The business transformation journeyCanada Post focuses on people and processes

Increased demand from customers to deliver better service is not unique to government – or para-government, for that matter. Take Canada Post for example. In 1999, the agency found itself with poor customer service satisfaction, a high level of employee frustration and a number of silo-based legacy systems that were responsible for both problems.

The solution, according to Cal Hart, Canada Post’s vice-president of business transformation and product management, was to start a business transformation initiative.

“Our customers were demanding more and we couldn’t service them,” Hart said. “We knew we had to improve our customer satisfaction and our employee satisfaction. We knew we had to get a more modern technology platform in place to enable us to move into new business opportunities, and that our costs at the time were not sustainable going forward.”

The transformation vision

Hart knew from the beginning that most business transformation projects fail, and he didn’t want Canada Post’s venture to suffer a similar fate. As a result, everyone involved in the business transformation process made sure there was a clear understanding of what needed to be done and how each goal was going to be achieved before any changes took place.

“We spent six months doing an assessment of whether this was the best thing for us to do, what areas we would target, [and] what kind of business outcomes we were looking for,” he said. “Before we started, we detailed what we wanted the customer experience to look like at the end of the day. Everyone had that vision and worked towards it as we built our CRM solution.”

In order to ensure that Canada Post customers were served in a more streamlined, cost effective and timely manner, a number of changes had to take place and a three-year business transformation project was laid out. The project included altering Canada Post’s Web site, retooling key business processes, replacing more than 80 legacy systems with an integrated ERP system, implementing a revised organization structure along a process enterprise model and launching a major change management program.

“It’s all about people, process and technology,” Hart said. “The trick is to get them all to work in harmony.”

The transformation begins

The quest for harmony began to take shape in June 2001, when Canada Post launched a revamped Web site. The new site allows customers to conduct e-business and saves Canada Post the cost of completing transactions over the phone through call centres.

As for the call centres, they were outfitted with a CRM module in September 2001 that was part of one enterprise-wide ERP system. With the new system, call centre agents can now access information in different departments as well as a customer’s case history.

For example, following the implementation of the new infrastructure, Hart watched as one call centre agent in Ottawa spoke with a woman in Toronto who had closed a mail box at a postal outlet, changed addresses twice and then wanted to know what had happened to her $50 refund check from the original mail box.

“The agent called up the information in the system and told the customer the day she closed the box,” Hart said. “The agent was also able to tell her that the check had been sent out, but was returned to Canada Post because she had not notified us of her move. Then, since she was calling again, the check was cut and sent out the next day.”

Hart said that prior to the installation of the ERP system, the agent would have had to call the postal outlet in Toronto where the customer closed the box, then access the financial records to find out who had issued the check and what had happened to it after it was sent and then take the matter up with the customer.

“With this implementation of CRM we have more information on the customer’s history, we have more information between departments and other functions that work to resolve customer issues,” said Marsha Creary, a customer service training and field support officer with Canada Post. Creary added that call centre agents can now take care of a customer’s request on first contact 86 per cent of the time. “It’s empowered the employees and reduced their level of frustration.”

In order to ensure that its employees were empowered, the corporation, which handles 5 million calls from customers annually, launched a vigorous change management program prior to the launch of its new technology. Training specialists like Creary were brought up to speed on the system and then tasked with training the 280 call centre agents nationwide. At the regional level, call centre agents attended information sessions and had information booths detailing the different stages of the rollout. Canada Post even implemented a virtual system where employees could go after training to hone their new skills.

“The employees really liked that,” Creary said of the virtual system known as the sandbox. “It was really engaging.”

The new system – and the manner in which Canada Post implemented it – was so successful that the corporation was recently honoured with a CRM excellence award from Gartner Inc., a research and advisory firm based in Stamford, Conn. The award, in part, recognized Canada Post’s dedication to people and processes during its business transformation initiative.

The transformation advantage

On the human resources front, Canada Post also realized it is facing a major loss of staff in the next five years as baby boomers get set to retire. Hart and his team knew this during the planning stages of the business transformation project and wanted to take advantage of it. The decision was made to change the organization’s work process in order to utilize the natural attrition in a proactive manner.

“In 2002, our plan was to take out a little over 700 full-time [positions] and we exceeded that by 11 people,” Hart said. “We’re streamlining the processes at our back end. Those people that were formerly pickers and packers are now electronically taking orders.”

While the initial business transformation project was completed in April 2002, Hart said Canada Post is still completing upgrades and the Crown corporation shows no sign of slowing down.

When you sit back and look at where we are today and where we were in January 2000, we really delivered a complete modern infrastructure in 18 months,” he said. “We maintained our profitability while doing it, [and] we’re now conducting e-business with our commercial customers.

“I know we’ve done the right thing for Canada Post going forward, because where we were was just not sustainable. But it’s a journey. We’re not there. We can only stop changing when our customers stop wanting us to change.”

Blair McQuillan is assistant editor of CIO Governments’ Review