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The good old days of freight customer service

The internet has not improved freight customer service in Australia.

The Internet has mostly made a lot of things faster, easier and more accessible. In a couple of areas, the Internet has had a negative effect on our lives. One of these is email; another is express freight customer service in Australia.


The good old days of customer service:


Your freight isn’t where it should be. You call the transport company at the destination depot and the receptionist puts you through to customer service.


The friendly, knowledgeable customer service person at the other end would then call the delivery driver who should have the freight on the 2-way and ask whether the consignment had been delivered or not. If it had been delivered, what time and who signed? If not, how far away are you.


The driver would know his run and be able to estimate a time. On some occasions the driver would be able to alter his run to deliver a consignment early if need be.

If the freight had been delivered on a previous day, the customer service person might even be able to go and find the POD and fax it to the customer.


If the freight was not on board the customer service person would go onto the dock and check if the freight was still there. If not in the driver’s bay, was it being held for some reason? Was there another problem?


The customer service person would then fix the problem and call the customer back. They would advise what had happened and how it was going to be fixed.


End of story.


Fast forward 20 years.


Check the website with the consignment note number. Depending on the level of tech of the particular carrier, the website might go so far as to have an “on-board” scan.


If the freight is not on-board you may be able to see the most recent scan. Some carriers have missed line haul or held statuses.


If the freight has been delivered a POD may be available on line.


The real problems only occur when something has gone awry. You want to call a transport company? Please dial 13 WAIT. The next step is:


“You’ve called us, why didn’t you try the website?

Followed by:

“If you are a potential new customer, please press 1.

If you are an existing customer who is going to book one of our expensive, highly profitable services, please press 2.

If you want to book one of our general services, please press 3.

To hear these options again, please press 4.

(Oh, and if you need customer service, please press 7, then 4, then 1 and 1)”


If and when you have jumped through the hoops, waited 28 minutes on hold and finally reached a person, the fun really starts. Remember, the most important KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for a transport company call centre is “First Call Resolution”. This means, “we didn’t have to do any follow up work”.


The customer service people at Australian express transport companies are, on the whole, great people. They work in high stress, high performance call centres with big red numbers on the wall letting them know how many people are waiting and the average wait time. They are under significant pressure to get through their calls as quickly as possible.


Due to centralisation it is often the case that the person you are speaking to is in a different state to the freight you are chasing. Your 13 WAIT call can route you anywhere in the country.


When you get through to someone their first step will be to check the tracking page of their own system and tell you what you already know, e.g. “this freight isn’t in Sydney yet and was due for delivery yesterday” or “this freight is on board with a driver who left the depot at 8:46”. Another favourite is the “no scanning”. This is where there has been a data problem and the freight company system can’t see your item. You will be asked to confirm the freight was actually sent!


You may not be happy with their answer, so you may wish to “lodge an enquiry”.


Typical transport company enquiry guidelines:


1) If the consignment is not due yet, do not lodge an enquiry.

2) If the consignment is due today and it is not yet 3pm, do not lodge an enquiry.

3) If the freight is late, but the customer doesn’t seem too concerned, do not lodge an enquiry.

4) If the freight is late, lodge a query that will be handled to someone else in the back office who will contact the customer when they get around to it.


When you lodge an enquiry the customer service person will ask a raft of questions and generate a query number. If you’re lucky you’re dealing with a carrier who uses the consignment number as the query number, but don’t bank on it.


Hang up, and wait for someone to call you back.


At some stage you will receive a call back, but please bear in mind that the person who is looking after your query probably has anywhere from 12 to 50 enquiries at any one time.


Their job will entail looking at mis-sort reports, late line haul reports, requesting national dock checks, checking the internet. Because your carton isn’t where it should be, scanning isn’t helping and now we’re counting on someone else to do the right thing in a depot somewhere and scan the freight, update the status and get it to where it should be.


In most cases the customer service people are not allowed on the docks. This is largely due to safety and is perhaps the only improvement in customer service in 20 years.


When everything goes well your freight will turn up at the receiver before the carrier calls you to let you know. Most receivers don’t call to let you know the freight has finally arrived, and most senders don’t want to call the receiver to ask whether the freight has been delivered, as this prompts the unhelpful “shouldn’t you already know?”


If things go badly you’re in all sorts of trouble. Trying to call the person who is handling your query is futile as you have to go back through 13 WAIT and press 10 buttons, hold 28 minutes, then hold longer for them to pick up.


So you wait. And wait.


It’s ok, even the worst express freight company in Australia is running a 65% DIFOT. Your freight will turn up.


I miss the good old days.


Agree, disagree? Anything else you miss about the good old freight days? Hit me up in the comments.

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