Sunday, 25 April 2010

Customer loyalty... going, going, gone?

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Has anybody else noticed that customer loyalty seems to be dying a slow death as the forces of the internet gain more momentum? Now todays customers are better informed than ever in making their buying decisions and realise they are the ones holding all of the aces.

Courtesy of the internet today's customers can quickly search and find vast numbers of alternative suppliers of virtually any product or service and get real-time price comparisons. They don't really care anymore how long you have been in business or how big you are or how many offices you have or what great marketing promise you have come up with. The business climate has changed forever and the balance has tipped firmly toward the buyer and not the seller. Any company that thinks they can force customer loyalty somehow is now completely out of touch. In fact todays buyers can and probably will rebel against them.

If you think it is about price and price and price, then you are wrong. Sure it is a major factor in any buyers decision and every company needs to be competitive to survive however recent research suggests that in this fast paced world we live in people value their time and benefits more than their money.

This is the topic my good friend and mentor, Bob Bloom, has based his latest book "The New Experts" on. Bob has had a lifetime in marketing working for customers such as BMW, L'Oreal, Nestle, Southwest Airlines and little old Skelton Sherborne. Before retirement he was CEO of Publicis Worldwide. His immense experience is second to none and I always enjoy his no nonsense, cut through the crap style. Bob's common sense or perhaps "uncommon sense" approach has been dynamite for my business in helping me attract and retain the worlds leading shippers of heavy equipment and machinery.

I was sincerely honoured when Bob chose to write about some of the initiatives in freight forwarding we have come up with for our clients and even more honoured when he asked me to write an endorsement for "The New Experts".

This book is relevant, enjoyable and a compulsory read for anybody trying to come to terms with the thinking and habits of the new customer.

Bob has been kind enough to give me ten copies of his book. I will send a free copy to the first ten readers that leave a comment at www.TheShippingBloke.com offering a personal experience to the readers of this blog in dealing with the attitudes of todays customers.

If you miss out then you can buy a copy of "The New Experts" here.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Volatile freight rates as shipping recovers from the GFC.

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HSBC, the worlds largest bank, hosted a shipping conference on the 29th of March and I thought I'd share some of the information and ideas raised there by ship operators, ship yards, ship brokers and financiers that might be pertinent to followers of this blog. Freight Forwarders, like yours truly, seemed to be absent. The source of this information is HSBC's Shipping Day report.

Overall there was consensus that a slow recovery is underway however many operators are still delivering substantial losses and freight rates, particularly in the container sector, are likely to be very volatile in some trade lanes. I have personally seen this volatility and you have to be right on your game!

The volatility is being caused by carriers who have been hiking rates in order to try and get back into profitability and fluctuations in shipping capacity. Rate hikes the past 6 to 8 months has been due to carriers cutting their capacity as they have laid up vessels to ride out the downturn. The rules of "supply and demand" have kicked in.

Capacity is now growing again though. Some carriers have started reactivating some of the ships they have laid up while at the same time there are new container ships being delivered from the ship yards that were ordered years ago(pre GFC) which are increasing capacity. HSBC report that most of these vessels are destined for Europe/Asia tradelanes. Rates have already dropped by about 10% as a result. Good news for shippers and freight forwarders. Overall it is concerning that there is still massive over-capacity in shipping globally.

We are also seeing the RoRo carriers contemplating bringing more vessels out of "lay up" so I suggest we will see similar volatility in freight rates in this sector soon which is likely to continue until demand and capacity stabilises.

Recovery in the bulker and tanker trades seems be happening faster and in fact the ship yards reported a preference to work in these sectors. The ship yards received almost no orders in 2009 and suffered from substantial deferments of orders as well.

So, all in all, still interesting times for shipping but I am heartened that recovery seems to be slowly underway even if there are still some rough seas ahead for a while.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Generosity Gene.

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I am fortunate to have some incredible friends in Naomi and Peter Simson who founded RedBalloon. Their company is easily the largest online supplier of experienced based gifts. More on RedBallon.

