TT Talk - Do you really know what your customer wants?

Postgraduate research by Steven Bell, as part of his MSc in logistics and supply chain management at the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, has highlighted several gaps between the services freight forwarders think their customers want, and what the customers are actually looking for. As part of his research, Steven chose twenty-three different aspects of transport operators' services and asked operators and their clients to rank them in order of importance.

While there was general agreement about the ranking of many aspects of operators' services, including speed of service and reliability of delivery times, the study highlights major differences in perception about the use of modern technology, Shippers ranked operators' willingness to develop internet-based services as No. 2 in their wish-list; forwarders put it down at No. 12. While, in interviews, many forwarders agreed that the provision of internet-based services was important, it is clear that they are still some way from meeting their clients' requirements.

Similarly, shippers thought tracking and tracing services were fairly important, putting them in at No. 8, while forwarders put them down at No. 14. One customer reported during an interview that an effective tracking and tracing system had been his primary requirement when selecting a new forwarder.

Forwarders, on the other hand, thought that their company's willingness to negotiate rate changes and their company's reputation would be significant factors for a customer to consider when choosing a transport operator, ranking them at Nos. 2 and 5. Customers did not agree: they put these factors at a lowly 15 and 14 respectively. Forwarders were concentrating on their image, thinking that this would attract more business, but customers were more interested in past performance. From an insurance point of view, there was general agreement on the relative importance of an operator's record of loss and damage to goods in transit: the customers put this at No. 9, the operators at No. 10.