How to keep customers happy when 10% of global trade screeches to a halt

Emily Hackeling

Emily Hackeling,

Content Marketing at Front

25 March 20210 min read

“Sorry! Massive traffic jam!” You pretend you’re not panting as you jog into the conference room, hoping the sweat from your parking lot sprint doesn’t leave speckles on your light blue button-down.

When you think about the most infamous pre-pandemic causes of a bad start to the workday, traffic jams top the list. They’re largely out of your control, but somehow still make you look unprofessional in front of peers and customers. It happens to everyone—but what can make you stand out in the situation is how you handle the problems that ensue after your delay. Did you fill people in that you’d be late? Did you get someone to cover your customer call? Did you postpone your presentation and reschedule promptly?

When you’re in the business of getting things from one place to another, however, a traffic jam can escalate from an embarrassing inconvenience to a catastrophic global-trade-halting event. And just like the frantic late employee, when a giant container ship runs aground, blocking the Suez Canal and bringing billions of dollars of trade to a halt, it’s not your fault. But how you handle it will make the biggest difference for your customers.

Adding stress to an already-strained system

Let’s not forget: the bottleneck that started on March 23 builds upon an already tough time for the global shipping system. Over a year in, the pandemic has put significant strain on global supply chains and the companies who are working to get goods across the globe.

People are stuck at home, ordering deliveries online more than ever. Trade has become increasingly imbalanced, meaning it’s harder to come by physical containers to carry goods. And the pandemic restrictions for safety at ports mean fewer longshoremen and staff are available to help load and unload cargo.

While it feels like someone’s adding fuel to a fire you didn’t even start, you’re not off the hook: customers are demanding you to deliver—literally.

How can shippers, freight brokers, and anyone who’s moving goods keep their customers happy despite trade being trapped in place?

Customer experience is your differentiating factor

On a normal day there are many factors that could make your company stand out above the rest. Maybe your network of shippers and trucks is far larger, or maybe your routes are optimized by your proprietary platform’s algorithm, making you faster than your competition. But when your speed and resources are physically removed from the equation, what’s left? The way your business handles communication with customers—the way you make them feel when you interact with them.

The customer’s experience is what matters.

What does a great customer experience look like in a crisis?

In moments like these, it’s easy to see “excellent customer experience” as a buzzword, something that’s hard to take action on. So, what are examples of what it actually looks like in moments like this? Speed of reply. Continual updates. Personalization. These are all things your business can control.

Speed of reply

Replying quickly is table stakes in the logistics industry whether you’re giving the fastest quote, locking in the nearest driver, or responding to an urgent inquiry for a shipment that’s in flight. When a customer writes in during a crisis, responding quickly—with helpful information—will set you apart.

This is entirely reliant on the internal processes you have in place to handle incoming communication:

  • Do you have SLAs with automated warnings on certain communications so that you can easily pinpoint messages that need a reply urgently? Or are you stuck sifting through emails to try to find messages from VIP customers?

  • Do you have clear accountability over incoming messages so that every person on the team knows what they’re responsible for answering? Or are you relying on reply-all or shouting across the room to understand who’s got what under control before you can even start to think about replying?

Continual updates

Giving updates through the entire process (whatever that process looks like for your business) is the best way to ensure customers know you’ve got it handled. What this means for you internally, then, is keeping clear alignment among your team at all moments. When you’re putting together the quote. When you’re checking on driver availability. When you’re ready to extend the quote. When you’re expecting the delivery.

The internal processes needed to do this are all powered by collaboration:

  • Can you easily escalate a conversation or pass a quote to an operations teammate to handle their part of the equation? Or are you forwarding a messy email thread to a group email address and hoping it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of a noisy inbox?

  • Can you quickly work together with different departments to answer a conversation? Or are you moving to a chat solution or forwarding emails to explain a situation to a teammate and come up with a solution?


In bad times, the little things make a big difference. Remembering a birthday. Calling someone by a nickname. Even just recalling what a customer said last week so that they don’t have to repeat themselves. You can only personalize a message when you have a little context about the person you’re talking to. That means being able to reference past communications with that person and read through their situation, or being able to look at their account with your business in your CRM or database. Ideally, you can do both with ease:

  • Can the entire team view all customer communications—even if they aren’t on the email thread? Or are individuals having siloed email conversations with customers that aren’t visible to others on the team to reference?

  • Is your customer database plugged into your inbox so that you can reference customer account numbers, orders, shipments, and more, all directly next to your email conversations with them? Or are you flipping back and forth to update and reference a system for every customer you connect with?

You may have guessed by now where this is going, but at Front, we enable all of these abilities for companies, many of whom are freight forwarders, shippers, 3PLs, and more. With a little help from Front, they’re paving the way by setting industry-leading standards of customer experience:

Reactions matter in customer service

The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “It’s not about what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters,” and it rings true when something outrageous happens that levels the playing field across an entire industry. Unwanted and uncontrollable problems can happen to any business—and the ones who will stand out are those who handle these moments with care.

Reach out to our team if you’re interested in how Front helps logistics companies win more business and drive repeat customers.

Written by Emily Hackeling

Originally Published: 25 March 2021

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