Naomi is a marketing genius, a former Telstra Businesswoman of the year, a Mum and one of the most innovative and out of the box business thinkers I have ever known.

She has recently had the great honour of being invited to speak at a TEDx event in Sydney. Tedx is invites some of the worlds greatest minds in their respective fields to do presentations which are recorded and then uploaded to the net. The thrust of Tedx is to capture amazing ideas and spread them.

So while Naomi's presentation, "The Generosity Gene", has nothing at all to do with shipping, I thought I'd share it with you. I hope you find it as thought provoking and enjoyable as I did.

Congratulations Naomi!

Click here to "The Generosity Gene".

All for now.

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke

Saturday, 10 April 2010

What happened to "My word, is my bond"?

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For centuries in shipping, a person or company's word has been something that can be relied upon absolutely. It is an industry foundation stone but I fear it is getting lost. A reputation for honouring your word is hard earned but easy to lose. It's not rocket science. Simply do what you say you will do and it keeps customers happily coming back.

So lets relate that to some of the worlds major RoRo and container lines right now. Sadly many still have substantial portions of their fleets mothballed and out of service and are losing money due to declines in cargo volumes with the GFC. It's a bad predicament the industry is in yet short shipment of cargo is on the rise again even when shipping capacity massively outweighs cargo volumes. For a shipping line to give a booking confirmation on a particular vessel to move cargo is in effect to give their word or a promise to perform.

Recently one good client of mine with a RoRo carrier suffered three consecutive short shipments in a row for his bulldozer. To be clear, this was with bookings being CONFIRMED by the shipping line in writing and yet vessel after vessel his cargo was left behind. Similarly a client moving full container loads ex Europe had virtually the same experience. The commercial impacts on these clients was massive but the shipping lines didn't seem to care.

These occurences were commonplace just prior to the GFC rolling through as cargo volumes globally were at all time highs and there was a shortage of ships. Not that this excuses short shipments. Either way you look at it, the shipping line shouldn't accept the booking if they cannot be relied upon to upift the cargo AS BOOKED! It's their "word" after all.

Perhaps I am over-simplifying it but I don't think so. To my businessmind I'd be trying hard to deliver a damned good and above all reliable service and carrying everything I could to grow profits and revenues. Particularly in challenging business times.

Now I am sure that some executives of shipping lines are reading this blog and thinking Skelton just doesn't understand. "He's been around long enough to know it's about maximising the utilisation of the ships we have in service to make a profit. Sometimes this means we have to leave cargo behind." I realise delivering a profit is a business imperative but in some circumstances is it worth the long term cost of abandoning your word and thus losing customer focus?

Lets get back to basics. I think to abandon your word is short sighted. Long term success in business means taking long term views of the business relationships you enter into and realising there will be highs and lows but because you have given your word, you stick by your customer through thick and thin.

It's about being committed enough to the relationship to take the good with the bad. Lets not forget that many ship owners have enjoyed incredible boom times prior to the GFC. The likes of which had never been seen before.

So now times are pretty tough and some of these carriers, while delivering appalling booking reliability, are arrogant enough to still think they deserve and can demand 100% loyalty from shippers and forwarders while at the same time not offer anything in damages when they leave cargo behind. To be frank they don't deserve loyalty because they haven't earned it.

My customers have long memories for bad service and many of them will go out of their way to avoid and punish carriers who have inconvenienced and cost them money before. Right now with times being tough for them too, they are less forgiving than ever. We are fortunate that most of our customers are understanding enough to know that because we, as freight forwarders, don't own the ships we are reliant on the shipping lines to perform.

In previous blog posts I have referred to three great mates of mine that I get together with a few times a year to discuss business and life over a long lunch. One of the boys coined a phrase that resonated with us all and I think is relevant to share in light of peoples abilities to keep their word.

It is, "Tough times don't build character. They reveal character".

I invite you to comment on this blog and share any short shipment war stories you may have by going to http://www.theshippingbloke.com/ .If you are one of the offending shipping lines, then I am sure my readers would like to hear your perspective too.

All for now,

Brad Skelton

The Shipping Bloke