“In future, Swiss Post customers will be able to do everything in one place”
With insurance or banking transactions, public services and digital advice, Swiss Post is taking giant steps into the future. Thomas Baur, Head of PostalNetwork, explains in an interview why opening the network is an essential step and why the network will be stabilized at about 800 self-operated branches.
In 2016, Swiss Post announced its intention to turn post offices into branches with partners. What progress has been made to date?
Much has been done since 2017 and we have accomplished a great deal. We have increased the number of access points throughout Switzerland by 500. We are nevertheless a little behind schedule with regard to transforming the branches. Both the new regulatory requirements and the coronavirus have slowed us down somewhat, so that we will probably only reach the planned number of 800 self-operated branches by the end of 2021.
About the coronavirus. What “Swiss Post coronavirus” insights have you drawn from this?
During the first two weeks, we were in completely uncharted waters. There was a general lack of material such as sheets of Plexiglas, appropriate signage and disinfectant. Thanks to the efficient crisis management, we observed progress being made every day. Naturally, certain fears and misgivings arose among the staff, because contradictory information was circulating about the virus and the correct behaviour to adopt. Everyone in the different entities – be it delivery, logistics or the branches – deserves great praise. They handled the situation in an extremely professional manner. Even the works inspectorates which reviewed our measures gave us a good score for having implemented the safety precautions correctly. Most importantly, we were able to prove that we were there for the population during the crisis while guaranteeing the safety of both the customers and our staff. We demonstrated that we are genuinely systemically important and that the network is an essential element of both Swiss Post and Switzerland as a whole. This realization confirms the new strategy which we recently announced.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
The new strategy plans to stabilize the number of self-operated branches at 800 and to further increase the number of access points, in particular for posting and collecting parcels. At the same time, opening the network to external partners is all the more important as we are observing a fall in customer visits to the branches that has been accentuated by the coronavirus criss. In this respect, opening the network is an essential step enabling us to provide customers with additional services, and thus value added in the branches.
What will a visit to a Swiss Post branch be like in the future? What changes will this entail for customers?
It will be possible to do several jobs at once at a Swiss Post branch, whether carrying out an insurance, health insurance or banking transaction. That is very convenient for the customers: they can do everything in the same place. Furthermore, we have observed that there is an increasing need to provide customers with advice in digital matters, be it with regard to installing and using apps, new online products, changes or mobile solutions. We therefore hope that in addition to postal services, customers will also make use of other services or personal advice. Swiss Post would like to accompany the population through the digitization process. This enables us to support the Federal digital strategy throughout the country.
Digital enabling is a major wish, across all units.
And what is the situation for business customers?
Here too we are expanding our range of services. The topic of self-service is at the top of the list of priorities – both private and business customers want to be able to do business 24/7. Not only during opening hours. This means payment machines, parcel terminals, etc. For business customers, we are continuing to invest in locations or so-called ‘business customer boxes’ so that they can deal with matters quickly and easily. These are locations in industrial zones which are easily accessible by car.
How are the discussions with partners progressing so that it will be possible to open the network?
We are already conducting discussions with a wide range of service providers, and a great deal of interest is being shown. The next step is to look at how exactly the services can be incorporated into the overall offer. We must also determine the corresponding price models while completing numerous other tasks. It would be desirable to draw up at least a pilot project by the end of the year and to be able to sign the first contracts in 2021. We want to attract new customers – by partners bringing new customers to the branches so that PostalNetwork increases in value.
What is the main requirement of future partners?
As we have already said, discussions have just begun but one common theme is already emerging: digital enabling is a major wish across all units. This means that partners count on the know-how of our staff, in particular in relation to consulting and support for online and mobile services. Digital services must either be explained to customers or we must handle them on-site. The need is there. We simply need to convince customers that they will receive good advice from us together with the services they are looking for. In that way, Swiss Post branches will remain relevant. That is our goal.