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Artificial Intelligence And The Courier Industry
Monday, 4 June 2018 at 10:11
Artificial intelligence… just the words sound other-worldly, as though they come from a future that we can only see a tiny glimpse of.
Yet AI is already all around us. We don’t have to wait for the future; it’s here, right now. And more and more people are becoming increasingly comfortable letting AI into their lives in some way. Most don’t even think about it. Those automated phone lines used to book cinema tickets or to give a gas meter reading are AI, but tell that to someone who’s using that technology and they might look at you aghast; that’s not the AI they envision, the robots and the ‘Big Brother’ cameras. That’s just… it’s just how things work. And so it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less a form of artificial intelligence for all that.
Then there are tools and gadgets such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. How many people have happily – more than happily, try eagerly – welcomed these things into their homes? How many ‘talk’ to them on a daily basis? How many households are now, slowly but surely, becoming dependent on AI to carry out basic tasks?
This, by the way, is not a bad thing. This is exciting, and what’s around the corner, whatever that may be, will be thrilling to say the least.
AI And The Courier Industry
So AI came and it wasn’t so scary and we’re using it more and more. We’re using it in the courier industry too – in fact, our industry was one of the first to really take AI to heart and realise that it could be not only useful but integral to the smooth running of a user-friendly, well-renowned courier company. The massive social and economic changes that AI has brought about, turning everyone into a consumer and a happy one at that, making our world smaller and producing more and more goods that need to be sent to every corner of the globe are positive for the courier industry. More business is being created and it could be said that the recent boom in AI technology has helped along with that.
There is an issue with AI though. Not for the end users, the customers and clients who are using it to order goods and arrange deliveries, of course; for them, AI can do no wrong. For the couriers, it creates a culture of high expectation and bigger demands with more pressure and tighter deadlines all the time. When something is ordered, the buyer expects to have it the next day, perhaps even the same day. And if they don’t get it, that causes a ripple that goes far beyond the customer and their supplier; it catches the courier company too and can sink it if those in charge are not careful.
We’re living on a knife-edge of supply and demand with one forming the other and vice versa so that those courier companies who can’t keep up can easily fall by the wayside, trampled by the AI that they were so keen to be using in the first place.
It doesn’t have to be like that, of course. Contingency plans and forward thinking can ensure that there is always a way to deliver what needs to be delivered when it needs to be delivered. That’s business. That’s the courier business. AI only strengthens those companies who have the ability to be in it for the long haul. So, objectively speaking, it is most certainly a good thing.
Will The Bubble Burst?
How long will this surge last? It’s all but impossible to predict. Consumers love to spend and AI allows them to do it quicker and more efficiently than ever before. However, with Deutsche Bank banning its employees from taking delivery of Amazon Prime parcels in their offices (mainly because too many couriers were coming to the building during the day which is a distraction for everyone and, for receptionists and PAs it’s time-consuming too), and with other companies sure to follow suit if they haven’t already done so, we might see a slow down in individual orders.
Or we might need to deliver later in the day to accommodate the wishes of the buyers who need or want to be at home when their goods are brought to them.
It pays to have ideas in mind before the tide starts to turn one way or the other; that way, we can be prepared no matter what direction things go in.
And business deliveries will continue to grow exponentially because, thanks to AI, it’s easier and more exciting than ever to set up a business in the first place.
AI is not going anywhere. In fact, it’s getting bigger by the year, perhaps even by the month. That momentum is what makes it all so exciting, and it helps us in the courier industry to get behind it and make our own changes and plans.
In this industry, the holy grail of AI is a fully automated dispatch system. It would need to be pre-programmed with all the relevant information (a huge amount) such as which drivers are where, what they are doing, where they are going, what the traffic conditions are like, the weather, how many drops the driver has… It would need to cope with a lot. It’s a long way off yet.
What we must remember above all, though, is that although AI is exciting and although it is the future and although it is what people say they want… there is nothing quite like the human touch. That added extra, that piece of personality is what will differentiate the great from the mediocre in this industry. After all, that courier delivery might be the only point of contact with a human being that the recipient gets all day. Working alone, working from home, working long hours, a smiling face and a cheerful hello could be the difference between a good day and a bad one.
Plus a good team in the back office can soothe an anxious customer, can organise those out of the ordinary packages and go the extra mile when required. Until a machine can do all of that, the human element is always going to be integral in any transaction.
AI needs to be used in the most intelligent way possible, and without the addition of a bit of humanity, it’s just not going to work in the long term.