Customer-Facing Enablement Critical for Modern Customs Brokerage & Freight Forwarding Systems

Back To All Posts | Posted on November 3, 2021

Customers in this current age expect almost perfect communication, service, and responsiveness from the companies they interact with. The advent of the internet, social media, and IoT devices enable businesses to provide better customer experiences than ever before.

Just like their own personal consumer experiences when shopping online for items such as school supplies, housewares, clothes and gadgets, logistics customers are now expecting “at your finger-tips, on-demand” information from their forwarder. They want the same improved customer experience in their business as they enjoy at home. 

The future of the freight forwarding/customs brokerage industry centers on customer experience. 

Modern customs brokerage and freight forwarding is a complex and high-stakes industry. It’s difficult to stay up-to-date and competitive, especially when operating with a traditional manual and analog method. There are a great number of reasons for this including:

  • Errors in the documentation
  • Juggling countless communication channels with partners and carriers
  • Waiting for a second too long to book a shipment
  • Ever-changing customs compliance rules
  • The post-pandemic global supply environment 

In spite of all this, the future of customs brokerage and freight forwarding is positive and encouraging. Today, the main focus is on the forwarder, advocating for and constantly improving how their shippers and partners interact with their organization. More specifically, industry leaders are transitioning from a traditional, analog approach to a more digital one. 

Maintaining success in the future of customs brokerage and freight forwarding depends on retaining this mindset, organizational culture, and building positive customer experiences. These experiences include modern digital tools and solutions that improve end-user experiences and reduce costs through more effective collaboration with carriers, shippers, and partners.

What is Customer Enablement?

Customer enablement refers to any processes designed to improve customer experience. This is achieved by providing buyers with the tools, resources, and guidance they need to successfully use a product and remain loyal. 

In practice, customer enablement can take the form of a video series that provides ongoing education on your industry. It often includes services that help users set up a product and use it properly. Customers appreciate it when you answer their questions and provide tips and benefits to use and maximize a product.

Why Do You Need Customer Enablement? 

Consumer loyalty is essential for every company’s success. This is especially true in SaaS and other subscription-based business models which rely on renewals and expansions to sustain growth.

But building and maintaining customer loyalty is equally important for traditional business models. Customers are critical to growth, whether it’s because their rave reviews help capture new business, or because they’re so pleased with the buying experience that they become repeat customers. A thoughtful approach to customer enablement will ensure your success continues to scale.

Growing Expectations of the Modern Customs Broker & Freight Forwarder

In today’s logistics world, customers are looking for online visibility through a self-service cargo booking software that simplifies and automates logistics execution. It is also helpful if the solution reduces costs, manages compliance, and tracks shipments in real-time.

Customers want to be able to access information on their own and book shipments online anytime, anywhere. They are also looking for value. They want to compare cost vs. transit time estimates at-a-glance to get the best price. They want to secure a shipment easily using intuitive web-based cargo booking software. And in addition, today’s customers are on the move, rarely at a desk for long. They want remote capabilities to check rates, book shipments, or track cargo from any mobile or remote device. 

Customers also want visibility. End to end visibility of shipments is important. Customers expect real-time tracking of shipments from point of origin to point of destination. Visibility includes access to data and documents such as bills of lading, cargo manifests and other shipping documents.

Customers also want to know if their shipments have cleared customs. They expect to hear of a delay due to compliance issues or if their forwarders are completing the required steps needed for compliance and the smooth movement and clearance of goods. If there happens to be a delay in the shipment, customers want to know the status so they can adjust labor resources and notify their own clients of the estimated time of arrival. 

Customs brokers and freight forwarders who can make it easy for customers to find the best rates and book shipments need to be smart about how they deploy these services. The right technology should present the forwarder’s brand as the face behind the technology. As a result, the forwarder maintains control of the interaction while providing customers with an outstanding experience. 

The Changing Customs Brokerage & Freight Forwarder Landscape and the Pressure to Digitize

Innovative competitors are shaking up the industry and drawing revenue away from traditional customs brokers and freight forwarders. At the same time, customers with high expectations are calling for digital services and technologies to keep their businesses moving forward.  In this current global environment, customs brokers and freight forwarders have an increased but essential competitive pressure to adapt operations in order to keep up with customer demands. 

