Nothing has highlighted the necessity of in-transit visibility more than the pandemic supply chain crisis. Port issues kept ships sitting in ports, and company shutdowns kept containers from shipping on time. So, telling customers where their product was and when they might see it became crucial to their planning during a time of massive disruptions.
Container visibility isn't a luxury service; it's table stakes for the industry. If you aren't aware of what the term 'table stakes' means, it meets the minimum of customer expectations. For the global container liner shipping industry, it is a do-or-die proposition. Customers don’t just expect in-transit visibility—they demand it. As Walmart Founder Sam Walton once said, “There is only one boss; the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Container visibility is crucial to keeping your customers satisfied and coming back for more.
The Historical Problem with In-Transit Container Shipping Visibility
Like all things tech-based, in-transit visibility shows constant improvements and increasing benefits, but the implementation of new technologies has had challenges. Fear of change and lack of standardization are common with almost every big leap forward. The most significant historical challenges to container visibility have been:
- Too many disparate systems – Various providers doing things their way comprise the many links of a global supply chain. You've always dealt with information silos, even before container visibility solutions came about, and these silos have created challenges in implementing technology with proprietary solutions. Freight forwarders, logistics service providers, and brokers have their own internal systems that make data sharing difficult.
- Fear of technology – The words "We have always done it this way" can mean customers are underserved while competitors push ahead. The spreadsheets, phone calls, and emails that some stakeholders cling to because they worked in the past don't serve your most basic customer needs in the present.
- Lack of data infrastructure and trust in data – A freight forwarder or LSP might be able to collect data, but how do they ensure it is usable, complete, and standardized across the industry? Data means nothing without a way to interpret and utilize the information.
Why the Container Shipping Market Needs In-Transit Visibility
With globalization, increased volumes, and the associated complexity, the need for in-transit visibility is now. Your containers have to travel across oceans, move by rail, go through terminals, clear U.S. customs, and be moved from the port by drayage services, making the entire process complex and dependent on strings of contingent events.
Manual data entry is often error-prone throughout the process and can take up as much as 40% of your operations team's time. Your analytics team will spend 70% of its time standardizing that data. If your team conveys inaccurate information to customers, trust in your company and the entire industry will erode.
Accurate, real-time container visibility and tracking makes operations leaner, allowing greater effectiveness and planning. Predicting ETAs accurately and receiving real-time alerts on movement and risk-based factors like operational changes, port risks, container events, and vessel tracking result in lower costs and more effective operations. Supply chain planning and carrier selection are improved, and containers move faster using the data produced by in-transit visibility analytics.
Visibility benefits the entire industry by reducing bottlenecks and making supply chain partners like ERP, TMS, WMS, and other systems visible. Being able to compare against industry standards makes everyone more efficient. With container shipping industry analysis bringing the future of the container shipping industry into the present, everyone wins.
Why In-Transit Visibility in Real-Time Is Table Stakes
As explained above, the term “table stakes” means meeting customers' basic expectations, which is what real-time visibility has become. Your customers’ operations planning, sales, cash flow, customer service, and employee utilization are on the line with every container. Stockouts create an incredible risk of customer loss for them, and they demand to know where their shipments are in the process.
The worst way to find out a container hasn't shown up is from your customer, and it might be the main reason that customers go elsewhere. With so much on the line for customers, an inability to meet this most basic level of service equals risk to you. If a competitor provides what you don't, don't be surprised to lose customers to them.
Your customers require in-transit visibility that provides access to container locations, ETAs, and potential risks. Accessing the data themselves when they need it increases your service levels tremendously while reducing your workload associated with finding containers and servicing your customers.
Increasing schedule reliability and reducing shipping times due to the data you can now access and learn from is an obvious customer benefit that comes with just meeting the table stakes.
With container visibility, facilitating your customer's planning, improving their experience, and delivering better metrics are all easily done. It's not an optional service. Don't let your competitors enact a visibility strategy to fulfill basic customer expectations before you do.
The Big Business Benefits of Having In-Transit Container Shipping Visibility in Place
There's a lot more on the line than meeting the basic customer expectations and knowing where your containers are in the process. Your company gains across departments and throughout its operations, producing tremendous results for the bottom line.
