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Opinion: The human face of innovation


Innovation in the world of delivery is happening fast but as Jonathan Smith, CEO at APC Overnight, says there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Innovation doesn’t just mean something new – a new gadget, application or product. For some, it might just mean finding different ways of doing things. Innovation always starts with people and successful innovation only survives through the uptake and use of that innovation.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a space-age concept; in fact the most recent figures show that AI is estimated to add around £654 billion to the UK economy by 2035.

This sort of technology is already supporting us in our everyday lives, for example the touch recognition on our smartphones and the digital assistants we’re using in our homes such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. It is also rapidly transforming the online customer services industry – personalisation and the greater emphasis on the customer experience will inevitably have an impact upon businesses.

In the delivery sector, it’s no longer unrealistic to imagine placing an order online just an hour before receiving it – courier solutions here in the UK, as well as the promise of delivery drones, are making this happen.

Whilst drones are undoubtedly a great innovation, their practical application within the ecommerce supply chain is still up for debate. Those that champion drone technology have been spurred on by consumer expectations for increasingly quick delivery, but their commercial value is far less important than the value they can offer to disaster zones and remote areas – this is where their innovation really comes into its own.

In the current climate, businesses are under pressure to innovate, but decision-makers should be careful not to hide too much behind technology. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to innovation and businesses must work hard to implement real and effective change.

For APC Overnight, innovation means using the right combination of technologies, methodologies, processes and most importantly, people to innovate. Where there’s great possibility, there are also challenges to address. Using this knowledge, we’ve put together three considerations all businesses should consider when looking to provide new and innovative solutions to their customers:

1) Don’t forget the person in personalisation

Businesses must be careful not to confuse ‘personalisation’ with the real value of human contact. In a world of screens, apps and advancing technology, face-to-face time with suppliers, customers and other company stakeholders can be rare, but it is truly invaluable.

Setting aside time to talk in person will help forge stronger bonds with stakeholders and, particularly for businesses starting out, is essential to ensure their hopes, ambitions and strategies are being understood correctly.

2) Do not solely rely on data – knowledge really is power

According to new research from Mintel, the number of parcels has increased by 65% since 2012, with Brits sending 2.8 billion packages last year alone. This surge in growth in the courier and express delivery market means businesses are relying on their delivery partners more than ever, trusting them to meet their customer’s demands for speed and convenience.

The report also shows the value of next day deliveries, in 2016 it reached £5.5 billion and same day deliveries increased from £488 million in 2012 to £1 billion in 2016 (Mintel, 2017). It’s clear how crucial the speed of delivery is to purchasing decisions, as the evolving consumer base drives equally evolving delivery options.

Therefore, true innovation that works for your business and your customer cannot be achieved through data alone; delivery strategies should start with a comprehensive knowledge of your customer base. That’s why it’s essential, particularly for small businesses, to consider delivery suppliers who have local depots and local knowledge of the area.

Innovation does not just require a shift in skill sets and technologies, but must be built on an informed and engaged workforce with the mind-set and passion to innovate for consumers.

3) Communication is everything

The nature of social media means consumers now interact with brands in a completely new way and it is all too true that the way a business responds on a social platform can make or break a brand’s reputation.

That’s why it is still the case that when something goes wrong, having a proper conversation with someone who understands the relevance of the failure is still the best way to resolve an issue. Businesses must be careful not to rely too heavily on an efficiency factor or process, because ultimately if the customer does not feel or see any benefit in it, neither should you or your business.


It is not always the case that streamlining processes will have the desired effect for their target audience. Businesses need to think harder about the types of innovation that will really benefit their customers.

The growth of ecommerce means there are more ways businesses can innovate but innovation should never be a means to an end and it should not replace the human connection businesses have worked so hard to achieve. Businesses looking to innovation as a means to achieve great customer service must be aware that this requires a balance between well thought through innovation and hands-on interaction with customers.

Jonathan Smith, CEO at APC Overnight

Image credit: APC Overnight

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