Today’s competitors are innovative, reactive to customer needs, and include:

  • Recent Market Entrants – Well-funded and with a “clean” technology sheet, recent market entrants are focused on the digital customer experience.
  • Larger Players – Established and with a high volume of capital on hand, larger competitors have a substantial customer base that expects the same services from other forwarders like you.
  • Suppliers & Carriers – It is becoming more common for carriers to sell directly to shippers. Likewise, suppliers are also interfacing with the end customer and challenging the role of the traditional forwarder.
  • Customers – Select customers, especially those with access to a broad range of technological resources, are developing platforms to move their own goods

In addition, customer and operational pressure points are pushing forwarders to digitize. 

Provide a Better Customer Experience

There are many points of contact between customers and traditional forwarders during the quoting, booking, and confirmation process. While forwarders might perceive multiple interactions as excellent customer service, modern clients who are used to information on-demand may perceive the process as tedious, inefficient, and time-consuming.

Without real-time tracking, customers who are not able to check arrival times or obtain a rate quote immediately may explore other options from competitors. Modern customs brokers and freight forwarders that can offer a premiere customer experience are better equipped to meet high customer expectations.

Rid Yourself of Tedious Manual Processes

For many forwarders, their internal operations remain entangled in manual, labor-intensive processes. For instance, the traditional offline quotation and booking process is lengthy and cumbersome. Still, many companies rely on time-consuming and error-prone methods such as email, personal handoffs, and phone calls to convey shipping information.

Customs brokers and freight forwarders are also under pressure to keep operational costs down but realize that cost savings is challenging with traditional manual processes. Digitization helps customs brokers and freight forwarders automate previously manual activities such as shipment planning, booking, document management, regulatory compliance, and accounting.

This saves time which leads to cost savings. Market-leading customs brokers and freight forwarders also know that the above challenges are not mutually exclusive.

Customs brokers and freight forwarders should look for a solution that can simultaneously meet external customer expectations, automate processes, enable digitization, and lower costs.

Using the right technology in your business will provide an exceptional customer experience.

Consider the following questions to see how your existing technology is servicing your customers and identify if there is any room for improvement. 

  • Online booking/rating tools: Can customers compare rates and service times and book online?
  • Access to information: Does your web-based portal or visibility tool allow customers to easily search shipments, manage documents, view cargo statuses and access reporting and data analytics?
  • Real-time visibility: Does your technology allow customers to see real-time shipment status online throughout the entire shipment journey or do you require them to contact you?
  • Branding: Does your online portal show your customers your brand and logo?
  • Integration: Does your technology easily integrate or add-on to your current platforms?

Customer Expectations - Can You Meet Them?

The customs brokers and freight forwarding world is changing and to thrive in the future, digitization will be critical. Customers are expecting self-service solutions, more control over their shipments and documents, and real-time visibility. Digitization provides an excellent opportunity for forwarders to streamline the booking and tracking processes to reduce costs, provide a better customer experience, and focus resources on higher-value customer activities.  

In short, customer-facing enablement best practices:

  • Offer self-service rating and booking tools so clients can evaluate available rates and times on-demand.
  • Provide branded shipment visibility, seamless integration, and the ability for clients to access their data and documents.

The Bottom Line

Digital customer experience portals can be deployed as a single integrated logistics software platform or as an independent application that integrates with your existing back-office system to jump-start the process to becoming a fully digital forwarding operation. Those forwarders who can deliver flexible, interoperable, modular, best-in-class, customer-facing self-service solutions are better positioned to excel in a competitive environment. 

About ITS NxGen

International Trade Systems (ITS) based in Gig Harbor, Washington is a leading provider of Freight Software Solutions. ITS delivers one of the most powerful cloud-native logistics software platforms built on a strong foundation based on 30+ years of experience in the industry and providing service to over 3200 users of our exclusive system.

Contact us today to discuss how you can turn your firm into a modern customs brokerage or freight forwarding system that better serves your clients.

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