Some of the biggest benefits of in-transit visibility that companies in the global container shipping industry realize are enhanced efficiencies, savings, and leaner operations. Let's cover eight of them.
1. Real-time Data Reveals Trends
Instead of putting out fires, why not catch them before they get out of control? Historical and current data alert you to trends that could be heading the wrong way or the potential of black swan events. The capability for in-depth analysis of past performance provides a benchmark for both excellent and poor performance. An in-depth look at supply chain processes reveals where changes or roadblocks correlate with performance issues, allowing you to alleviate or prevent the problems.
The black swan events that have plagued you in the past can be ferreted out and eliminated once you see the historical causes and indicators. With in-transit visibility accessible, things once considered unpredictable can now be caught and headed off.
2. Create a Comprehensive Carrier Scorecard
Gathering big data analytics related to past and current performance helps you create a scorecard for carriers. Knowing carrier key performance indicators (KPIs) tells you the effectiveness of your carriers. With in-transit visibility in place, measuring carrier effectiveness goes from being a feeling to becoming valuable, actionable data. Some of the data on your scorecards will include:
- Port dwell times
- Average U.S. inland transit times
- Cargo availability at the destination port
- Port-to-port time against schedule
- On-time shipment of cargo
- The elapsed time between shipping instruction and bill of landing issue
- Port calls and turnaround times
- Liner shipping connectivity
- Port cargo handling performance
Leveraging in-transit visibility to analyze the health of your supply chain allows you to hold carriers accountable and guide contract negotiations. By ranking preferred carriers, you can improve transit times and better serve customers.
3. Control Costs
All that manual tracking and data gathering isn't just inefficient; it’s also expensive. A more efficient staff with much of their time-consuming tasks removed thanks to in-transit visibility can focus on higher-value work and help control costs instead of being a cost center.
Reacting to events is tremendously expensive, especially in an industry where one unforeseen black swan can destroy profits. Staff with the data, time, and container visibility resources to avoid adverse events will save you money and discover more efficient ways to do things moving forward.
4. Retain Customers
In-transit visibility and container tracking data have become a basic expectation that can cost a company customers if not provided. Nothing is more critical to a company than customer retention, as acquiring new customers costs far more than retaining and increasing business with the ones you already have.
Access to real-time container visibility and crucial tracking data for planning purposes keeps customers around. Eliminating the time commitment once dedicated to that element of customer service allows your team to serve them better and produce upsells.
5. Improved Cash Flow
Cash flow is an essential component of business operations as your ability to operate in the future is dependent on how fast you bring in funds. Every extra day a container is delayed extends the time until your customer pays you—reduced transit times due to enhanced operational effectiveness results in getting paid faster.
6. Acquire New Customers
Better service retains existing customers and also increases new customer acquisitions. The number one way to win customers is to make their lives easier, and that's what in-transit visibility provides.
7. Retain Employees
Companies that alleviate employee burdens and show leadership in their industries retain valuable employees. Just as losing an existing customer has tremendous costs, so does losing an experienced employee. Costs vary by industry but specialized and experienced employees can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace. Instead of losing them, container visibility helps them feel more valued and part of an effective team.
8. Increase Revenue
Every benefit previously mentioned results in improving your bottom line. Once in-transit visibility is in place, savings and revenue-increasing opportunities immediately produce a significant return on investment.
In-Transit Visibility Isn't Optional
Your customers demand container visibility, and for a good reason: knowing where materials and products are is essential to planning and winning in hyper-competitive markets. It is now the table stakes required to retain and win customers.
Beyond benefitting the customer, in-transit visibility benefits the freight forwarding and shipping industry as a whole. Increased focus on KPIs and industry performance helps everyone advance and fosters increased industry trust and satisfaction, making lives easier.
The benefits to your company are immense and will immediately begin to show itself on the bottom line. Retaining and winning customers is always priority number one. Still, the other benefits of in-transit visibility resonate across your entire organization, making it both a profit and savings generator.
Shipping container tracking via API technologies is one of the best ways to provide in-transit visibility. Integrating VIZION API with your business intelligence tools that you already use is simple. Book a demo and learn more.