The Future Is Now: “How AI can make mail and deliveries more efficient”
with Nick Manolis, CEO of Escher

Everywhere you look, industries are being disrupted. Even supposedly “untouchable” areas like law or medicine are slowly transforming thanks to the dramatic impact of technology. And oftentimes, companies can’t prepare for these changes because they don’t speak the same language as their disruptors. Despite their institutional resources and legacy clout, these companies are often taken by surprise because they don’t have these “disruption” advisors or partners who help them navigate this change.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Manolis. Nick is CEO of Escher, responsible for successfully positioning the company as the global leader in customer engagement solutions for postal organizations. Under Nick’s direction, Escher is transforming how posts engage with their customers, moving them away from the constraints of yesterday’s operating models and IT infrastructure and improving the economics of posts everywhere.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

There are so many things I could reference. I think the key moment was a friend approaching me about Escher. It’s fascinating to me how the people around you really tap into your passions and work styles and identify opportunities that fit. This friend told me about Escher’s accomplishments, and how this relatively unassuming business has achieved a global footprint helping postal operators around the world run their operations and I thought, “This is something I need to learn more about it.”

Well…learning about Escher became wanting to be involved with Escher and here we are!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One story instantly comes to mind. This was early on in my career at Deloitte. I was conducting an audit exercise where you randomly select someone’s name from the payroll register and find them on a seating chart. The point is to determine whether there’s a real employee. I picked my names and embarked on this quest, if you will. Later in the day, I’m looking for this one person and when I ask for help, a woman casually points to this very large room. So, I innocently walk in and it’s this huge office with a man sitting at an enormous desk. You probably know where this is going.

Of course, I’d just casually strolled into the office of the Chairman and CEO of the Fortune 100 company I was auditing. Now, keep in mind I was relatively new in my career, so I’m thinking all kinds of things ranging from “this is so embarrassing” to “I’m going get fired”. I’m just standing there apologizing for intruding, explaining my auditing procedure. And this CEO just laughs it off, invites me to sit down, and proceeds to ask me about my job, my family, my career aspirations.

I was so appreciative that he’d taken the time to talk to me. And what I think about a lot — especially now as a CEO — is what he said after I thanked him. He told me something along the lines of, “Most CEOs would have done the same, so when you find yourself in an executive role in the future, think about today. CEOs should always be approachable and put people at ease.”

And he made a great point that CEOs are people, too. They’re human. The fact that they have a title when they step into the workplace doesn’t initiate some sort of biological change. And that’s something I’ve thought about a lot in my career. It’s empowered me to be authentic but also to humble myself before the people I lead.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Everywhere you look, industries are being disrupted. Even supposedly “untouchable” areas like law or medicine are slowly transforming thanks to the dramatic impact of technology. And oftentimes, companies can’t prepare for these changes because they don’t speak the same language as their disruptors. Despite their institutional resources and legacy clout, these companies are often taken by surprise because they don’t have these “disruption” advisors or partners who help them navigate this change.

At Escher, we like to think of ourselves as that partner for postal operators. For decades, we primarily provided counter point of service solutions to postal operators. So we understand the business intuitively. We aren’t dismissive or condescending about the internal barriers posts face, because we understand them. At the same time, we understand that technology is changing how posts do business. There’s been a decline in letters being mailed and an increase in parcel volumes thanks to e-commerce.

That said, some posts still aren’t equipped to manage parcels as efficiently as they manage letters, and they don’t have the capabilities to offer digital-first experiences. This is where Escher’s technology platform comes into play.

