There are some things we cannot change. We cannot change the rising fuel prices and carrier rates, or the state of our global economy. We cannot change the fluctuations of the freight forwarding and shipping market, or the complexities that inevitably come with ocean shipping – especially when handling special cargo overseas. And we cannot change the challenges of shipping in the forestry industry, where weight and temperature restrictions, split bookings and narrow margins can slow down deliveries and make managing shipments overwhelming.
We can, however, focus energy on internal operational changes proven to lead thousands of businesses to success. This practice follows a service-driven business model to directly support the lifeblood your company: your customers. This shift puts you in a proactive position to drive financial success, rather than a defensive one that responds to volatile shifts and pressures from external forces. Often, the result of a reactive-minded company in a rapidly changing environment is too reactive and can be further challenged by conflicting priorities.
The Service Excellence Maturity Model (SEMM) is designed to focus a company’s priorities to one clear goal: drive internal efficiencies that have the power to also improve the customer experience. With this single change in focus, the rest will follow: you can cut costs, improve your customers’ overall experience, improve retention rates; business will grow and your employees will be spared hours of unnecessary and tedious work (thus improving morale).
This model is based on the work and observations with more than 80,000 companies worldwide and is a best practice growing rapidly in popularity. The SEMM is a five-step model that has been specially designed for shipping professionals looking to maintain or achieve profitable bottom line growth while improving service levels and retention for existing customers.
The formula for SEMM is:
1. Automate manual processes.
2. Standardize processes with multiple carriers.
3. Deploy automated, standardized processes globally.
4. Gain insight into additional opportunities for improvement.
5. Pursue continuous improvement.
This model was developed in response to three pressures shippers currently face in the industry:
• Increasing customer demand and the
importance of visibility throughout the ocean
shipping supply chain;
• Creating a flexible enterprise that can adapt
to change and respond quickly to opportunities;
• Managing the increased urgency around
security and regulatory compliance.
In this article, you will learn how to apply the five steps of SEMM to your company’s day-to-day operations, and how it will ultimately guide your business to conquer these trends, simplify your shipping processes and ultimately rise above competitors.
How can I get started?
Automate, Automate, Automate: The first step in improving efficiency while also increasing service levels is automation. Automating shipping processes is one of the easiest ways to drive operational efficiency – creating a more consistent experience for customers and freeing employees to spend more time on more important tasks. If your company hasn’t automated all ocean shipment processes, it is time to consider why not and put a plan in place to start maturing your operation.
Automation makes employees’ lives easier by eliminating manual work, the potential for errors, and significantly reduces the number of back and forth discussions with external shipping partners.
Electronic shipping is the most basic step to achieving operational efficiency and improved customer satisfaction levels. Automating each process not only makes the shipment cycle easier for forestry industry shippers, but the option becomes more attractive to carriers as it dramatically lessens the workload that’s typically required to process manual transactions. Therefore, reaching your carriers electronically also increases the chance to have your cargo accepted.
And what are the benefits to customers? Companies commonly see increased, real-time visibility into the status of their shipments, as well as fewer errors and shipment delays.
Automation helped Rayonier, which began electronic shipping as soon as the technology became available in 2001. Rayonier used the online shipping portal INTTRA to automate booking requests, booking confirmations, transmission of bills of lading, and tracking its containers.
Rayonier, similar to other forestry companies, continues to face challenges that come with shipping special care cargo overseas. “Because forest product shipments tend to be heavier than other export commodities, this causes drafting problems for some ocean carriers at most of the US east coast ports. The heavier shipments also can cause higher incidents of container floor breakages, which is a major problem due to forest products’ high sensitivity to moisture,” explains Scott Hyde, manager of supply chain operations at Rayonier. “Rayonier is highly sensitive to these issues and is somewhat unique since most of its products are shipped without any protective wrapping (due to the specialized nature of our cellulose specialty pulp). Because most products are shipped unwrapped, Rayonier requires clean containers.”
