Dear freight forwarders, you’re not in the shipping business. You’re in the information business.
By Simon Kaye, founder and CEO of Jaguar Freight
If you can’t deliver the freight, deliver information. For the past 29 years, that’s been a mantra we’ve tried to abide by at Jaguar Freight.
That’s because I realized immediately after we were up and running that freight forwarders aren’t in the shipping and transportation business. They’re in the information business. What we do is all about communication and delivering information.
Of course, we price our services and ultimately are hired by customers to manage the movement and repositioning of cargo. But make no mistake: We’re customer service providers, and our core function is to effectively communicate, to make customers feel like they’re in good hands, and to be able to answer questions or concerns with the right information at the right time.
Those elements are hard to tangibly measure, though. You can’t feel or touch good customer service like you can touch goods, nor can you really point to a completed job in the same way you can prove that freight moved from where it was to where it is now.
But in an industry where every competitor is trying to establish themselves as the one with the best service and the one a shipper should choose to give their business, it’s incumbent upon forwarders to have some way to prove their service is best in class.
In today’s world, that ask is simple: Show me your tech.
What does your tech look like? How does your tech work? What am I going to get from it?
Those are the types of questions shippers want answers for — and those are the types of questions around which you can position yourself to win business.
That’s a big part of how we sell to our customers. We demonstrate our tech, and not just some canned version of it. We show them real, live, actual shipments so that they can see how it’s going to work for them, and we offer them trial shipments so they can feel what it’s like working with us. This process helps us earn new customers – and retain them.
Tech should be at the forefront of every freight forwarders’ value proposition, especially small and mid-sized players.
Perhaps even deeper than the individual systems a forwarder relies on, though, should be the plumbing between them — a robust integration network that creates a channel of common data that all platforms can access. In turn, that back-end architecture helps forwarders build the information they need to provide good customer service by way of good information.
We use a platform, Chain.io, that does just that. It also allows us to quickly onboard new customers and sync into their systems and vice versa, so that all platforms are speaking a common language and that the right data is being transmitted securely and easily.
And that’s just the type of tech that your shippers are judging you on in today’s world, particularly as they weigh which forwarders to continue doing business with and which to drop.
If you fumble connections with your shipper or importer customers, or if you simply can’t connect at all, that’s not a good sign that your tech or your customer service is going to perform well either. Plus, it hampers your ability to provide your shippers with the information they critically need — and that they’re relying on you to give them so they can give updates to their internal stakeholders.
From a customer-facing perspective, connecting those dots with our integration platform makes our job of communicating critical information easier, and it allows us to demonstrate our value without hard selling.
If we’re integrating with an ERP, for example, we show shippers we can quickly pull purchase order information and push back shipping information. Then they have the confidence that it’s going to be a quick, seamless process. That’s incredibly valuable not only in the sales process, but while we’re actually working with customers, too.
Our tech differentiates us, and honestly it defines us. Shippers see it that way, too. Nearly every time we demonstrate our tech to shippers, they’re blown away, and it helps us win business away from large, headline-grabbing players in our market.
One shipper customer put it this way to us, comparing our tech to a much larger competitor: They said the competitor’s tech was like a McDonald’s burger wrapped in a Shake Shack wrapper. It was all glitz, and once it was put to the test in a real-world freight forwarding setting, it simply didn’t perform as expected or hyped.
In a freight world where everything’s running smoothly, maybe that’s fine. Customer service isn’t as important. For better or worse, that’s no longer the world we live in. Nothing has run smoothly the past two years, and having the right tech to provide the right customer service has been a defining differentiator for forwarders who pride themselves on providing the best possible service.
Being the biggest, or the strongest, or the ones with the deepest pockets doesn’t define success any more. Rather, being nimble and able to quickly adapt — that’s what’s propelled forwarders to success and will continue to in the coming decade.
Not answering the phone, leaving customers stuck in voicemail hell, wading through spreadsheets to determine the status of their shipments, email after email after email to answer basic questions — these are the frustrations your customers air behind your back and that ultimately cause them to dump you.
They want real-time visibility into their shipments. They want to be able to search down to the SKU level of their shipments. They want it in a clean interface they can search. They want you to integrate quickly with whatever system they’re running. And, maybe mostly importantly, they want you to answer the bloody phone.
One of the underlying and overlooked methods to do all of that (maybe except answering the phone when a customer calls) is making sure the plumbing – aka the back-end integrations – of your software and customer integrations is installed and working properly. Is that really so hard?
Simon Kaye is the founder and CEO of Jaguar Freight, a mid-sized freight forwarder based in Valley Stream, New York.