5 maritime trends for 2018: the promise of service
By Ruud Muis, owner/general manager of AEGIR-Marine
Although the economy in general is booming, unfortunately growth in many segments of the shipping industry is still lagging behind. Yet there are some small rays of hope, and it’s about time.
Another side effect of the economic crisis is that it has triggered a 'race to the bottom'. Many companies are approaching their nadir, hit rock bottom or were swallowed by the ground. A dead end race as far as I am concerned.
Merging and downsizing, larger vessels and containerization have made companies more efficient. And with Big Data, automation and eventually even unmanned vessels, there are still many benefits to be gained. But our industry seems to have lost a lot of its elasticity. Many efficiency successes were at the expense of personnel, customer orientation and as a result customer satisfaction. Especially on this aspect companies can make a difference in the short and longer term. Therefore I would like to emphasize five prerequisites for a future-proof, service-oriented organization.
1. Make service personal
To me, the 'Future of Service' is a personal, customized customer-driven solution. So, be careful with the standardization of services, in order to achieve economies of scale. The pitfall is losing sight of the customer and providing services for everyone, and then everyone appears to be no one. Listen to the customer, offer solutions that really solve issues and do not leave until the problem is dealt with. It sounds so logical, but too often we see that this is far from obvious. Two pillars of personal service:
Know your customer – each client has his own needs, based on criteria only he knows. Therefore, stay in close contact. Appoint a contact person for each client and a dedicated service team.
Invest in your staff – a personal approach also applies to the people who have to do the job; your own employees. They are the ones who have to use their knowledge to meet the customer's challenges. Facilitate them in every respect, for example work environment, internal processes, corporate culture and personal and professional development.
2. Be approachable and available
Following on from the personal element, one of the crucial aspects of service is the low threshold for customers to approach your company. Digitally (Omni Channel), but also through a granular and intricate network of agents. You need to be close to your customers, speak face-to-face with them. Only then you are able to continuously monitor whether your solutions offer added value and really “touch” the customer.
Specialization is just another word for “know your strength”. AEGIR-Marine does not have the ambition to build generators, let alone entire vessels. We understand a number of very critical parts of a ship; the propulsion system and propeller shaft. On the other hand, our specialization is market-wide and brand-independent. Vast knowledge is also an important part of service, because customers back away from the costs that a 'vendor lock-in' might entail.
Do not try to acquire all knowledge. Of course you want to create a one-shop stop for your customers, but an effective way to provide this is by entering into strategic partnerships. As long as you offer a central communication hub, with a single dedicated focal point. Another advantage of working with other specialists is the sharing of knowledge, the broader view that your employees obtain and the new ideas and skills they acquire.
5. Innovate & unlock and share your knowledge
Innovations in the field of service often seem to be at odds with the personal customer relationship that I described above. For instance, take the developments in augmented reality. Remote service allows you to look through the eyes of the people on board. A time and money saving innovation. This also applies to a number of innovative developments I mentioned in my blog of 2016. Developments such as 3D printers, unmanned vessels combined with solar energy and Big Data analysis are emerging. It is important to see the cost benefits of these developments and at the same time keep an eye on the interests of your customers. No innovation for the sake of innovation.
Downsizing vessel crews also had an impact on the level of knowledge on board. More and more shipping companies are looking for service partners who combine a hands-on mentality ánd brains. Knowledge has become a dominant and distinctive factor for service providers.
To offer this aspect of service, AEGIR-Marine set up its own R&D Department, where PhD students from the Delft and Twente Universities of Technology conduct research. At product level, but also when it comes to sustainability and improving service processes, we are on top of the latest developments. Also, in order to secure and retrieve our knowledge, we have established the AEGIR Academy. To share knowledge we are working on a system accessible to everyone within the organization, anytime, anyplace, worldwide.
Finally, it is important that all five service aspects are interwoven. Together they form the core of a real customer-oriented and solution-driven organization. Companies that continuously sacrifice personal contacts for more efficient (i.e. cost effective) communication via digital channels will eventually lose contact with their customers. The 'phygital' strategy, an integrated physical and digital customer experience, is the future. And that future starts as early as 2018. On behalf of our AEGIR-Marine staff, I wish you a great, healthy and successful new year.