Rayonier originally set out to achieve two objectives with INTTRA: automation and a single interface with all ocean carriers. The organization automated the functions mentioned above, which allowed its team to have more time to work on other issues and opportunities. “Our data entry errors were virtually eliminated,” says Hyde. “Having a single interface with carriers on the few bookings that do not flow through the automated process helps the team make bookings faster.”
Automated shipping also helps forestry shippers keep up with all the new regulations around the world. These solutions track this information for you and ensure regulatory mandates are met wherever cargo is shipped.
I automated my shipping processes: what’s next?
Standardize across all shipping partners: One of the main reasons to automate a process is to achieve a new level of efficiency. Once you’ve automated a process, you want your employees to use them consistently as they interact with different carriers moving forward. The idea is to teach employees a process one time that can be applied across multiple carriers, rather than teach them multiple ways for each individual carrier. As long as your company keeps up with this technology as it advances, the level of service your customer demand today will be met – or ideally, exceeded.
Standardizing automated processes across carriers leads to lower training costs and enables a more consistent level of customer service, as automated processes make it simpler to process shipments and keep customers up to date on the status of their shipments.
Don’t stop with a single location
Deploy globally or across all your locations: As with many shippers, forestry entities commonly maintain offices in multiple locations around the world. While it’s valuable to automate and standardize key processes, companies cannot achieve the next stage of service level maturity if these processes are only leveraged in some of locations.
A critical, next step in the SEMM is to expand beyond one location by developing a single training manual and educating all employees on these standardized processes. By evolving your company into a global organization that handles processes consistently, you’ll gain internal efficiencies. Plus your customers will enjoy a better, seamless experience, regardless of which of your offices they contact.
My entire company is now shipping electronically! What’s next?
Gain insight: Even “automated shipping” can be improved, but it’s often the “softer-side” of the technology that can drive improvements overall. The fourth step of the SEMM is to consider why some employees are more efficient than others when they are all managing processes differently, with some relying more heavily on phone calls and others turning more frequently to emailing or faxing.
Once a process is automated, standardized and uniform, you can more easily assess your business processes and identify opportunities to make further improvements, as well as achieve measurable business value, such as reducing average processing time from 10 to 5 hours per order.
Improve further: The final step of the SEMM is to drive even more efficiencies that empower you to, and ultimately master automation over your competition to deliver an even richer customer service experience. In such cases, companies have improved their overall efficiency through the SEMM model by up to 600%. Ultimatley unlocking the value of your efforts includes a commitment to continuous improvement and enables continued adaptation of best practices and refinements uncovered along the way.
In conclusion, several industry trends are forcing forestry shipping professionals to re-evaluate how to offer a balanced approach to better servicing their customers that also keeps costs in check.
The trends include:
• Strong customer demand for the highest levels of service and efficiency;
• Growing pressure to ensure profitability due to rising rates and reduced capacity with carriers;
• Finding differentiation points in a highly competitive environment exacerbated by the slowing of global trade.
For forestry industry shippers in particular, internal efficiency improvements have been proven to help speed up and simplify the currently complex ocean shipping process. Whether you apply the SEMM methodology to address all processes at once or in stages over time based on your company’s priorities and ability to absorb change, you can simultaneously increase efficiency as well as levels of customer service excellence. In fact, many companies start with an incremental approach as a way to ease acceptance of the change across the organization. To determine the most effective approach, gauge your company’s unique tolerance for change.
Market-leading shippers today are adapting to meet these trends with the SEMM best practices. This 5-stage methodology demonstrates the path to automate, standardize and deploy global processes, gaining insights that feed a continuous improvement cycle. If the five stages of SEMM are implemented correctly, it is guaranteed to drive out inefficiencies, improve external relationships, and thus, save the most valuable and limited resource in your company – time. As a result, you will provide faster and richer communications to your customers, and spend the collected time saved from these process improvements on higher-level business priorities.