In the early 80’s international ocean transportation was a small fraction of the market as it exists today. In the US many more products were domestically made and those that were imported came from close neighbors in Canada and Mexico. Sales were done by knocking on doors and making phone calls. If you were deciding on a freight forwarder at that time around the Chicago area it is possible I was one of the sales people calling you.
As a salesperson in that era I was expected to generate new business and any new business was good. A customer who had 1 shipment a week was a big win. A customer who had several shipments a day was the jackpot. Service was personal. If your shipment needed to move urgently I was in the office working with the operations people making sure you were serviced.
Service was important.
Service is still important but since the early 80’s we have seen significant changes. Trade lanes shifted, ERP systems evolved as computers became cheaper and more powerful, and CRM (customer relationship management) grew in popularity. Cost of sales also rose as did cost of service for the freight forwarders. Technology would solve that but only partly.
If you are a small to medium sized business this meant that you suffered the categorization of the CRM processes. The result was more of the work in managing your transportation service became yours and you are more likely now to never see a sales person. The harsh reality is that it is likely you never will unless the value of your international transportation spends grow large enough to get that attention.
For the past 17 years I have been working with some of the largest global freight forwarding companies refining business processes and designing and implementing systems. The intent was to automate as much of the back office process as possible. Think from your booking through to paying your bill for freight forwarding services.
The frustrating part of doing this is that the largest customers get the largest amount of attention even in automation. Rather than build out a structure that ensures the servicing of all customers every business transformation I have engaged in results in how to make sure that the customization for the largest customers gets priority.
This was frustrating for me because I remembered my early days as a sales person. I remembered it wasn’t about how big they were for me. It was about the fundamental concept that all customers deserve an outstanding customer experience.
Freight forwarders struggle with this.
It doesn’t matter how large or how local they are (small specialty forwarders). The largest customers get the space on the ship, the priority in customer service, and the sales call.
What makes me qualified as an expert on this?
My career lifetime has been in freight forwarding, logistics, and supply chain management; my first experiences were in college doing international documents and bills of lading on a typewriter. You had to know how to do it, the computer was not there. I have been in sales, managed local offices, had responsibility for customer service operations for two global freight forwarders, been chief information officer for 3 global forwarders and I had daily responsibilities for operations of a $3B global freight forwarder that operated in over 60 countries. I have seen most of it in this business. This included seeing the business of small to medium sized customers take the lowest priority in service and sales. This will not change but it can be made better. We will together dive into these issues deeper and provide a logical way to ensure service, get attention, and minimize the work that you need to do as a small to medium sized shipper.
Ron Berger - COO at Fleet