Supply chain solutions provider Bidvest Panalpina Logistics (BPL) believes that customer centricity is much more than just good customer service.
“It’s about creating an experience from the moment we first engage with a client until after our services have been rendered,” says BPL international logistics director Bruce Thoresson. “We put the customer at the heart of our decision-making and service delivery throughout that process, providing a service uniquely customised to their needs.”
BPL is a strategic logistics partner to several of South Africa’s most respected mining houses and other companies that form part of the global supply chain in commodities. Its services include, but are not limited to cross-border transport by road and air, heavy equipment handling for original-equipment manufacturers, engineering, procurement and construction management, and full logistics coordination of large equipment to and from remote locations.
Customer-centric businesses could see their projected profit growth rates increase from 5.3% this year to 7.4% in 2020, according to a 2018 survey by audit, tax and advisory services provider KPMG Canada, while companies that are strongly customer centric are 60% more profitable than companies that are not, according to a report by global professional services firm Deloitte Ireland in 2014.
Four years on and BPL says this finding remains relevant. A customer-centric philosophy helps companies grow revenue, improve efficiency and drive performance, and has become a business imperative for entities that genuinely want to stay ahead of rising competition.
Owned by services, trading and distribution company Bidvest, and local partner of Swiss-owned Panalpina Group, BPL has seen incredible/remarkable growth since its early days as privately owned freight provider Safcor. Offering an end-to-end supply-chain solution across a number of industries, the company has a global reach, with 500 offices in 70 countries through Panalpina’s network.
Locally, BPL has a loyal and long-lived client list, some of whom they have been servicing for more than 15 years. BPL warehousing director Steve Smith attributes this partly to analysing the reasons for losing customers when this happens, and also looking closely at how often and why BPL is re-awarded business. “It’s important to measure customer centricity, so we do this on an annual basis,” he says.
Customer-centric businesses typically start with assessing a customer’s needs, rather than selling a service or product that may or may not have relevance. Services and products are then designed or adapted to meet those preferential needs.
Thoresson believes that, while client engagement should be comprehensive, the administrative side needs to be simple and as automated as possible, to allow for client engagement to remain problem-free throughout the transaction. BPL, therefore, has a dedicated administrative structure that includes sales, servicing and key account-management staff who specifically address customer engagement from the initial sales process to managing an ongoing relationship and providing value-added services.
For a business like BPL, which has a global reach through its partnership with Panalpina, this requires additional special attention, as it is “impossible to shoehorn every customer into a fixed service offering without understanding their needs”, says Thoresson. “The challenge on the international logistics side is that our services encompass many different elements, largely fixed in one way or another, such as customs legislation at origin and destination, or flight and shipping capacities and schedules; and then you have a customer with their own specific shipping requirements.”
The operations teams focus on the “doing” and communicating with customers on how the shipment process is unfolding and what joint decisions need to be made to achieve efficiency, Thoresson explains. “We continually urge our staff to remain aware of their actions that will impact on customer service, with value-added services tracked,” he says.
Part of BPL’s service offering is comprehensive warehousing solutions, and here, says Smith, the relationship with the customer is important. “Customers require enhanced flexibility and increased visibility into their supply chains, so we’re introducing business-intelligence tools and integrating with customers’ systems. “This provides a live view of operations in the warehouse that encompasses receipts, storage, picks and dispatches, and it’s all aimed at enabling the customer to make informed decisions based on ever-changing needs.” BPL also analyses stock turn and provides advice to customers on slow-moving products, Smith adds.
Customer centricity as a business philosophy only works when it is understood and embraced by employees at every level of a business. “If a business is genuinely customer centric, then adherence to this philosophy needs to run throughout the organisation, from the executive committee to the lower operations or business units,” says Thoresson.
“The right questions need to be asked, such as what does the customer want? What impact would this have on our customer as opposed to what we’re able to offer? And, what impact would this have on our cost of production? “In essence, a customer-centric business tailors its entire organisation, from services and products delivered, to the processes followed, and even to policies and culture within the organisation, to giving the customer a sense that their needs are being met every single step of the way,” he says.
“For BPL, it’s what keeps us relevant,” Thoresson concludes.