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Innovation is key to delivering superior customer service

Under continuous delivery of larger vessels, and persistent pressure of an unstable market, container shipping companies are constantly looking at ways to stabilise profitability. One of the key solutions is for carriers to address the customer service gap, which represents an opportunity for revenue growth, increased yield, and longer-term cost reductions

FOR Ocean Network Express (ONE), delivering outstanding customer service is not only a business priority but also a necessity to overcome some of the growing pains it faced following the launch of its operations in early 2018.

Formed as a joint venture of three Japanese shipping companies (K Line, MOL and NYK), ONE naturally had the challenging task of unifying the corporate cultures and established ways of working across its three legacy parent companies.

This impact was especially pronounced at ONE’s North America office due to the high volume of cargo and auxiliary businesses it handled. Manpower shortages and a lack of proficiency in the new ONE operating system by many employees meant that customer inquiries were not being responded to efficiently and effectively enough when the company first commenced operations.

Delivering superior customer service through live chat

To solve this issue, ONE introduced a live chat service that enabled its customer service staff to address a larger volume of customer inquiries and at a faster pace. Unlike traditional channels such as the telephone and email, customers can always get through to a service staff and communicate on a real-time basis.

“What our customers needed was prompt and easy access to our customer support teams. Although none of our three legacy parent companies had experienced chat service, we adopted it as a platform that can combine the merits of telephone and email,” said David Mills, senior vice-president for ONE’s North American operations.

Live chat services have been around for years, especially in the business-to-consumer space, but deploying the technology in a business-to-business setting is still relatively uncommon, and even more so in the shipping industry.

Introducing this technology has paid off for ONE, whose customers readily embraced the platform, which was especially effective in dealing with a large volume of customer inquiries that required only simple responses. A year into the implementation of its live chat service, ONE reports a 99% customer satisfaction rate with the platform.

This level of success has led to the expansion of the live chat service from its North America office to seven other markets that ONE operates in, and there are plans for further expansion. ONE’s live chat service currently serves around 1,500 customers globally.

The next frontier: Chatbots

Preparation are already underway to introduce chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. ONE has already deployed chat bots internally to streamline internal knowledge management among its 3,000-strong sales team worldwide. For example, its employees can now rely on chatbots to locate operations-critical information, thereby improving the efficiency of the business as a whole.

Machine learning and chat bots are revolutionising the way that many businesses are operating, as it enables them to improve overall customer experience in a fully automated way. Some of the main advantages of chatbots include 24/7 availability and simultaneous client management. Unlike humans, who operate during office hours and can serve a limited number of customers at any one time, chatbots do not face those restrictions.

“There is a huge potential to augment our existing live chat system with chatbot technology. Currently, the inquiries are handled by human operators, but through machine learning and the implementation of chatbots, we can further optimise the efficiency of our customer service offering,” explained Kentaro Yuasa, deputy general manager of Enterprise Architecture and Strategy & Innovation at ONE.

As ships get larger, carrier alliances evolve, and consolidation within the sector continues, operational complexity will continue to be challenging, and margins will remain tight. ONE believes that its investment into innovative technology will create an improved and differentiated customer experience, setting it apart from its competitors by creating a new standard of customer service within the industry.

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