Technology On The Waterways:
Are You Using Information To Improve Customer Satisfaction?
By Mark Peterman
President, Cornerstone Solutions Group
Think about how better access to information impacts your daily life. It wasn’t that long ago that an email confirming shipment of an online order was enough. But now that email comes with a link to UPS or FedEx so that you can see where your package is each step of the way. I can check the status of a shipment coming to me at any time on my home computer, tablet, or smart phone. In a similar fashion, I can check the status of a flight or be notified of changes via email or text. Expectations as a customer continue to rise no matter what you’re buying, and many of those expectations relate to information about the product or service. Whatever your business is along the inland waterways, your customers want easier access to information and their expectations are increasing just like yours are at home.
If you think about it, you can simultaneously increase your customer’s satisfaction and reduce the time and cost for them to receive that information.
The keys to success:
- Provide the information they want when they want it
- Allow them to tailor the way the information is presented so it meets their specific need
- Reduce the time required to access the information
Ultimately, this reduces your cost of service by making this information available without requiring one of your staff to collect it and then send it to your customer.
Here’s one example: at BargeOps we enable our customers (barge lines, towing companies, terminals, and fleeting companies) to share information with their customers through the BargeOps Portal. Think about an energy utility that wants to monitor the status of commodities shipping to its plants. The utility may want to see all of the barges by their status A. constructively placed to load, B. already loaded, or C. constructively placed to unload) or perhaps even by their location. Of course, it would be of interest to the utility to see how many tons have been loaded into barges so far this month or so far this year. Ultimately, a portal like this provides barge line customers with information about the supply to the utility so they can identify issues early and keep things running smoothly.
• A customer of a towing or line boat operation would want to see where their barges are located at any given time as the towing company is moving them around.
• A fleeting customer would want to know how many of their barges are in a fleet, how many arrived or departed in the last 24 hours, which barges have been in the fleet for a long time (and therefore incurring charges), and perhaps the status of the barge (repairs, cleaning, pumped out, etc.).
Very often, a report can meet the need in these scenarios. For example, many BargeOps customers use the Daily Customer Report which lists every barge and its daily activities. Looking at this report once a day is adequate for most purposes.
However, we see a significant shift from reports to real time flexible search technology. With web-based portal technology, customers can answer questions on demand that dig much deeper than what a standard report can deliver. In essence, search technology tied to the operational system enables inland marine companies and their customers to answer questions about the status or location of their barges and commodities whenever they want.
Think of all the different ways your customer might want to search and locate barges:
• by number
• load status
• origin facility
• destination area
• hull type
• current location
The best part is that the customer can customize their search criteria and turn that new search into a saved feature that can be emailed to the customer based on whatever they are interested in learning.
So why does this matter? Are you able to provide this kind of information to your customers? Maybe what your company does on the river doesn’t fall into one of the examples I listed above. If so, step back for a moment and look at your business through the eyes of your customer. What information would you want if you were them? What information are they routinely asking for that you could place onto a secure website where they could view their (and only their) data? How much time and effort would that save you and your staff by eliminating the time needed to gather that information when they call? How much would it save to create a daily or weekly report?
Make it easy for your customers to get the information they need, whatever your business is on the rivers. If you do that, levels of customer satisfaction will go up. Satisfied customers remain long term customers and they’ll pay for the value you provide. There’s an established link between customer satisfaction and profitability. Find out what information your customers value the most about the services you provide, make it easy to gain that information, and watch your business grow.