Consumer Focus welcomes the key findings of this report. It is a comprehensive review of the challenges Post Office Limited (POL) faces in implementing its ambitious Network Transformation programme. It poses a number of questions which need to be addressed for the programme to succeed.
Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus said:
‘We welcome the Select Committee’s report. The Post Office network needs to undergo substantial reform if it is to thrive in the 21st century as we all want it to.
‘The new PO Local model offers some benefits for consumers, including much longer opening hours than a traditional sub-post office. However, greater accessibility will only fully benefit consumers if the services that they need are available.
‘Getting the correct balance between what consumers need and what might be attractive to potential operators of the new model is not straightforward. The need for change is pressing, but getting the programme right at the beginning is critical to its long term success.
‘More needs to be done on the range of products available, staff training and the advice given to consumers, privacy and availability of cash if we are to maximise the chances of success for the programme.
‘It is vital that POL takes this opportunity to transform the network to ensure its millions of customers receive the good quality and reliable service they expect from their post office.’
Notes to editors:
- From summer 2012, the Post Office’s Network Transformation will see more than half of traditional sub-post offices convert to new operating models as part of the largest set of planned changes in the Post Office’s history. By 2015, out of the total 11,800 branches, around 4,000 will become Post Office Mains and a further 2,000 will become Post Office Locals.
- The Post Office Locals model will see post office services delivered by trained shop staff from the main counter of retail outlets such as convenience stores or petrol stations, rather than from a separate dedicated post office area. This is opposed to the currently position where most sub-post offices operate as part of a small shop, but have a separate post office counter with dedicated staff.
- Post Office Mains is a new operating model for High Street branches and are expected to be the largest and busiest branches in the network. Post Office Mains should offer extended opening hours, increased automation and investment to tackle service standards, including queue times.
Based on Consumer Focus mystery shopping, Open All Hours issued in May 2012, highlighted consumer research looking at PO Locals trial branches. Areas that the watchdog called on POL to address included:
- Advice – The report highlighted widespread evidence of inconsistent, and often inaccurate, product and pricing advice. For example, second class postage was sold correctly in only one in five visits; large or heavy parcels were refused in a quarter of cases; and in two-thirds of cases, researchers were sold Special Delivery without staff asking the questions necessary to determine if it was the most suitable and suitably priced product.
- Product availability – More than one in six customers (17 per cent) were told they couldn’t access a service which actually should have been available. Not every consumer expected to access all post office services at their PO Local outlet. However, for a significant number of those surveyed, some of the services they said they needed and which are currently available across the network, wouldn’t be available at most PO Locals. These include Local Collect services (52 per cent). Although 75 per cent of customers said their perception of the knowledge of counter assistants was good, this mystery shopping show there appears to be a significant problem.
- Privacy – Over a third of users (34 per cent) found the privacy available in a PO Local to be poor. Of all Locals users asked, 41 per cent said the privacy was worse than in sub-post offices. Almost one in five (19 per cent) also said they were reluctant, because of concerns over the perceived unreliability of staff, to undertake high-value, personal or confidential transactions at PO Locals.
- Consistency of service – The report outlines problems with the reliability of the service at many branches, such as trained staff being unavailable or the demands of the associated business taking priority. Mystery shoppers also reported that PO Locals were not always open when scheduled, particularly during extended hours.
- Cash withdrawals- The research also found some PO Locals were capping the cash or benefits a consumer can withdraw, or were unable to make any cash payments. In branches that do not receive cash supplies from Post Office Limited (POL), mystery shoppers were unable to withdraw cash in 10 per cent of visits (approximately 33 per cent of the current Locals pilots operate without cash supplies from POL – all sub post-offices receive cash supplies from POL). This poses a potential risk for older and vulnerable consumers, who rely on post offices to access their cash.
- Consumer Focus also issued Local but Limited? in April 2011 which highlighted consumer experiences of PO Local branches.