Customer care and the digital world

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

25 April 2017


It was reported last week that a joint survey conducted by Drewry and the European Shippers’ Council found deteriorating satisfaction from container lines’ customers in 2016. The survey asked for customers’ views on a list of different topics. The answers were not great from a carrier stand-point. On a scale of 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied), customers (based on 126 responses) on average did not rate carriers higher than 3.3 for any of the 16 service attributes, the survey showed. The three areas of service or price in which shippers and forwarders were the most dissatisfied with were “carrier financial stability”, “quality of customer service” and “reliability of booking/cargo shipped as booked”. At the other end of the spectrum, the three areas where they were the most satisfied were “price of service”, “accurate documentation” and “quality of equipment (containers)”. Today it seems that every conference, seminar, workshop or exhibition includes a session on the benefits of digitisation and how it is going to transform shipping. Since that is in the future and the survey relates to last year, few of the customers consulted would have had much experience with the new digital revolution that is apparently going to revolutionise the container sector. While there may well be benefits, some customers must be viewing the digital future with trepidation. In the Drewry survey, quality of customer service came second from bottom which is an ominous glimpse into the future. All of us are users of online platforms for shopping, banking, travel and more and generally it has to be said that for most of the time the experience is quite good. But it is when things go wrong that things fall apart and sometimes when the transactions are not straightforward, the frustrations that can occur leave us wishing for simpler times. Who among us has not encountered a problem with an online transaction and tried to resolve it using the customer support services? An interminable wait to be connected to an agent using the chat pop-up, and then the dawning realisation that the person on the other end is not actually connected with the organisation but is merely giving stock responses from a list. The infuriating lack of any telephone numbers that connect with a real person with whom the problem can be discussed and resolved. Automated menus asking us to press 1,2, 3 or 4 followed by the hash key. A bad enough experience for a consumer but hardly disastrous if the grandchildren’s present arrived damaged or the courier has not delivered the package at the nominated time. For a business which will probably have customers of its own to deal with, a digital customer service department would be a disaster. Yes maybe we can follow shipments 24/7 using the container lines’ website but what if we want to ask how the threatened strike at an intermediate port or bad weather forecasts will affect the arrival of our cargo, or if we want to discuss the possibility of offloading in Felixstowe instead of Hamburg because our own end customer has changed. In the consumer world, digitisation has often meant the demise of customer service, if the same happens in the maritime world, maybe shippers will prefer to ship with a more traditional line.