Liner carriers are doing their utmost in these economically depressed times to prevent their operations from becoming just another humdrum commodity-based business.
To do this, some carriers are making concerted efforts to increasingly court shippers with new customer service offerings.
In mid-July, Maersk Line unveiled its Web-based MyFinance suite aimed at making invoice, payment and dispute resolution simpler for its customers. Bo Sonnichsen, Maersk’s chief financial officer, said the carrier seeks to be “the easiest carrier to work with.” Also, in July, the liner giant announced it will accept credit card payment for demurrage fees to expedite cargo release.
Starting earlier this year, MOL began making it a point to electronically publish regional key performance indicators for its operations, customer service and electronic data interchange. The Japanese liner hopes that by providing transparency of its performance data will help illustrate to shippers that it takes its delivery of services seriously.
In the context of the ocean industry these are noteworthy initiatives, but within the bigger picture of all major service industries, streamlining payments and reporting service levels are standard practice. The fact the liner industry considers these to be innovations raises a lot of questions about the carriers who are not embracing the mindset of those like Maersk and MOL.
To further illustrate this point, in this issue American Shipper
explores how liner carriers, despite many years of debate and numerous technological advancements, still lack a truly industry-wide standard for efficiently processing essential documentation, such as bills of lading.
Thus it appears that liner carriers are catching up to technological realities which are long overdue for any service-oriented industry.
Yet change — even under pressure — doesn’t come easy to the liner carriers, who continue to grapple with how to fill slots on increasingly larger containerships and risk chopping themselves to pieces by offering major shippers less-than-compensatory freight rates just to hold their cargo.
At this point, liner carriers will require a significant customer service makeover to avoid being viewed by shippers as just another commoditized business, like an electric utility or telecom.