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Online freight scheduling is cutting out service reps

Throughout the tradeshow industry, there are few processes that have not been expedited by an online element. Online ordering and scheduling of shipments, for example, has helped speed the process of transporting materials, but in turn, has started to eliminate the need for contact with a live customer service representative. This lack of communication between company and client has created an even larger margin for error in the tradeshow shipping process.

Some transportation companies are finding ways around this phenomenon, whether it’s by creating extensive online ordering forms or offering only certain products on the internet to help their businesses move into the digital world without completely eliminating the human element.

“Online shipment scheduling isn’t changing, it’s evolving,” said Doug Grojean, vice president of business development for FreightQuote, an online freight broker that has been handling freight for 14 years. “Of course there will be confusion and problems at times.”

Even companies as large as FedEx, which handles both domestic and international shipping, haven’t completely eliminated the need for human contact.

In 2010, FedEx introduced a shipping solution called Electronic Trade Documents (ETD) that allows customers the ability to upload international shipping documents electronically. Users can add logos and mastheads to their documents in order to personalize their shipments, something that used to be done with a sales representative’s assistance.

“ETD benefits our customers from day one by allowing them to easily migrate to a fully automated international shipping experience, with no disruption to their current business,” said Michael Ducker, COO and president of International for FedEx Express. “Our electronic trade tools are built with the goal of simplifying international shipping.”

But if and when something goes wrong with the FedEx ETD system, an agent is still just a phone call away.

For the smaller exhibit shipping companies in the tradeshow industry, creating a massive and fully customizable online ordering system like FedEx isn’t exactly an option. Instead, these businesses pick their battles and decide which elements of the online placement process are most important to tackle.

ELITExPO, a tradeshow shipping company that has been servicing the industry since 1987, has chosen to offer as many online, tracking and inventory options as possible through their website. However, as soon as a client signs up with the online system, they are still assigned to a specific sales representative.

“There are simply too many details to accurately communicate through an online form,” said David Mihalik, CEO, ELITeXPO. “The online access is available for rudimentary, non-urgent orders, but typically, our clients call on us because they cannot afford a mistake when it comes to their tradeshow schedule.”

On the other hand, FreightQuote, which allows customers the ability to quote, book, ship and track their tradeshow freight online, has chosen to create such a comprehensive online ordering process that the possibility for errors is greatly reduced.

“Once we have the shipment information, we will automate the entire shipping process, including creating the bill of lading (BOL), dispatch, tracking and more,” said Grojean. “We also provide online opportunities to customize a shipment to meet specific logistics requirements. It really is an easy, step-by-step transaction.”

But even with such an easy ordering process, FreightQuote hasn’t completely eliminated the need for a customer service representative.

“The amount of interaction with a sales person is up to the client,”
said Grojean. “If a client has a question or would rather speak to a person, their account representative is still always available.”

So although the pull of online ordering is the ability to place shipments quickly and easily, the need for customer service representatives is still very distinct.

“Talking to someone in person makes us more accountable than the computer form,” said Mihalik. “We strive to become intimate with what the customer is trying to achieve, no matter how rudimentary or how complicated. Tradeshow shipping is not for the faint of heart.”

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