Making a promise
DHL was founded in 1969 in San Francisco, but it has done most of its growing outside the United States. Now owned by Deutsche Post World Net, the global DHL brand is the world’s leading
express delivery and logistics company, with global revenue in 2004 of more than $32 billion, and U.S. revenue of $4.4 billion. In 2004, the company launched a $1.2 billion investment in its U.S.
operations to better compete with FedEx and UPS. While increasing physical infrastructure is one part of the plan, rolling out a strategy to differentiate DHL from its competitors was the other.
It meant changing the way customers perceive DHL. It didn’t want to be just another shipping company, so it created the Customer Service Initiative, a strategy that would help solidify with both
employees and customers who DHL is and what values the company represents. But rolling out any strategy requires careful planning and even better execution.
The goal of the initiative is to provide a superior customer experience across all DHL touch points. Hickler says that such a strategy must have a foundation of data that supports its need for
“In the early heyday of the express business, it was all about innovation and how do you move a customer’s goods from A to B as quickly as you can and address clearance issues and international issues,” Hickler says.
Research found that developing an approach that was focused more intently on the complete customer experience while at the same time delivering on-time service was something that was
needed in the market.
“We literally analyzed the 82 touch points that our customer comes to in our organization or that we extend out to the customer,” Hickler says. “We worked with our customers through surveys
and focus groups to understand the relative importance of those touch points to changing the customer’s experience.”
When embarking on a large-scale strategy, Hickler says it is important to use both mathematical and analytical data to gain a true understanding of what the strategy needs to encompass. It is
also important to know where your company is positioned in the marketplace with its brand.
“Your brand positioning has to be really tied heavily to your brand promise,” Hickler says. “So, ‘Hey, we’re here,’ doesn’t cut it for more than about a year. Effective branding says what am I about,
not who am I.
“It has to be rolling out your brand promise and communicating to your customers that this is what we stand for.”
That means presenting a consistent message to employees, to customers, to shareholders and to analysts who monitor your company.
“I need to be able to look at it and I need to be able to show it to my employees and to the analysts and say, ‘This is where we’re going, and this is what it’s going to look like when we’re done,’”
Companies must also reach customers in a deeper way to continue to receive their business.
“Customers don’t just do business with you for one year in this business,” Hickler says. “They’re buying in to your strategy, especially in our business, which is a very global and international
business. People don’t switch easily, and so they need to understand that what you stand for is there.”
Hickler says a strategy must have the depth to address changes that may occur down the line so that the company can respond to these shifts quickly and promptly. There is danger in being tied
too closely to assumptions or deliverables that restrict flexibility.
“A strategy shouldn’t be a finished painting,” Hickler says. “We have to have the latitude to put the touches on in a sequence that makes sense relative to the external environment, the internal
environment and everything else. … You can lock yourself in way too tight on a strategy.”
Hickler says this ability comes down to being able to distinguish between the things that most likely won’t change and those that may shift as time goes on.
“It is hard to do sometimes, especially when things like capital investments or organizational design are involved in that,” Hickler says. “You have to understand your no-regrets moves versus
things that are more fluid within a given strategy. You can’t decide to buy an airplane one day and decide not to buy it another day. Certain things, you jump in with both feet. You know what those
are. Other elements of the strategy have to have more flex.”