The Escher Customer Engagement Platform helps posts take a customer-first approach and engage today’s digitally savvy customers across all points of engagement. It’s really something remarkable. We’ve developed a mobile app that unleashes post employees from the counter and allows them to service customers in the line. We’ve developed a kiosk offering that allows customers to access postal services on their own schedule at high-traffic locations like universities, train stations, and retail partners. We’ve also recently revamped our pick-up/drop-off (PUDO) offering that allow customers to grab parcels or drop off parcels at partner convenience stores without waiting in line at a post office. In our latest platform offering, we’ve included a compelling line up of configurable applications to support the fast deployment of products and services, at any point of service or channel. We also introduced a Taxes, Duties, and Compliance solution that simplifies compliance and complex global regulations when shipping parcels across borders. Over the next year, we’ll be launching a series of insights, artificial intelligence, and digital onboarding offerings which will enable postal operators to take their customer satisfaction programs to the next level.

Our technology is helping people both inside and outside postal operations. Outside, we’re helping dramatically improve a vital function in society: delivery services. Postal services are an essential way that governments and private businesses communicate with people and how people communicate with each other. We want to make this system more efficient for both the postal operators, the senders, and the recipients.

How do you think this might change the world?

It’s important for people to have access to a reliable mail delivery network. Sure, many national postal services operate at arm’s length from their country’s government, but their purpose is still to provide a reliable communication delivery network for the population. Our technology will ensure this vital service benefits from the same efficiencies, advancements, and customer satisfaction tools that purely private sector companies use.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I think it’s important to be realistic about technology and assess its pros and cons critically, but I honestly can’t see a downside to our technology. Posts are at a crossroads right now. On the one hand, they can continue doing what they’re doing and hope for the best. As anyone from any disrupted industry can tell you, that’s never a good plan. Or, they can recognize that while the postal landscape is changing, there’s a new need emerging from customers and that’s getting parcels from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. Posts already have the infrastructure and services they need to excel. They just need the technology that will make their services accessible to a digital-first customer base, and we’ve developed a platform to help them do this.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

I hesitate to suggest a certain tipping point, because it implies there’s no time left for posts to make the shift. But I think the wake up call for the industry was the downward trend in letter volumes coupled with the upward trend in parcels. It was shocking, but not in a purely negative way. I mean, sure, hearing that the lifeblood of your business is no longer a primary service in people’s lives is alarming, but unlike other industries, posts were being handed this replacement. The takeaway was, “Yes, letters are disappearing and it may look like your business is dying. But guess what, we can give your business a transfusion that’ll save it. We can introduce parcels, but you’ve got to have the right circulatory system to manage it.” And so our passion to innovate was driven by a sense of responsibility and also good business sense. Fighting change is a futile strategy. The music industry should’ve taught everyone that. Instead, at Escher we said, “Okay, we know we’re a trusted partner to posts. They know we understand their business. How can we create a comprehensive suite of tools to make this digital transition as seamless as possible?”

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

For starters, we need to educate posts on the fact that it is 100% doable. Many posts operate on 3 to 5 year plans. But technology — and consumer demand — moves at a much faster clip. These timelines are no longer realistic. And so right now, I think it’s about empathizing with posts and figuring out why they might be committed to these plans. What’s the rationale that prevent posts from acting sooner that we can provide solutions to? For instance, a big barrier for many posts is the thought of uprooting their existing IT infrastructure to implement a new solution. We know this isn’t something they want to do. So we designed our platform to ensure they don’t have to change their infrastructure. We can deploy our Customer Engagement Platform on premise or in the cloud, and our system can also integrate with third-party APIs and a post’s other enterprise systems. When we were thinking about digital transformation, we tailored our solution to posts, from conception through to execution.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

That’s a great question, because something interesting happens when people launch an innovative new product. They think it needs to be accompanied by a spectacle. You know, the whole “the medium is the message” idea. And we’ve certainly embraced marketing at all levels whether it’s by engaging with media partners or educating posts through digital marketing content. But I think our most innovative marketing strategy has been focusing on the postal operators’ business challenge…is it to reduce costs, to expand service offerings, diversify revenue streams, or improve the customer experience? The Escher platform can help. We’re attending events and conventions around the world and our people are connecting with posts at a human level to discuss the issues most pressing to them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

That’s a tough one, because there are so many people who’ve affected the trajectory of my life. It may have been a long-term mentor or someone who just gave the perfect advice at a critical moment. But if I had to pick anyone, it would be my parents. My mom raised five boys, and she instilled in all of us this sense of perseverance. It was very important to her that her children think in terms of opportunities, not limitations. I also learned how to be an empathetic listener from my father, who was very reserved, and very thoughtful. It’s not something a lot of people learn in business school, but it makes a tremendous difference to your leadership style.

