Yet another urgent e-mail from an importer arrives on my phone: “We are having major difficulties finding a trucker due to heavy congestion at Los Angeles-Long Beach. We have been calling and sending messages for days even to the steamship line asking for help. The situation is very bad. I literally have to beg, but no one can help. I will pay you anything to get the container picked today.”
Minutes later, another urgent e-mail: “I am feeling the pinch of the chassis shortages and reaching out where I can. I have hot freight that needs to ship by this Friday to Macy’s. This is a dire situation, and we are going to pay in many areas when we can’t fulfill orders for our customers. The violations are coming hot and heavy and my customers don’t care about the drayage capacity situation.”
A sense of great sadness comes over me. My 10-year old daughter doesn’t understand why I’m so sad. So I ask her to name her favorite companies and to tell me how she would feel if the following would happen?
Apple Scenario: You order your new iPhone online and pay extra to have it first. You make an appointment to pick it up at 8 a.m. tomorrow. You show up for the appointment on time, but you’re told the phone can’t be found.
Answer: I’d be angry and devastated, because I paid money to get it.
Disney Scenario: There are no signs telling you how long the line is for your favorite ride, and there are no bathrooms. If you leave the line, you lose your spot, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get on the ride. You end up waiting six hours, get to the front of the line at 11 p.m., and are told the ride is closed for the day, and they slam the door in your face.
Answer: I would contact Disney and tell them how horrible their service is. They should have told me how long the line would be. I wouldn’t go back.
Starbucks Scenario. You order a frappuccino and are told there are no cups to hold your drink.
Answer: I’d never go back to that store again. They should always have a plan to make sure they have cups.
Nike Scenario: You buy a new pair of shoes from the Nike store, but realize the size isn’t just right, so go back to return your shoes at the same store. “Sorry,” you’re told, “but you have to return the shoes to another Nike store five miles away.”
Answer: I’d feel mad and disappointed.
Southwest Airlines Scenario: Your plane arrives 30 minutes early, but a gate isn’t available, so you end up sitting on the tarmac for five days.
Answer: I’d never fly that airline again.
Examples like these are happening today at our nation’s two biggest container ports — every day, all day. The only difference is that the tables are turned: Those great organizations in the hypothetical examples and thousands of others that import products into the Southern California ports are the customer receiving the horrible service.
One vice president of logistics for a well-respected retailer recently told me that “everyone knows how challenged the Southern California ports are. It’s just something we all have to live with.”
But is it?
On Oct. 14, I moderated a Los Angeles Transportation Club town hall meeting that was standing room only. Joining the panel was Mike Johnson, director of drayage operations for Port Logistics Group for 37 years and president of the Harbor Trucking Association. The HTA proposed the following initiatives as a starting point:
Formation of a national advisory committee representing all stakeholders — ports, terminals, truckers, beneficial cargo owners, third-party logistics providers and distribution centers.
24/7 gate operations.
A dynamic system that tracks hourly gate moves by terminal.
A published, mutually agreed-upon industry metric on visit times.
It’s time to come together and demand great customer service from our nation’s seaports — a customer bill of rights with accountability for all. We need the respected leaders of companies that have mastered great service to lead the charge, and others will quickly follow. What happens when you don’t provide a great customer service experience at the ports? Just ask a 10-year-old.
Scott Weiss is vice president of business development at Port Logistics Group, a third-party logistics provider based in City of Industry, California. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.