Customer Spotlight: Erin O’Leary, Janel Group

As the second installment of our Customer Spotlight series, we sat down to talk with Erin O’Leary, VP of Innovation and Technology at Janel Group. Erin’s position gives her unique perspective on the role technology can play at a fast growing freight forwarding company. Dive into our interview below to hear about:

  • The questions Janel’s leadership started asking that led to an increased focus on technology
  • The internal and external factors that have put increased pressure to adopt new digital tools
  • How Janel prides themselves on combining of personalized service and best-in-class technology
  • How Erin plans to leverage Logixboard to free up their team to spend more proactive time with customers

Enjoy our Customer Spotlight interview with Erin!

To kick things off, could you tell me a bit more about yourself and Janel as a company?

Yeah, so I started with Janel about a year and a half ago. I initially came on as Vice President of Innovation. The organization at the time had decided that they wanted to do more to stay current with technology, through better utilizing current systems they had in place as well as growing their stack of resources and tools and really becoming more tech-savvy overall. This was focused not only internally for improving efficiencies and processes on the back-end, but also thinking about how we’re serving the customers and what else we could offer them. 

Janel started in 1974, and has been growing since then both organically and through acquisitions. We’ve actually acquired quite a few companies over that time to help us with either covering new geographic areas in the United States, building out our customer base, and being able to open new branches in places we didn’t have a geographic presence. 

How do you think about differentiation? What sets Janel apart from other forwarders when you’re talking to prospective customers?

It’s always about how we can offer the best customer experience and having great staff and resources to be able to do so. We take a lot of pride in having a fantastic internal culture so we can hire great people, which in turn lets us provide a really great experience for our customers. 

We also look at how we can provide additional tools that compliment our traditional customer service, we don’t want to take away that personal touch or the ability for one of our customers to pick up the phone and call one of our staff, we just want to be able to provide additional tools to put at the fingertips of the customers, so they have those added resources on top of that. 

It’s all about combining our great people and technology to provide a high quality customer experience.

So you focus on technology and innovation for both internal and external parties – how do you think about balancing those? And what sort of shift have you seen over the past few years as you consider prioritizing internal vs. external?

There’s definitely been a big shift in how we think about technology both internally and externally. 

Internally, I think for a long time, leadership in this industry has really resisted spending money on technology or anything related to it, mostly because they couldn’t see or visualize the return on that investment. You’re also dealing with an industry that is pretty old school and there’s still a lot of that old school mentality with paper and file folders. So especially over the last few years as the market has been changing, there’s a couple of questions leadership has started to ask: 

  • Are we internally being as efficient as we can be?
  • Are we using what technology we currently have?
  • And are we bringing in new resources, new products, things like Logixboard, that can help us become more efficient and provide a better customer experience?

And then also externally, competitor-wise, you look at some of these so called “digital forwarders”, and what kind of service and product are they offering to customers versus us, so naturally we ask ourselves should we be threatened by them? And I would say I’m not worried about them, but I think you need to make sure that we are staying competitive, and I think our selling point is that we’re going to maintain that actual true customer service, you’re going to be able to talk to someone and interact with someone, so having that plus some of the things a digital forwarder can offer, is the direction that we’re going.

Technology adoption in the freight industry has been relatively slow, but it’s been ramping up significantly over the last few years. What would you say is the driving force behind that change? Customer expectations? Innovation from freight forwarding leadership? Both?

I really think it’s both. If you’ve got the right leadership in place that’s thinking about the future and where we want to be in the next few years, they’re going to be looking at technology and how we use it to move us in that direction that we want to go. 

And then at the same time, you’re starting to have some customers and some prospective customers that include it as part of their bid processes. They’ll ask: do you have this type of platform available? What do you have when it comes to technology? And they’re now starting to have some minimum requirements that partners like us need to meet. That’s not to say all customers at this point, because we also deal with all different sized customers, so they may not necessarily even have that kind of advanced technology within their own company, but it’s starting to go in the direction where we know that there’s those types of solutions we can offer, it’s only to our advantage. 

That’s really interesting – do you have an idea of what percentage of recent bids have included a requirement for technology?

I could probably go through notes on that, but  off the top of my head, but over the last 18 months, it is probably at least 75% of people we talk and go through bid processes with, ask something about it.

Can you share a bit more about your journey to becoming a Logixboard customer? What inspired the need for a customer experience platform, and how did you land on Logixboard?

Sure, so over the last year or so, as some of those shifts we talked about started happening, we definitely identified there was a need for a better visibility tool for our customers. The current freight system that we use offers a basic out-of-the-box solution that we’ve used until this point, however, there’s been no further development on that product, and we all agreed internally that we needed something better for our customers, something that was more user-friendly, more appealing. Overall ease of use for our internal users and customers was really important to us, so that’s why we started to explore other products.

For this project, specifically with the shipment visibility, we researched seven or eight different products including Logixboard, and we were really specific around prioritizing the visibility aspect of things for our customers. We’re a medium-sized organization, we have a smaller IT team, so we knew it was out of the question to build something in-house, so we were looking for a good partnership that we could rely on finding someone that had a solid product that we knew we’d work well with.

We were immediately drawn by how easy it was to use the platform right away, night and day versus what we’ve been using. It totally hit the nail on the head with what we were looking for.  Search functionality for the customer was also a priority for us.  We wanted to find a product that was simple to use, where a customer could log in and have the data they needed right at their fingertips without having to dig around or get frustrated.

How do you hope the Logixboard will help your customers?

One goal is to have a system that they can access 24/7 and that provides complete transparency into the status of their shipments. With Logixboard our customers have real time access to the same information that’s in our internal system, so additionally if they do need to contact us with any questions, we know both parties are looking at the same data and their questions can be addressed quickly. 

We also expect Logixboard to free up some of the repetitive, time consuming tasks that our internal teams regularly have to dedicated time to. This will give our team more time to be able to proactively communicate and strategize with our clients to build the relationship and grow as a strategic logistics partner. 

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