I remember when I was a hungry teenager – sitting down at the dinner table after a long day of school and activities.
On some days, I would have a 6am hockey practice, classes all day, and then for a few months I would have a football practice after school for a couple of hours. And, even beyond that, on occasion I would head out after football practice for my part-time job as an usher in the movie theater. On those days, I was up at 5am and home by 11:30pm. I sometimes still can’t believe I did all that.
Most days I made it home for dinner, and when my mother put down the big dish of pasta or chili she would simply say, ‘help yourself’.
Man-o-man, did I ever help myself. I see the same thing now with my 14-year-old. There is the snack before the meal, the meal itself, and of course the after-dinner meal. He is a basketball and soccer guy with a love for working out.
Helping yourself is also de riguer in business these days.
There is a tidal wave of automation and self-serve systems coming our way. It is today’s equivalent of the ‘help yourself’ suggestion offered up by my mother.
Everywhere one goes these days – especially in retail or fast food – there are either self-ordering or self-check-out kiosks. The new Wendy’s in town has one of those ordering kiosks and instead of displaying your Order Number on the screen they have ‘Kiosk 173: 336648’. I like going up to the counter and introducing myself as Kiosk 173.
So, while not all the kinks have been worked out of these systems, there is an inexorable move towards self-service option in businesses and in our society in general. To be truthful I have never been a big fan of it. From ‘pay at the pump’ to the ‘self checkout’ at retail stores, to now ordering my combo meal at McDonalds – I’ve never been an early adopter or a lover of change.
But I have found that after a while I get used to it and I find it actually makes it easier for me. The younger folks – they seem to be okay with it. They grew up with technology, and screens, and phone apps that allow them to get to information more easily and get things done more quickly. They simply don’t question it. And they are the people that are going to be running the trucking and logistics industry 10-15 years from now. I can see the wave now – I work with them. Sometimes I think I should be wearing a nice light blue cardigan, light brown slippers, puffing on my pipe as I walked around saying hello, smiling benignly with a ‘Kick Me’ sign taped on my back.
I grew up with jingles sung by happy, energetic people, that just couldn’t wait to serve me.
“Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us do it your way… at McDonalds!”
People were all so happy – but now I don’t know where they all went. I see it at my local Tim Horton’s donut shop where they are always hiring, the movie theater that no longer advertises the movies on their outside signs… but that fact that they are hiring.
At our transportation management software company, we are working diligently to improve our capability to offer customers self-serve options. In addition, we are also building that capability in our application so our customers can offer the same to their customers. In the trucking industry, this is especially prescient because there is simply a shortage of labor, especially for good, quality drivers.
Self-service isn’t just a tactic just to save costs – it’s a strategic imperative for those businesses wanting to compete effectively over the long term. They are doing things like
- Being available to support customers around the world.
- Can you staff your business 24/7 and hire all sorts of labor? Or do you make the support resources – videos, documents, online training recordings – available to your customer WHEN they need it, not only when you happen to be in your office.
- Fixing small issues quickly on a ‘just in time’ basis.
- Who the heck wants to wait a half-hour any more on the phone listening to ‘your call is important to us”… waiting to solve a pretty straightforward issue you can solve yourself with just a little bit of information available on a website.
- Accessibility and transparency through Portals.
- This is especially true in the trucking industry when the ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ is so important to everyone. Making the details on the status of a shipment, on the history, the current location and when it’s going to be there is something that can and should be rendered transparent in the industry and made accessible at anytime to those who need it. No need to go through a ‘check-call rodeo’ to do this any more.
At Tailwind, we see the development of Customer Portals and Carrier Portals – the ‘turning out’, the public facing – of information as a valuable tool for transport and logistics companies because they provide a magic combination of
- Delivering better service
- Saving valuable time of dispatchers and administrators, and brokers and agents
But, I have to tell you, we still offer live support as well – real people who will answer the phone and listen to you, and help you with your problems.
After all – sometimes there are instances when I do like hearing,
“Welcome to Wendy’s sir. Can I take your order?”
Such a sweet sound. Oh those Frosties!
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