As a parental unit, they prioritized raising critical thinkers. They never told us what to think or how to solve a problem. They’d give us the information we needed, pros and cons, and see to it that we arrived at our own conclusions. As far as raising future leaders goes, that’s an incredibly smart strategy.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Wow, that’s a big question. I’d say we’re contributing something incredibly positive with the Escher platform. Just think for a moment about how important postal operations are in different countries. They’re a way for governments, businesses, organizations, and people to connect and to access services. We’re making these connections faster, stronger, and more widespread. A strong postal infrastructure that embraces the latest technological advancements will support people running a business using postal services, help people across a country access critical services, and just provide a more delightful experience for users overall.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Well, firstly I’d say putting the right people in the right seats. Most people know that they need the right people, but they don’t put as much effort into putting those people in the right place. For instance, if you’ve got an employee that isn’t working in a certain role, the answer isn’t getting rid of them immediately. The answer may be an open and honest discussion about their skill set and finding something within the company that more closely matches their talents or skill set.

The second is the reminder that people don’t leave companies, they leave leaders. I know this has become a popular piece of advice, but that’s because nowadays we see this message broadcast on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Today, it’s almost considered a cliché. But early in my career as a leader, you needed someone to remind you that it’s your responsibility to get the most out of your talent. An underperforming team may not be a sign of poor workers. It may be a sign of poor management. Can you invest time into coaching those managers, so that you get the most out of your people?

Third is something I came across online that I wish I’d heard earlier. It was something like, “When you hire someone, it’s guessing. When you fire someone it’s knowing.” In other words, trust your judgement and get to hiring. You need people and you can’t wait around forever for the perfect candidate. But if it becomes clear that they’re not the right fit, be brave enough to either find another spot for them or gracefully part ways as soon as possible.

Fourth, the advice that being a CEO is not a popularity contest. In some instances, leaders may believe they’ll be successful so long as people liked them, but that’s not true. Instead, aim for respect. You want people to have faith that you’re making the calls that are best for the company, your customers, and your employees, not just catering to popular opinion.

Finally — and this is a big one I wish someone had told me — that you should aim for clarity, not certainty, when making decisions. If you’re constantly searching for certainty, you’ll never make moves. You’ll never execute on your strategy. And this is especially true if you’re trying to innovate, because you’ll miss huge market opportunities. At the same time, take ownership of your decisions and be alert so that you can course correct when new information crops up.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

At the moment, I’m really excited that Escher technology is connecting over one billion of the world’s people. Think of the number of people who engage with postal services and use postal services to access vital resources. If these posts are using the Escher Customer Engagement platform, our company has essentially facilitated the connection of people and communities around the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Definitely the Benjamin Franklin quote, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” I love that quote. It completely encapsulates my approach to business and leadership. It takes passion to build brilliant businesses and persevere. You’ve got to believe in something greater than the nuts and bolts of a given project. But at the same time, you need to be mindful and strategic and execute on your plans carefully, so your unbridled enthusiasm doesn’t become the downfall of your ideas. I’m an incredibly passionate person…who happened to start his career in auditing and corporate finance, subject areas many people view as the antithesis to passion. But these experiences were very helpful. So while my passion drove me, it was also disciplined by a rational mindset. What do the numbers say? Are we being responsible? Is there a better way to execute on our ideas?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Sure, we’re quite active on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, so be sure to engage with us on these channels.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

The Future Is Now: “How AI can make mail and deliveries more efficient” with Nick Manolis, CEO of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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