Interview with Cyril McGrane, director of international trade and manager of the Covid-19 Response Taskforce, An Post Mails and Parcels.
This feature represents part of a series of interviews with executives from posts around the world looking at how the global pandemic affected operations. Read the June issue of Parcel and Postal Technology International magazine and follow www.parcelandpostaltechnologyinternational.com to find out how other posts performed during these unprecedented times.
How has An Post’s parcel and letter delivery numbers performed?
Parcel volumes have increased by more than 100% while business letter volumes have been seriously impacted – down more than 25%. Direct Mail has been seriously impacted. Personal mail, which accounts for less than 10% of all mail, has remained strong, and personal over-the-counter parcels have increased as people send care packages to family and friends remaining at home.
Did you launch any new services to meet demand?
Yes, we launched the following services:
- A newspaper delivery service in conjunction Irish national and local newspapers;
- An Online Check-In service where customers could request a specific check-in by the local postal worker, with a specific elderly or vulnerable relation. Our staff were checking in anyway on all their older and vulnerable customers and those living in particularly isolated rural areas. This service ensured that certain addresses were prioritized for such a socially-distanced call. Where the customer was found to be in need of assistance, the postal operative linked them up with specialist volunteers operating under of the auspices of the local authorities, and again assisted with the delivery of prescriptions etc;
- Free post for older/vulnerable persons self-isolating. When certain customers had letters for posting, the postal operative took them and An Post provided the postage free-of-charge (this will continue for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis);
- With a tagline ‘Send Love’, five million postage-paid postcards were delivered to 2.2 million households, nursing homes, prisons and homeless hubs to encourage people to stay in touch with their family and friends – particularly with grandparents and older people who were advised to ‘cocoon’ for the duration of the crisis.
This sparked a national outpouring of support and community outreach as the cards were posted over a period of weeks, and national figures from the president to poets, musicians and TV celebrities got involved – along with schoolchildren and people of all ages all over the country. It also sparked a new interest in the written word as people continued to send cards, letters and parcels to family and friends;
- Support services for SMEs – a €2m (US$2.24m) package of supports comprising direct mail campaigns, parcel discounts and an Advice Hub were launched in mid-May to help SMEs get their business online and to grow their business;
- Provided assistance to the Department of Education with the delivery of essential food parcels to schoolchildren from schools designated ‘disadvantaged’, in order to help ensure their continued nutrition and well-being;
- Collaborated with a Children’s Books Ireland on the production of an activity book, delivered to households with children and through a newspaper insert, and downloadable from our website, to entertain and inform younger children affected by the closure of all the schools. An Post is a long-standing supporter of adult and family literacy.
How were employees kept safe during the epidemic?
A Covid-19 response team of senior heads of department was put in place and direct lines of communication established with the national bodies overseeing Ireland’s response to Covid-19. An Post is represented on a number of advisory bodies.
We took immediate action to educate all staff on things like hand washing, cough etiquette and social distancing, and to reinforce this message daily through all communications, displays, face-to-face comms and digital communications, and even on company vehicles. Hand sanitizer was made available to all staff, and mask and face shields and gloves were made available also as per requirements in mails centers etc.
Teams were split and start times staggered to minimize the number of staff on-site together, and the risk of transmission. All non-essential visits to sites were banned and an access request policy was strictly enforced.
Perspex screening was installed where necessary and a deep cleaning protocol established for premises and shared vehicles. We worked closely with the unions representing staff and continue to do so.
Did you invest in any new sorting or fulfilment hub technology?
We opened a new automated parcel processing hub in Dublin last December – just in time for Christmas Peak 2019 and for the Covid-19 explosion in 2020, so we were well equipped. We have also utilized space previously used for letter sorting, for sorting packets and small parcels. A new automated packet sorting facility will open in Q4 of this year.
Has the pandemic helped speed up the integration of any types of technologies?
An Post has taken big steps in its Digital Transformation in recent years, and this enabled us to switch on such services as Newspaper Delivery and Check-In, and to facilitate significant growth in Click & Post digital services during this Covid-19 crisis.
What are the three key lessons learnt as a result of the pandemic and the peak volumes experienced?
- Harnessing the combined power of human touch with best technology is key;
- Clear, concise information reinforced daily is essential;
- Business continuity planning and accurate forecasting are essential.
Do you think the postal service will ever return to normal?
The pandemic has accelerated the move from the old world of letters to the new world of parcels and e-commerce logistics; this is here to stay. It has fast-forwarded digitization projects and given a new impetus to the Digital teams.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
An Post has always been one of Ireland’s most reputable and trusted companies. Covid-19 has reinforced our position as one of the most reliable, trusted and valued entities in the Irish State.
From the start we promised our customers that we would stand by them throughout the crisis and thanks to our staff and management we have done this, and continue to do so. The postal operative was very often the only face that an elderly or vulnerable person saw for weeks and weeks on end. Their human connection and dedication to service is invaluable to our society.