Supply Chain Solutions highlights customer service experience when buying software.
The implementation of cloud-based software can serve a variety of needs for transportation and logistics companies, but one of the areas that often escapes attention is the customer service side.
As Supply Chain Solutions, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based freight forwarder, non-vessel-operating carrier and provider of supply chain services and software, discovered that benefit can reveal itself on both sides of its relationships.
SCS has for the past few months been using rate management software from the cloud-based solutions provider CargoSphere. That software allows SCS in its capacity as an NVO to quote ocean rates more accurately and quickly to clients.
In a highly competitive market, that forward-facing customer service element is invaluable, as it has weaned SCS off a reliance on emailed rate sheets from overseas agents as the primary tool to quote for business.
But Melissa Hermenitt, international pricing and carrier development manager for SCS, said an overlooked element of customer service is the ease with which the solution provider implements and supports its product.
“They sent me an immediate implementation plan,” Hermenitt said of CargoSphere. “They set the system up with our logo in less than a week. Once we had the system up, they’re ready to train me as an admin. If anyone was slowing down the system, it was me. They were ready before I was.”
The speed and ease of implementation meant Hermenitt could more quickly translate the company’s investment in technology into business generation through quotes.
“We really decided to focus on rate management in August (2014),” she said. “We decided that rate management needed to be more systematized. I really got excited, because I was doing it manually. I was looking for a quote—we partner with WCA (a forwarder agency), so we have strategic partners overseas. So we would get 20 rate sheets a day, primarily our partner for Asia. You get rates daily or weekly.
“We would send emails out to partner agents or the WCA website for exports. Doing that through email, that process is quite cumbersome, waiting for the agent to reply on the Asia side. It can be days or weeks on the European side—and they may not even reply to the whole thing. And then you have to take those emails and compare them with the rates and do quotations,” she explained.
When Hermenitt joined SCS, the company was using an email format to send quotes.
“It started out in manila folders,” she said. “We developed a solution through CargoWise (SCS’s operating system), and all the eDocs surrounding the quote would go into the quote. Then the operator could convert it directly to a booking.”
SCS began examining how it could make some of its processes, like rate management, more efficient after acquiring the international operations of England Logistics, the point at which it became an NVO. Hermenitt said the company’s NVO business is small, but growing. SCS sees itself as a long-term partner in building its customers supply chains.
“We have a more strategic partnership with clients, rather than what you see with a traditional forwarder,” she said.
Customers include companies in the industrial manufacturing, automotive, and food and beverage industries. The company started with an inbound logistics consulting project for the office furniture manufacturer Steelcase.
“We focused a lot on consolidating and savings,” she said. “From there, we grew into transportation management and international.”
And Hermenitt is eminently qualified to dissect the importance of customer service, since her company provides its own proprietary solutions (a range of tools that includes transportation management, inventory management, and visibility) and she was formerly a shipper.
“I used to be a shipper,” she said. “From my perspective, we required our domestic carriers to be back to me in 30 minutes or less. A lot of our domestic clients have those expectations.”
Part of the challenge on the international side is meeting similar expectations but with more complex rate circumstances. Shippers want similarly quick quotes, but many forwarders and NVOs don’t have the tools to empower that quoting capability.
“The speed of quoting is big for some of our clients,” she said. “Whoever gets it to you first wins. Everyone’s focused on getting it now. We do have transactional customers, and they are shopping other rates. We can lose a quote because we weren’t timely about it.”
Aside from CargoSphere, a handful of other software providers, like Catapult International and Info-X Software, specialize in rate management tools for international modes that empower quicker and more accurate quoting. Broader supply chain software providers, like GT Nexus, Amber Road, Descartes, High Jump, and a host of others, also provide rate management capability.
Hermenitt said she was “blown away” by CargoSphere’s Rate Mesh tool, the company’s flagship product that functions much like Facebook in that it allows a company to share its rates with those partners that it wants to, much like someone would “friend” another person using Facebook. The parties then essentially create their own rate-sharing network.
“The idea you can compare your rates with another rate, is pretty powerful and innovative,” she said. “We’re only connected with five partner agents right now and looking to expand it. Even then, I get hundreds of rates.
“I learned more about my contracts than I did before, because I took them apart and re-uploaded them. It helped me become more comfortable with our contracts,” she added.
Part of the ease of implementation was that CargoSphere was already integrated with CargoWise (now known as WiseTech Global), a popular enterprise system for forwarders.
“Once you set up the mapping, it’s all in there,” Hermenitt said. “So once you upload the amendment, it’s pretty much set up already.”
This article was published in the July 2015 issue of American Shipper.