within the startup economy and the broader digital movement.

Next week: How to survive a Startup Weekend

Joining Australia Post’s “National Conversation”

In a previous blog, I offered some thoughts on the possible digital future for AusPost. In response, I have been contacted by one of their social media consultants, drawing my attention to the “National Conversation“.

First, I acknowledge that AusPost is attempting to have an “open” conversation with customers, but I don’t see how this is really helping, other than generating a range of (conflicting) opinions, with little cohesion around the key issues. Participation rates in the Topics to date has been very erratic (in terms of numbers, and geographic distribution).

Second, I have read CEO Ahmed Fahour’s latest address, and frankly it did not inspire me. Basically, it was a whinge about the decline in letter volume, and the “challenges” of the Internet (which, as he says, has been with us for 25 years…. hardly a new event!) I also think there are some factual inaccuracies in Mr Fahour’s assumptions: I don’t believe that Australians are any less digital citizens than their OECD counterparts – they have always been reasonably early adopters of new technology (as evidenced by the number of smart phones and tablets). Where they have been slow is in moving to online services, but this is in large part due to poor Internet services (notoriously slow connection speeds and restricted bandwidth, and exorbitant access fees), coupled with a paucity of reliable online platforms – which is ironic given the push towards eGovernment, eCommerce and the digital economy around 1999-2001.

Third, and staying on the topic of eCommerce, the one recurring theme that does emerge from the National Conversation so far is the high cost of sending small parcels. I agree with some of the feedback that it is often cheaper (and quicker!) to order consumer items from overseas online retailers. Shouldn’t Australian consumers expect to benefit from the economies of scale to be achieved from a growing parcel business?

Finally, my previous blog suggested that digital transactions are the future for AusPost (while acknowledging the need to maintain its statutory obligations for letter delivery) – but apart from e-mail and bill payments, Mr Fahour’s address was rather silent on this point. That scares me, as it suggests a lack of vision for an integrated digital strategy. After almost 5 years in the job, you’d think a few more ideas would have emerged by now.

(Afterthought: maybe AusPost should check out what Shomi is doing – a local start-up with some smarts in linking the physical and digital worlds.)