Cen­tury-old postal ser­vice rein­vent­ing it­self

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY LEE HSIN-YIN

“When I put on the green uni­form, I can feel the trust that peo­ple have in me,” said Du Wanyi, a 63-year-old post­man who works in New Taipei City.

Hav­ing been de­liv­er­ing mail for the past 46 years, Du said he has seen a lot of changes in re­cent years: less ap­pre­ci­a­tion for hand­writ­ten letters and more diver­si­fi­ca­tion of the ser­vices post of­fices pro­vide.

But he said: “The care is there.”

Through­out his ca­reer, Du has been vol­un­tar­ily vis­it­ing se­nior cit­i­zens who live alone. He’s got­ten to know them while de­liv­er­ing mail.

“But times have changed, and we have to change, too,” said Du.

In­deed, Tai­wan’s 119-year-old postal ser­vice Chunghwa Post has un­der­gone sig­nif­i­cant changes in re­cent years. From sim­ply de­liv­er­ing mail when it was first founded in China in 1896, and to of­fer­ing bank­ing and in­sur­ance ser­vices start­ing in the 1930s, its ser­vices have now ex­panded to selling mi­cro-in­sur­ance to bluecol­lar work­ers, of­fer­ing free de­liv­ery of fruits for farm­ers, and much more.

And un­like postal ser­vices op­er­at­ing in the red in other coun­tries, due to in­creased use of e-mail and a de­cline in tra­di­tional mail, Chunghwa Post has been mak­ing a profit in re­cent years.

Many of the changes were brought about by its chair­man Philip Ong, who sees his back­ground in for­eign af­fairs as an ad­van­tage in push­ing for new busi­ness mod­els.

Ong, the Tai­wan gov­ern­ment’s for­mer rep­re­sen­ta­tive to In­dia, said his ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in over­seas cities such as New York and Geneva, has made him more open to new ideas and quicker to adapt to changes.

Change was needed in face of the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing the postal ser­vice — the dwin­dling mail busi­ness. The vol­ume of mail the post of­fice col­lects has de­creased by 2-3 per­cent an­nu­ally in re­cent years be­cause more peo­ple have turned to email, mes­sag­ing apps or free In­ter­net call­ing ser­vices.

As a re­sult, the over­all mail busi­ness of Chunghwa Post has been sus­tain­ing an an­nual loss of NT$3 bil­lion ( US$97 mil­lion), which made man­power re­al­loca-

still tion for the 9,000 postal work­ers and a re­design of postal routes nec­es­sary, Ong said.

Only the small par­cel busi­ness is do­ing well due to the emer­gence of e-com­merce, Ong said, adding that Chunghwa Post will al­lo­cate more re­sources to that sec­tion.

How­ever, com­pared with other strug­gling postal ser­vices around the world, in­clud­ing the United States Postal Ser­vice ( USPS), Chunghwa Post is “do­ing rel­a­tively OK,” Ong said.

The USPS has been los­ing gi­gan­tic amounts of money de­spite cost- cut­ting ef­forts such as lay­offs and clo­sures of thou­sands of post of­fices. Ac­cord­ing to its fi­nan­cial state­ment, in the first quar­ter of 2015, the USPS recorded a net loss of nearly US$ 1.5 bil­lion.

In the case of Chunghwa Post, it is mak­ing up for its core busi­ness be­ing in the red by more ag­gres­sively in­vest­ing over­seas with its Postal Cap­i­tal fund, which cur­rently stands at some NT$6.4 tril­lion.

Through that strat­egy, the postal ser­vice was able to earn NT$12.1 bil­lion in over­all profit last year, which Ong said has al­lowed Chunghwa Post to con­tinue pro­vid­ing its mail­ing ser­vice even though it’s a money-los­ing busi­ness.

“The spirit of the postal ser­vice is do­ing good work for the peo­ple,” Ong said.

Be­ing able to make money through its in­vest­ment fund has also al­lowed Chunghwa Post to uti­lize its ex­ten­sive postal net­work across the coun­try to un­der­take greater so­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

In 2014, Ong launched mi­croin­sur­ance oper­a­tions that tar­get low-in­come groups. The ser­vice al­lows peo­ple in blue col­lar and high risk fields, such as fish­er­men and farm­ers, to pur­chase ac­ci­den­tal in­sur­ance in case any­thing hap­pened to them.

This ser­vice is aimed at pro­vid­ing mi­nor­ity groups pro­tec­tion plans at more af­ford­able costs, he said.

Chunghwa Post also works with lo­cal farm­ers to pro­vide free ship­ping ser­vices for their farm prod­ucts as long as the ship­ments are within Tai­wan proper. In the past, partly due to the high ship­ping costs, farm­ers sold only to traders or mid­dle­men, earn­ing less profit. Through this new ser- vice, they can sell di­rectly to con­sumers with­out ad­di­tional costs.

