Why are so many people travelling the world when we have a perfectly capable laptop or phone where you can have a skype conversation? Simple, because we want to deal with people we know & trust. I get loads of emails from perfectly good agents around the world that I’ve never met or dealt with… I’m sure they are fine, but it doesn’t work that way.
How do we build up trust? By forming deep & personal relationships "over time."
By meeting people in convenient and social locations where we all can share stories and have a laugh. Yes, ok mainly in bars. Having beers in a bar while talking shop is great for your business!
Most managers or owners of freight forwarding companies try to head out to visit overseas agents (or own corporate offices) maybe once or a few times per year. In addition, we find ways to chat on Whatsapp like teenagers and always find ways of insulting each other on regular occasions from different time zones. It’s amazing which jokey insults translate so well...
Also, at times like these we also discuss and wonder for the future of the industry. Will we be replaced by robots or algorithms who can do the job of a forwarder more efficiently? I was reminded recently that travel agents have largely been replaced by online booking systems very successfully.
Also there was a recent article on the Loadstar.com about how forwarders would die a painful death on a yacht if they didn’t modernise (joke.. of course as I don’t even have a yacht! but I guess I could borrow my dads canal boat)
I started to write this from an Air Asia A320 heading to Kuala Lumpur from Hong Kong. I booked this online months ago from a rainy Cheshire, UK, thousands of miles away. Online booking for travel works as most of the travelling population of the world is able to do this. We all generally know what we want (via Tripadvisor) and roughly how much it should cost months in advance. Take out the wife’s credit card and boom! You’re off to Skiathos!
Although we are now seeing the start of online booking and marketplace platforms now, the freight industry isn’t really like this. For a start it’s usually business to business. Also, a trading company might not have the inclination to learn enough to make an informed decision about whether one LCL co-loader is better than another or if an airline is likely to bump freight on the run up to a holiday period. There are so many different permutations or getting your pallet from Preston to Pennsylvania that on paper look good, but in reality, can cause major issues. For it to work, it would have to be at least the same level of service and / or cheaper than your local forwarder.
A couple of weeks ago, we had an issue with some “temporarily” lost cartons on the way to a customer. The clerk who handled the shipment was doing the chasing to track where the goods possibly were and following back up with the client (even if no news). Because they had made the booking, they were much more likely to understand where the weak links may have been rather than going through the notes of a shipment to get themselves acquainted. They also had a stake in seeing how it turned out and if anything was their fault / could be improved / was the fault of the trucker etc. This is what customers want. That we have their back when it goes pear shaped…
Good luck asking Siri or Amazon’s Alexa to investigate a lost shipment. Good luck asking Alexa to make a booking with Maersk.com or getting a spot rate on plus 1000 kilos to JFK when she can’t even get the right Taylor Swift song when I ask?.
So, potentially we can use online booking and automated processes, but only if still backed by a great team of REAL PEOPLE. A hybrid system. Human led, where we know that the chaps from Toronto don’t sleep and that the guys from in Delhi are awesome dancers.
As a competing industry we don’t really offer the same thing, so a freight purchase may become a decision based on reputation AND cost. (I hope we don’t start requesting 5 star reviews from clients. Nothing is more soul destroying from being asked for a review of a stapler you bought last week). I think that 99% reliability of service is a goal that you are always striving for but will struggle to achieve due to the unpredictable events or customers not knowing exactly what they want (or when they want it). Some don’t know what the best “terms of trade” to use and some wouldn’t even nearly want to know why there is a difference between Air Canada and Air Transat, or why you can’t clear goods in Southampton with software for Felixstowe. (This really still bugs me!)
The freight forwarding industry certainly needs to modernise. However, as the recent Facebook debacle with online data still continues, people will become more wary of giving their data across to a company they don’t really know. I would argue that the personal touch will become even more important in the next few years. As based on TRUST, not just your valuable shipment data. Hence why you still have to meet people over a bottle of Singha beer in Bangkok or a particularly fine Jasmine Pale Ale if in downtown Mongkok. (wife??.. she’s probably well past reading this bit now) – sorry I am nearly finished….!
As every client has different requirements, we then have to decide what information we part and any solutions to potential or real issues. If we simply code a computer to do this, then it would be a one system fits and it wouldn’t know whether an email is ok, a text message or a phone call on their mobile on a Saturday morning. I feel that humans are more able to judge these calls than a computer.
If something goes really wrong with an automated system you are screwed as you’ve just told everyone to go to the pub as they’re not needed anymore….. :)
The downfall of the personal freight forwarder has been predicted many times. The humans are not yet dead – far from it…