US exporters revolt over cost of changing earliest return dates

US exporters revolt over cost of changing earliest return dates

This story isn’t pretty. It details how shipping lines are not providing accurate information on earliest return dates, and in fact are often changing them at the last minute. Those changes often result in penalties charged to shippers.

It’s another example of how ocean carriers refuse to look out for their real customer’s well-being. This sort of business model would be doomed to failure in most industries. But the ocean carriers seem to get away with it.

No wonder they are in such disrepute.

I’m not saying such customer service is easy to provide. There are lots of barriers.

I’ll tell you a story about my days as an IT guy. It was the disk drive business, not ocean shipping, but the idea is similar. Our top management asked us to provide a system so customers could call in and find out the status of their orders– where they were in the build process, and when we expected they would ship. This was long ago when there was no text messaging or even an internet. We used modems and dumb terminals, not PCs.

We devised a text-to-voice phone system which would read our manufacturing data (specifically the MRP workorder system) to locate the customer’s order and read her the status over the phone. the system worked great– you could call in from any phone and the system would find your order and read its status to you. We expected the system would be wildly popular, and customers would love it.

It started with a splash. Customers and salespeople dialed and got the message. It was very busy. But in a couple of weeks no one called.

When we investigated why, we found that the system worked great. The problem was that manufacturing decided the only statuses were order received and order shipped, nothing in between, and no time prediction. so the system worked great, but people had decided not to provide good information.

Manufacturing didn’t want to reveal the estimated dates; they wanted the freedom to change schedules at will without notifying customers.

I think that’s the real problem here– ocean shippers don’t want to limit themselves by revealing ERDs to customers. They think it would constrain their operations too much. No commitment. And to boot, they are able to collect fees from customers who didn’t realize there was no commitment. The game is patently unfair– there’s no economic incentive to get the carriers to reveal valid info.

Without a fair game with incentives for cooperation, there won’t be any. Prepare for some attempts to gain that fairness. Perhaps a search for regulation of the information rules and standards by government.

By Alex Lennane 19/10/2020

US exporters in revolt over the cost of changing earliest return dates – The Loadstar