WEB PUTS NEW SPIN ON CUSTOMER SERVICE \ PULLING UP A CARRIER'S HOME PAGE IS JUST THE BEGINNING

WEB PUTS NEW SPIN ON CUSTOMER SERVICE \ PULLING UP A CARRIER'S HOME PAGE IS JUST THE BEGINNING

''The Internet isn't just about browsing anymore,'' says a smiling Soo Ho Cho, president of Hanjin Shipping. ''It can be used to improve communications and accordingly provide better customer service.

''You will find useful services such as cargo booking, schedule information, et cetera, along with help from customer service.'' But Mr. Cho is not speaking from his office in Seoul, Korea. His comments and picture are on the opening page of Hanjin's site on the World Wide Web, that popular part of the Internet where users can jump from document to document, conveniently allowing companies to display a whole series of commercial possibilities.

''Our Web site today is just the beginning of where we believe we need to take electronic commerce,'' said Frank DiMaria, senior vice president of sales and marketing at P&O Nedlloyd, adding that the P&O site is essentially ''a billboard of our services.''

P&O Nedlloyd is not alone in that regard. Most carriers simply offer basic information in ''This is who we are'' types of displays.

Yet the carriers who are in the lead on Internet development are demonstrating the possibilities.

Beyond background information and contacts, carriers are supplying detailed schedule information, container tracking and tracing, and in the most advanced cases, interactive document preparation.

The Internet is far beyond the computerized ''800'' number used by many carriers. By developing the Internet differently, carriers are definitely setting themselves apart from one another.

''We were the first two years ago, and there's been a slow response by our competitors,'' said Hank Moreira, the webmaster for APL. ''Some have responded aggressively, others are still, for whatever reason, not coming up with a Web reaction.

''A lot of carriers have a Web presence, but as far as doing shipping transactions, there's not that many. A half dozen that I'm aware of. There's only a handful of carriers that are really capable of using it.''

As an Internet trailblazer, APL has an impressive menu in three areas: preshipment information, shipment processing, and cargo tracking. Along with sailing schedules, the preshipment area allows shippers to get a rate electronically and then book a shipment.

A FIRST STEP

The rate capabilities are not instantaneous, but they exist, which is a first. Without making a phone call, shippers can go to APL's ''rate request'' and fill out a form specifying what they are shipping and where. For U.S. customers, they will get an e-mail response the same day.

Then they can go to the schedules section, input origin and destination points, and get all the potential voyages they could ship on. Shippers can select a voyage, click the ''book me'' button, and fill out a form to book the freight. There will be an e-mail confirmation back to the shipper.

In the ''bill of lading'' section, a shipper provides the basic information needed by APL to generate a bill of lading, or shipping instructions. It is not a real bill of lading that is entered. But the information is in the system, and shippers can get a hard copy over the Internet within 15 minutes of APL releasing the document. In the past, APL had to express mail the document overnight.

''There's a real advantage in terms of dollars and cents,'' Mr. Moreira notes. ''We can save them a day on getting their document processed, and if they have a letter of credit, if they can get it to the bank sooner, they get paid sooner.'' APL has also upgraded its track and trace capability this year, adding a ''daily status'' feature that automatically gives the status of every active shipment, a handy feature for large shippers doing multiple moves. The old system required a query for each individual shipment.

Representatives from several carriers said it is the self-service capability, which shippers can use whenever they want, that makes Internet service attractive.

''The Internet is just a great tool for giving information to the customer'' that they would otherwise have to pick up the telephone or use the fax to get, said Terry Grange, director of electronic commerce at Sea-Land Service.

24-7 ONLINE BUSINESS

Jim Freeman, marketing manager at Maersk Line, added, ''We are looking to put a lot more processes on the Internet so people can conduct business with us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.''

Cost is another factor carriers see as a means of attracting business via the Internet. ''To hook up to EDI (electronic data interchange), that's a big investment on the customer's side,'' Mr. Freeman said. ''I think we'll take some of the EDI processes and try to convert them to the Internet process for the customers. Smaller companies - and that's anyone smaller than the largest companies that do EDI with us - they will be able to do the same thing at a lot cheaper price.''

Meanwhile, Mr. DiMaria of P&O Nedlloyd said he is pleased with a new CD-ROM service called the ''Shippers Electronic Toolkit.''

It allows users to view complete listings of the carrier's global products and listings and to access comprehensive electronic sailing schedules on the Journal of Commerce Web site (www.joc.com).

MAY I SEE YOUR PASSPORT?

Customers can browse through P&O Passport, which offers information on the carrier's U.S.-based services and offices and a Merchant Guide providing details on liability and documentary matters along with risk management advice.

They can also view a short promotional video of P&O President Christopher Rankin.

''What we are doing is creating a controlled environment that gives customers access to our company information,'' Mr. DiMaria said.

As use of the Internet evolves, the challenge will be to provide customers with real, added value, Sea-Land's Ms. Grange believes.

''The difficulty is having the substance and the content behind it. That's what really has the day-to-day value for the customer,'' she said.

''The customer is saying, 'Give me something I can easily get to, transact my business, and get off. I've seen the glitz, now where's the beef?' It really does come down to that.''