Public sector postal services in Pakistan and India need to work wonders to compete with private couriers.

KHALIL AHMED, Senior Correspondent
Oct 09 - Oct 15, 2006

Product differentiation comes with speed, safety and quality. It does not matter who offers the product; private sector or the public sector. The thing that matters today is customer-orientation. There are lots of instances where public sector offers quality services and is popular among the masses such as the US Postal Service and there are lots of examples where the public sector is unable to meet the expectations of the consumers thus leading the sector to the eventual downfall since the consumers are always loyal to the achievements of their expectations.

Let's take the examples of the public sector postal services of Pakistan and India. It is an open secret that the public sector postal services in these countries are lagging behind and the private sector has taken the lead by offering reliable, speedy and friendly services. It is believed that the US Postal Service reinvented itself in response to competition from the private sector, whereas the public sector postal services in Pakistan and India need to work wonders to compete with private couriers. They have potential to compete with the private couriers and this can be done by revamping the postal system through new products, and by bringing in modern technology which is inevitable in the present era.

Undoubtedly, the public sector postal service in our country has responded quite vehemently to the competitors in recent times yet the impact of the response is to be seen as the private couriers have cropped up all over the country and they are doing a tremendous job.

Owing to the phenomenal growth in the courier sector and the tremendous increase in the number of service providers, the public courier service provider launched an array of customer oriented products and services to make its survival possible in the field where there is exceptionally tough competition these days due to the influx of the domestic as well as international couriers. Traditionally, Pakistan Post due to its vast network did a great service to the nation by providing services at exceptionally low rates to the people living in far off places of the country. At present, however, the private couriers are also offering services in the rural areas where over 65 percent population of the country lives. There is a private courier which caters over 2,000 locations in Pakistan. The only difference is that of tariff. The Pakistan Post charges exceptionally low price whereas the private couriers are charging over three times more. The question is: Does the price matter where the service is offered with speed and reliability?

Well, let's look at a few achievements of the Pakistan Post which are worth mentioning.

Pakistan Post has recently announced the collection of gas bill payments in the Punjab and NWFP. This is the facility which was being offered only in Sindh and Balochistan and now has been extended to the two remaining provinces which speaks volumes of the untiring efforts being made to compete in the sector. The collection of utility bills' payment through cheques on the doorstep of consumers by the postmen and the opening of the offices for consumers to pay their utility bills on Sundays and public holidays are excellent steps taken by Pakistan Post. However, the issue is that of bringing the confidence of the consumers back. The organization needs time and magical management skills to win over the consumers. On the other hand, the private couriers are expanding their market share with every passing day due to efficient and effective management of their services and the positive image building of their organizations. If we take the example of TCS, it claims that ever since its inception in 1983, TCS Pakistan has continued to lead the courier and logistics service industry in Pakistan through innovation, pioneering spirit, commitment and passion.

One more effort, due to fierce competition, made by Pakistan Post is that of setting up 24-hour postal outlets in November 2003. The nation has been availing the services by the night post offices for around three years at the lowest rates. Besides, the agreement signed between the Pakistan Post and Ufone to expand mobile phone services to rural areas would facilitate the rural population. It is being said that 7,000 postmen would be given cellphones which could be used by villagers at lower rates.

This is the era of glamour. Ambience of an outlet matters a lot but when we talk about the Pakistan Post, the common perception is that the post offices give a shabby and sleepy look. This is also perhaps one of the reasons which deters some people from going to the post offices. The management needs to look into this matter very seriously. On the other hand the private couriers' offices are chick and air-conditioned. With this comes the interest exerted by the employees. The private couriers work in friendly and hassle-free environment with good salary packages, whereas the public couriers are not paid as handsome an amount comparatively.

The question arises: how much time does a courier need to make a difference? The answer to this is that time of course does matter, however, it is not time that always makes the difference, rather it is the matter of service, undying commitment to bring about innovation and to respond to the ever-changing external environment.

Let's look at the global perspective. The courier service that came into existence in the nineteenth century with Wells-Fargo was founded in 1852. Today there are thousands of couriers across the globe and there are big names such as UPS (United Parcel Service Inc.), FedEx (Federal Express), DHL (named after Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom, and Robert Lynn) and eCourier. The world's largest courier company is believed to be UPS followed by FedEx and DHL. UPS which delivers more than 14 million packages a day to more than 200 countries around the world was founded as the American Messenger Company in 1907 by 19-year-old Jim Casey who laid the foundation of the company with $100 that he had borrowed from a friend. It was in 1919 when the company's name was changed to United Parcel Service. OCS (Overseas Courier Service) was organized in 1957. DHL came into existence in 1969. FedEx was founded in 1971. And eCourier is in the market since 2003.

All these couriers are in the limelight across the world not because they have been serving since ages but because they are what they should be. There is every reason to believe that Pakistan Post can revive and give tough time to its rivals if proper management skills are applied with the application of state-of-the art technology. Instead of thinking to increase the number of letterboxes, the organization needs to know what benchmarking is and how information technology can help it revive. With the help of state-of-the-art technology, unimaginable success can be attained. Let's look at the use of technology in the industry. eCourier claims to be a pioneer of large-scale use of GPS data, and tracks every bicycle, motorbike and van in its fleet, collecting location information every 10 seconds. eCourier takes over 90% of its orders online. eCourier has vastly reduced the human infrastructure required to operate a conventional courier company.

Pakistan Post is taking every step to provide best facilities to the consumers. However, it is to be seen that the steps being taken are according to the need of the hour and also in response to the strategies being applied by the unassailable rivals.