Front Line Customer Service

Logistics service providers point to their technological solutions and KPI’s to add value for their clients. KPI’s are essential to the management of logistics providers as well as to their clients. Some customer service functions, however, are not as easy to measure. Clients of logistics providers include shippers, consignees, importers, and exporters. Whether your logistics provider is a motor carrier, freight forwarder, customs broker, or warehouse company, you will need customer service assistance from time to time. Let’s differentiate:

Request for Information– shipment status, tracking and tracing, claims status, rate requests, invoice balance. This type of customer service is best obtained on line. Take the time to become familiar with your providers’ info systems so you don’t waste time on the phone or waiting for a call back. If your provider does not offer this type of info on line they are either inefficient or very small. To avoid frustration ask yourself if you just need information or action by your provider. Information is easier to get than action.

Action Needed- This level of customer service most likely requires human intervention. Examples include customs or regulatory delays, stopping or diverting shipments, credit issues, special pricing, or real emergencies. While no one likes calling an 800 number, it is a good idea to get your request into the provider’s system as soon as possible as a first step. The difficulty is in reaching the right contact and getting the action you need. If you use a 3PL you may be able to delegate the problem for their handling and have them provide timely updates. If you do not use a 3PL, then you need to manage the issue on your own. One mistake clients make is to rely on their  account rep for all customer service. Account reps are usually on the road and in meetings so this causes delays in action. Another mistake is to depend on the super efficient Mary, Debbie, or Bill in your provider’s office. Everyone takes vacations and sick days so don’t rely on one person for your customer service needs. A better way to get good customer service is to establish protocols with the help of your providers.

Protocols- Day to day logistics consists of planning, execution, and problem solving. Good planning is essential but not foolproof. Logistics managers deal with changing schedules, equipment failures, weather delays, regulatory issues, and miscommunication on a daily basis. Most problems, however, are not new. The same situations tend to repeat themselves so they can be anticipated. I suggest developing a set of problem solving protocols for the most common issues in your supply chain. This approach will save you time since you will not be starting from scratch when a problem arises. It will also enable your colleagues to act in your absence. A basic protocol defines the problem and lists steps to be followed as well as the resources involved. Your logistics providers can help by providing resources. They should be willing and able to give you relevant operations contacts along with phone and e mail info for your identified problem areas. Your account rep may be surprised when you ask for help developing protocols but they should welcome the opportunity. This method can be a big time saver for them as well. Get commitment from your providers to respond to your requests in an agreed to amount of time. You can update the protocols as needed. Make them a part of your review meetings with your account reps and you will get better customer service.

Finally, if your account rep says “Just call me”, don’t accept this response.

We help small and medium sized companies stay compliant with Customs and export regulations and manage logistics. Contact mitch@

Are you taking the Customs Brokers Exam in April?

If you are planning to take the customs brokers exam in April you should be well into your preparations by now. In a previous post I shared the prep strategies that worked for me. Here is the info again with the key steps highlighted. Best of luck but don’t rely on luck.

According to CBP Customs and Border Protection passing rates for the customs brokers exam average only 3-11% nationwide. The test is given twice per year in April and October. It consists of 80 multiple choice questions and a passing grade is 75%. The exam is open book which makes it seem easy. However, the books consist of  the HTUS Harmonized Tariff of the United States and CFR 19 Code of Federal Regulations, totaling hundreds of pages. The difficulty is in being able to quickly access the right section for each question. It is a four hour exam so three minutes per question is not much time.

I took a prep course but, as good as it was, I would not have been able to pass the exam without additional study. I estimate that I spent about 50-60 hours on weekends leading up to the exam.

I used 6 previous exams and a 3 step process. In step 1 I took each test for accuracy, ignoring the clock. In step 2 I took the tests again in the same order, while timing myself to make sure I could finish within 4 hours. I believe that step 3 was the key to my success. For this phase I circled all the questions I had missed in steps 1 and 2 and created a separate mini exam which I took several times until I answered all the questions correctly.