As you’ve probably witnessed first-hand in your own business, technology is changing the way business is done.
From cloud-based applications and online tools, to back-office inventory and billing systems, technology has replaced many manual and inefficient processes to enable businesses to operate more effectively in a borderless and connected world of commerce.
In this new world of commerce, shipping has become even more critical as businesses compete for and serve clients remotely and connect with their vendors and suppliers. However, companies face an uphill challenge to manage the increasing complexity and growing volume of sending, which includes everything an organization sends out, from parcels and overnight envelopes, to bills and statements.
A big challenge for businesses today is that sending in the office environment is becoming more complex. There are three reasons for this increased complexity and they’re driven by technology.
Addresses are in a number of different places—in Outlook email contacts, browser-based email contacts, on physical mailing lists, business cards, post-it notes, and decks that haven’t been input into any system. It can take a while for addresses that were collected through different media and by varying methods to be consolidated into one database. This is a major handicap given the speed of modern business.
Carriers offer more alternatives. Technology allows carriers to do a better job of serving specific client needs. This creates a greater range of options. Unfortunately, there are often an overwhelming number of alternatives—far too many for smaller businesses without dedicated shipping staff to evaluate.
The way technology is changing how businesses conduct business makes sending more important in day-to-day operations. Business has become digitally based. Co-workers connect with each other and customers connect with companies by phone, text, email, and on public and proprietary social platforms. Thanks to smartphones, tablets, and Wi-Fi, these digital connections are proliferating from, literally, almost anywhere in the world, to almost anywhere in the world. Yet, as we become more digitally connected, office sending has become more frequent and critical.
Let’s explore this last point.
None of the new technology replaces the need for tactile experience. From carpet samples to fabric swatches, to paint chips to music clips, there are many things customers need to see, hear, or touch before they buy. If you’re no longer physically connecting with each other, you have to send these things. And even if samples aren’t needed, catalogs, product sheets, and other forms of printed documentation often are.
Doctors, lawyers, and dentists also need to physically send documents and items – from dental molds to blood samples, as part of their work. Digital technologies underlie and enable their businesses, allowing them to better serve their customers, which in turn increases the amount of sending that supports those clients.
Finally, technology is changing selling itself. Today, local small businesses to Amazon are conducting business and commerce over the Internet. This growth of e-commerce generates even more sending. And as the marketplace expands from local to global, new sending complexities arise—from regional carrier requirements to cross-border rules and regulations.
This growing sending complexity has dramatic implications for everyone – businesses, carriers, and solutions providers. We wanted to better understand the situation—and to benchmark how small- and medium-sized businesses are in dealing with it. So, we engaged an industry leading market research firm to conduct a global study of the changing paradigm for sending mail, large envelopes, and packages. We surveyed more than 3,000 people and held more than 70 interviews on four continents. In addition to business respondents, our researchers contacted people working for 10 national posts and shipping carriers. Our goal was to learn firsthand how businesses are dealing with these new sending challenges across the globe.
A Look at Sending Today
The research delivered some important findings:
- Businesses recognize how important sending is to their business and the critical role it plays in maintaining and growing their customer relationships.
- Businesses make delivery decisions based on a range of factors that change by item and time of day.
- The complexities of sending operations can be a constant source of disruption to daily workflows.
- Financial transactions and record keeping slow down all the sending workflows they touch.
- Businesses put a big effort into cultivating relationships, believing every customer touch point matters, especially with e-commerce; but they don't have the time or the insight needed to optimize the transactions that are so critical to those relationships.
The study also revealed that three major factors are making sending increasingly complex all over the globe:
- Each carrier has a processes. This makes it difficult to seamlessly unify an approach across carriers. Businesses want a sending solution that works seamlessly across posts and carriers, and across mail, flats, and small parcels.
- There is tremendous growth in e-commerce fulfillment as a result of small and medium businesses employing a range of web-commerce platforms. This adds to the complexity.
- Cross-border shipping growth further increases complexity. As companies take their businesses global through e-commerce, they must deal with new challenges, such as multiple currencies, country-specific tariffs, and growing compliance and regulatory issues.
Not surprisingly, businesses would like the sending process to be simpler and more efficient. Yet they’re using the same approaches to sending they always have. The following are three things businesses can do right now to start taking control of this growing complexity.
Research available technology. Technology has introduced more complexity into the sending process – this has created new problems. But the fact is technology also is providing some useful tools to simplify the process and solve those problems. For example, technology solutions can help you get the right data and immediately apply it, so you can stop spending time handwriting air bills. Check out what’s available to streamline your way through the complexity.
Optimize and standardize sending processes, company-wide. Do a sending audit, looking at all operational behaviors. Are you doing mail in one place and packages in another? Where are tracking numbers kept? Are you paying different rates to the same carrier? Are different people in the organization sending differently? You can optimize the process by keeping all parcel sending in one place, putting all tracking numbers in one database, reviewing all carrier rates, and creating a standard sending policy. Not having visibility into how sending is done within your organization costs money.
Put meeting customer needs and maintaining customer contact at the center of your sending strategy. Use the carrier or carriers that best serve the area your customer is in. Provide sending options for purchases that meet or beat your competition on cost and delivery times. Offer ready access to samples and detailed printed documentation. Remember that in today’s digital world, sending is now an important way to physically contact your customers.
Businesses want to see a complete sending solution that can manage the challenges they face every day: variations in sending volumes, more precise data quality on shipments and delivery performance, real-time carrier pick-up notification, delivery tracking, late delivery notification, end-to-end sending analytics, and streamlined, consolidated carrier payment terms. This is even more critical as the cost of sending edges up. Private carriers have recently hiked their rates and on January 17, 2016, the USPS will increase their package sending rates.
Ultimately, businesses of all sizes need a unified approach to the sending process from a single source of hardware and software solutions. This would create a single platform to address challenges throughout the sending workflow, end-to-end.
About the Author: Jeff Crouse is the Vice President of Pitney Bowes.