How Technology is Changing Customer Service for Freight Forwarders

Talk to any successful Freight Forwarder and they will tell you that their business lives or dies by their Customer Service. 

But over the past few years, we’ve seen huge changes to shipper expectations of Customer Service, largely driven by new technologies. 

For logistics providers to thrive in the new world, it’s critical to understand how the convergence of technology and Customer Service changes how you should support clients to maintain a healthy business. 

Customer Service is the Backbone of a Thriving Forwarding Business

The operational aspect of getting goods from A to B–  though complex and nuanced–  has been commoditized. There are hundreds of thousands of logistics providers that can help move cargo anywhere in the world (albeit, some better than others). 

So how does one differentiate themselves in a crowded market to both find and keep shipping customers…? You guessed it: Customer Service

Forwarding companies that don’t provide great Customer Service struggle to survive in this industry; it’s a vital piece to building a thriving business. Forwarders coordinate the movement of their clients’ most valuable assets–  so whether they’re working with a small family business or a Fortune 500 company–  building trust is critical to success.

This isn’t just an opinion, it is supported by data. In a recent survey of over 100 Freight Forwarding customers, Customer Service and individualized attention was ranked as the most important factor when evaluating working with a forwarder.  

While the importance of Customer Service hasn’t changed in the past 50 years, what has changed is what it means to provide best-in-class Customer Service. Shippers now have new expectations that need to be understood and adapted to in order to succeed in the forwarding world. 

Like It or Not… Technology is Changing Shipper Expectations of Customer Service

For decades, the standards for providing top tier Customer Service in Freight Forwarding haven’t changed. These standards can be boiled down to three main categories:

  • Communication (Are you picking up phone calls? Responding to emails? Being proactive about important shipment updates?)
  • Strategy (Are you helping improve the shippers supply chain? Playing a strategic role in operations? Solving supply chain issues?)
  • Personalization (Can you adapt to the nuanced needs of your shippers? Will you go the extra mile to over-deliver on expectations?)

These three core pillars likely won’t change anytime soon, but how forwarders can deliver and execute against those pillars is changing. Expectations are evolving, and what used to be considered Grade-A Customer Service in the past won’t cut it in the future.

Shippers now expect 24/7 access to real time data (not just phone calls and emails). They want their LSPs to be strategic logistics partners (not just reactively solving problems). On top of this, they still expect the same level of personalized attention. This shift has happened in Banking, Insurance, and Healthcare, and now it is happening in Logistics. 

What is the catalyst for these shifts in expectations? Simple… Technology. 

Technology Should be Viewed as an Opportunity, not a Threat

The role of technology in the logistics industry has been interesting. On one hand, advancements in manufacturing, commerce, communications, and other technologies have driven huge growth in the pure volume of things that need to be shipped.

On the other hand, technology (especially digital technology), is often viewed as being at odds with the very thing that creates differentiation between freight forwarders: Customer Service. Although the sentiment towards digital technology is changing, there still seems to be the belief that shippers want to be calling, emailing, and texting spreadsheets and shipment information back and forth with their forwarders. 

The reality is that technology is an accelerant for your Customer Experience, not a deterrent. 

There are absolutely times when shippers need someone on speed-dial. And there are some shippers that just enjoy getting personal updates daily from their logistics partner. But where that type of support used to be the rule to providing world class Customer Service, it is now the exception. 

In today’s world, data shows that you cannot have adequate Customer Service without supporting digital technology.

[Curious about what it takes to win and keep a shipper’s business? Download our Market Research report here]

The Key to Success: Shifting from Customer Service to Customer Experience

So how can forwarders leverage technology to improve their Customer Service?

The first step is to stop referring to it as Customer Service, and start referring to it as Customer Experience.

Customer Service implies manual work and attention; doing work on behalf  of the customer. While this is very important, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. 

Customer Experience is about making customer’s lives better by reducing friction and improving working relationships. This does not mean removing the forwarder (or Customer Service) from the equation. It means shifting the work and service you are providing towards value added jobs (like strategy and personalized service) and away from manual administrative work that computers can do. 

We’ll be diving into how you can transform your forwarding business to be Customer Experience centric over the coming months (subscribe to our blog and follow us on LinkedIn to keep up to date!). But here are some high level things you should consider when strategizing about how you can combine technology and service to set your business apart.

Things Technology Can (and Should) Be Doing to Improve Customer Experience:

  • Online Quotes
  • Online Bookings 
  • Automated Data Entry
  • Shipment Visibility 
  • Online Payments
  • Better Data

Things Your Team Can (and Should) Be Doing to Improve Customer Experience:

  • Becoming strategic partners with your shippers
  • Finding more space with carriers
  • Building and improving custom SOPs
  • Creating better customer relationships

[Want to learn more about how to drive ROI from digital investments? Check out this on-demand webinar]

So, What Now?

Technology and Customer Experience used to be completely separate aspects of a forwarder’s business. Sure, there were ways to adopt technology to help run Freight Forwarding operations, but very rarely did that technology touch customers. 

This is changing quickly, and succeeding in the new world will require adaptation. 

The convergence of technology and Customer Service is critical to providing world class Customer Experience. Lean too heavily on Customer Service alone and you risk customers perceiving your operation as inefficient and burdensome. Rely sole on technology, and you may appear impersonal and inflexible. 

The key to success is a balance between your people and your technology. Curious how leading forwarders are evolving their Customer Experience to grow their business? Check out these case studies:

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