For ex­am­ple, the postal ser­vice of­fers free de­liv­ery ser­vices for farm­ers in the south­ern city of Kaoh­si­ung to de­liver ly­chee fruit to any­where in main­land Tai­wan with stan­dard-size pack­ages that weigh 3 kilo­grams.

The syn­ergy be­tween the postal ser­vice and in­de­pen­dent farm­ers is ben­e­fi­cial not only to the farm­ers but also to Chunghwa Post, Ong said, as the “good story” helps to give the post of­fice a pos­i­tive im­age.

This will­ing­ness to adapt has also in­cluded keep­ing up with the latest tech­nol­ogy trends and in­tro­duc­ing them to the work en­vi­ron­ment.

Since tak­ing of­fice in Novem­ber 2013, Ong has taken ad­van­tage of the so­cial mes­sag­ing app LINE to re­duce pa­per­work and en­hance in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

In ad­di­tion, he launched free LINE stick­ers fea­tur­ing mail­man car­toons in April 2014, aimed at giv­ing the post of­fice a fresh, new look. The LINE ini­tia­tive has proven a big hit, which has so far en­joyed some 6 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

Ong also gave the postal ser­vice a makeover. He re­fur­bished the brand name of the com­pany, lit­er­ally, by re­plac­ing ag­ing sign­boards across the 1,324 post of­fices across the coun­try.

The in­stal­la­tion of nearly 20,000 LED lights and some 40 public toi­lets were also among his ef­forts at mod­ern­iz­ing the post of­fices, Ong said.

Staff mem­bers were given new uni­forms, with re­designed wait­ing ar­eas in some post of­fices as part of Ong’s strat­egy to draw the public to them.

“We are copy­ing the idea of uni­forms from (Tai­wan’s na­tional car­rier) China Air­lines, the idea of counter ser­vices from the Tai­wan Taoyuan In­ter­na­tional Air­port, and the idea of toi­lets from 7-Eleven (con­ve­nience stores),” Ong said, cit­ing the gen­er­ally high ap­proval rate of those in­sti­tu­tions.

Cus­tomers were ap­pre­cia­tive of the ef­forts.

“It’s re­ally nice of them to put some new chairs right in front of the coun­ters,” said 62-year-old Huang Yi-cheng. “I used to have to stand there for a long time and watch them do their thing. Now we could talk nat­u­rally.”

“I think the toi­let idea is very neat,” said 76- year- old Chiu Liang-mei. “I felt more re­laxed bring­ing my grand­chil­dren to the post of­fice.”

Chiu said postal ser­vices have be­come a part of peo­ple’s lives, which is why she has been buy­ing stamp col­lec­tions for her three grand­chil­dren each year as keep­sakes.

To con­tinue boost­ing the ser­vices of the postal ser­vice, Ong is also plan­ning to sys­tem­at­i­cally build up long-term care ser­vices for the el­derly peo­ple through the help of post­men, so more of them can repli­cate what Du has been do­ing over the years.

Cur­rently, postal work­ers pay over 50,000 vis­its each year to some 9,100 se­nior cit­i­zens who live alone, ac­cord­ing to Chunghwa Post. They do this on a vol­un­tary ba­sis on their de­liv­ery routes dur­ing work hours.

Ong said he is plan­ning to in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize that ser­vice. He trav­eled to Ja­pan soon af­ter he took of­fice to learn how Ja­panese post of­fices are car­ry­ing out sim­i­lar ser­vices.

In Ja­pan, trial ser­vices are be­ing of­fered in 103 post of­fices in re­mote ar­eas, while staff are not given a bonus for do­ing so. Ong said he planned to ex­pand ser­vices al­ready in place in Tai­wan, but on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

The aim of se­nior care sys­tem is to cre­ate a stronger bond be­tween peo­ple and the postal ser­vice, Ong said, de­scrib­ing the con­nec­tion as an in­tan­gi­ble as­set for the com­pany.

It is be­lieved that as Tai­wan’s pop­u­la­tion ages and an in­creas­ing num­ber of el­derly peo­ple live alone, the thou­sands of postal work­ers fan­ning out across all corners of the is­land to de­liver mail and pack­ages are the per­fect peo­ple to help check on the wel­fare of the se­nior cit­i­zens.

To Ong, be­sides fol­low­ing the com­pany’s motto “Whether rain, sleet, or snow, Chunghwa Post knows the drill,” the post of­fice should trans­form it­self with time and play a much more ac­tive role in so­ci­ety.

Re­gard­less of its changes, how­ever, peo­ple like Du said the spirit of the postal ser­vice is al­ways the same — serv­ing peo­ple with a car­ing heart.

“I feel con­tent when peo­ple smile while get­ting mail from my hands,” Du said. “I take great pride in my job.”

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