About the organisation
A commercial business with a social purpose. We have 11,500 branches across the UK offering hundreds of products and services, including mail, banking, insurance, mortgages, and government services. We are the hub of many towns and villages across the UK, especially for the elderly and the vulnerable. Postmasters, who are the people that run post office branches, offer more than just services; they can be integral to their community and make a meaningful impact within society.
What challenges were you trying to address?
We faced a lot of key challenges during this time, the main issues were:
- Keeping branches open with a number closing due to staff sickness or COVID-associated reasons
- Supply chain issues and difficulties due to businesses being affected by COVID-19, which had a knock-on effect on us
- Issuing PPE equipment to frontline and supply-chain staff to keep them safe
- Putting in place a financial remuneration package for our postmasters due to a dramatic fall in customer numbers to ensure they stayed in business
- Ensuring we were meeting our social purpose as an organisation that has a unique presence due to our access to essential services like mail, banking, government services and telecoms.
What goals or outcomes did the Post Office want to achieve?
We wanted to ensure postmasters knew that we recognised their value and understood their concerns. We also wanted to maintain services at a level where customers knew they could still use their local post offices and ensure that the business and branches remained financially viable during and after the crisis.
What was your solution?
We established a Rapid Response Team with daily morning meetings to assess the situation on the ground and look to establish and coordinate effectively and efficiently what work needed doing.
We set up daily conference calls with our central government shareholder (BEIS/UKGI) in the run-up to lockdown and throughout the crisis. This ensured a constant flow of information back and forth and a single point of contact for both organisations to discuss operational impact, number of branch closures, availability of PPE equipment, antibody testing rollout etc.
Postmasters were provided with an initial remuneration package that kept them in business regardless of whether they had to close their branch due to sickness. A subsequent package has encouraged postmasters to return to business wherever possible.
We allowed customers to use their Travel Money Card to access cash which meant that they didn’t lose the foreign currency they may have purchased for a holiday that was subsequently cancelled.
We repurposed our travel money business to establish a cash delivery service to enable those shielding to have money delivered to their homes.
We focused on core business activities and redirected capacity from parts of the business that were dormant to where it was needed most thus making the best use of the resources, we had available. A lot of our customers run small businesses and often do that through their local post office branch. However, a number of branches were closed, which led to us getting hotspots where we were losing branches. We also replaced mobile services that had stopped due to branch closures, by setting up pop-ups in village halls to keep running on reduced hours. It was key that all of our communications to the media and public included that while many Post Office’s may be closed, we were still keeping a very significant portion of the network open.
I’m incredibly proud of our postmasters and branch staff for their dedication to serving customers and keeping the largest retail network in the UK open for business during this difficult time. [I applaud] their dedication and hard work in keeping their Post Office open and making sure that some of the country’s most vulnerable people can benefit from essential services.— Nick Read, Chief Executive, Post Office
How did you roll out your approach?
We needed to enhance our communication with our own postmasters. When you have over 11,000 branches, that’s a lot of people that you need to communicate effectively to at a time like this. Without them, our business doesn’t exist.
We used existing technologies to roll out a new microsite, which we used as a one stop shop to share information about how the company would help them, how to access PPE, and for them to voice their concerns.
We also introduced a new web facility for postmasters to update their hours on our Branch Finder website, to keep customers informed.
The difficulties we encountered often revolved around the time taken to make decisions and get the appropriate sign off. This wasn’t helped by the remote working environment, meaning that no direct round-table discussions were possible. We are hoping to improve this going forward but it is a constant learning curve.
One of the things the Rapid Response Team has led to is a review of exactly what the Post Office is for and the strategic direction we will be heading in as we move from the immediate crisis and transition to a more BAU position.
What have the results been?
A robust network that has kept high levels of branches open, albeit on reduced hours, as well as staff who are being kept safe either by working from home or through use of PPE and social distancing measures.
A business which is still going to be in a robust economic state when we exit lockdown and return to “normal” and a “drumbeat” of good news stories about the discretionary work of our branch colleagues highlighting where they are going above and beyond for their communities. For example, a postmaster in Lancashire called Azim Shaikh decided to move into his Post Office to keep business going and his family home infection-free.
Lots of branches and postmasters are playing an integral part into their local communities. For many small towns and villages, the Post Office is the heart of their community and they know their local residents very well so we found that lots of postmasters were delivering food and essential supplies to the elderly and vulnerable residents or they would make sure that their shops were full stocked with medicine, toilet roll and all the things that people were in desperate need of.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
Concentrating on core services is key, not worrying too much about being able to offer every product or service that you have always had, but the services people value the most. Our postmasters are independent and self-employed, so they know their customers best and so it was vital for us to listen to their feedback and use that information to help make critical business decisions, so a bottom up system rather than unilaterally implementing business decisions from the top down that weren’t going to resonate with our colleagues on the ground.