Postal delays appear to be yet another unpleasant characteristic of 2020. The vast majority of these delays can be attributed to process changes that have resulted from precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, such as social distancing.
It’s not as if businesses didn’t have enough to contend with. For many, the onset of lockdown resulted in a reduced demand for products and services, combined with the operational challenges of running a business with fewer staff and social distancing requirements. Sending documents in the post poses a risk of delivery delay for the same reasons.
Many businesses have reduced their reliance on paper delivery over lockdown. Yet, posting business-critical documents, such as invoices and statements, remains the default for many. And when invoices make it to the recipient’s empty post room, considerable payment delays are to be expected.
Before we talk about the solution to postal delays, let’s gauge quite how bad this is in Europe and the US.
The UK postal service soldiered on throughout the worst of the lockdown and has endeavoured to maintain a reasonable rate of delivery. However, there has been an inevitable impact on delivery time due to reduced staffing levels (20 percent reduction at the peak) and additional health and safety measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Given the Royal Mail workforce were set to strike just before the UK lockdown came into force, there has been a remarkable effort to stick with it and get the job done. However, grit and determination in the face of a massive increase in online purchase deliveries has only just kept things afloat. Royal Mail shares are tracking lower and lower by the day, with losses declared to be in the range of £1m per day!
Post is still getting through, but the cracks are clearly showing. Are we one more lockdown away from a more significant service disruption?
Spain and France initially dropped postal delivery levels to a fraction of their norm. Spain dropped to 25 percent of normal capacity and France reduced deliveries to three days a week, with just 10 percent of post offices open at the start of the lockdown. Since these initial, drastic measures, service has picked back up. However, both countries faced protracted initial lockdowns and are now slipping back into localised lockdowns by region, as infections rise once more.
Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and many other countries in mainland Europe maintained a high commitment to postal delivery during the worst of the initial surge in infections and ensuing lockdown. However, it is common to see statements like the following:
“Due to lack of storage capacity, businesses must continue to empty their PO boxes regularly (at least every 7 days). We apologize for any inconvenience.” – Deutsche Post (Germany)
“International items may be subject to delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Deutsche Post (Germany)
“The number of parcels and letterbox parcels that we are processing has therefore risen dramatically. The same applies to the amount of post we are processing. For this reason, post and parcels may take longer than usual to be delivered. The same applies to international shipments. Thank you for your understanding.” – PostNL (the Netherlands)
It is apparent that great efforts are being made to maintain a reasonable service. But the impact is notable and there are limits to possible remedies.
The US appears to be unique in the fact that their postal service (USPS) is suffering additional delays due to what many claim to be politically motivated interference. Changes to the USPS are being driven by the recently appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was a major donor to President Donald Trump. The implementation of these changes has already resulted in major delays and limitations to service, on top of challenges experienced as a direct result of the pandemic.
DeJoy was appointed on 15 June, and has since made controversial changes at the USPS to cut costs. Critics point to evidence that these tactics are meant to undermine the agency, in line with President Trump’s previous declaration of intent to starve the postal service of funds so that mail-in voting will become difficult.
DeJoy banned postal workers from making extra trips to ensure on-time mail delivery and cracked down on overtime hours. Localities across the country have struggled with USPS backlogs of up to a week, and there is no end in sight.
The Postal Service is in the process of removing 671 high-speed mail-sorting machines nationwide this month, a process that will eliminate 21.4 million items per hour’s worth of processing capability from the agency’s inventory!
On 13th August, it began removing public collection boxes in parts of California, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Montana.
Whatever the motivations and longer-term intentions at play here, this is simply not a good time to be sending anything by post in the US.
Beating the Delays
You already may have guessed it, but sending business-critical documents electronically gets around the problem of postal delivery delays. Electronic documents are delivered almost the instant you hit send, or the moment your system sends them automatically on your behalf. Furthermore, electronic delivery offers a route to determine receipt and readership, and even capture intent to pay each invoice.
Electronic document distribution and, in particular, e-invoicing have gained popularity in recent years as security has improved (see Trust Services). Automation has become the driving force in business process optimisation; customer experience has become electronic by default.
Electronic delivery saw a step change during the early 2020 lockdown, as businesses sought ways to reach customers with invoices directly. The most obvious problem has been delivery to empty post rooms where invoices wait for staff to return from lockdown, pick up their post, and make payment on what have become overdue invoices.
While electronic delivery may get around postal challenges, not all approaches are efficient or secure. Many businesses have instructed accounts receivable teams to export invoices as PDFs and then manually attach them to emails for their customers. This can be a terribly manual job, repeating inefficiencies of traditional print and post processes.
Other businesses may be trying to automate the sending of electronic invoices from their ERP systems. This approach may improve efficiency, but often lacks the nuance and refinement found in more successful invoicing processes.
An outsourced service provider, such as Netsend, can help businesses determine how best to make the switch to electronic invoicing (and document delivery in a broader sense) quickly and cost-effectively. And that’s just the first step, the next is implementation. This can be a seamless operation if the provider has the necessary experience. Get in touch with our experts today to learn more about how your business can achieve operational efficiency and resilience that will extend far beyond the current postal delays.