Why the air cargo customer has become an annoying irrelevance
THERE was a time when air cargo was an honest, fun, person-to-person business.
It was also full of black humour, enriched with spontaneous human inventiveness and joie de vivre.
You could find these qualities all over the air cargo world. In Africa, Europe, Asia and North America, airlines, handlers, forwarders, shippers all talked, exchanged forthright views and pleasantries – respectfully arguing a point, raising a complaint, sometimes raising a glass, having a laugh, all the time building trust, confidence and mutual understanding, writes Nigel Tomkins.
Air cargo was an industry heavily sprinkled with warm, human relationships engendering lots of friendly problem-solving suggestions and offering explanations and solutions for bad service that were at least palatable, realistic and, one way or another, usually solvable.
There existed an unwritten bond between supplier and air cargo customer.
I remember listening when a UK-based cargo sales manager apologised to a Spanish-speaking shipper for a missed shipment, with the simple excuse: “Sorry amigo. We left it in the warehouse. Next one goes free, nada.”
Things have changed. The air cargo world is losing its esprit de corps, as technological disruption and guileless management techniques are gradually replacing those human qualities with e-mail communications, Google-translated text messages, algorithms, spreadsheet performance measurements – and dishonest public relations announcements.
Despite the alluring promise of greater accuracy, transparency and customer satisfaction, it seems as if the air cargo customer is becoming the least important ingredient in today’s increasingly digitized air logistics industry.
Where once airline and forwarder sales executives (humans) willingly placed themselves directly in the firing line between the customer, the product and the final delivery, now data analysis and cloud management (computers) means that digital disruption is replacing the milk of human kindness.
It is becoming so bad that air transport managers – no longer forced to stare into the eyes of unhappy clients – are instead unashamedly hiding the truth behind barefaced lies.
This has created a new breed of fraudsters: where cargo agents are the new estate agents; airline customer service departments the new mobile phone companies; and air cargo journalists the new industrial spin-doctors.
Some fabricate, deceive and falsify all the time (I could name them, but don’t fancy being sued). Others have not yet quite mastered the art of how to lie and get away with it. But, believe me, there are companies ready to mislead, organisations happy to obfuscate, befuddle and distort the truth, oft-times led by people skilled in the darkening world of public relations.
They are supported by an army of air cargo sycophants who are paid to keep their heads down, fall in line, question nothing, follow orders, take their reward.
When was the last time you saw something negative published about a big-advertising budget airline?
When did you hear an airline CEO readily admit to a mistake?
Name a journalist (other than me and my esteemed aircargoeye.com colleagues and one or two others) prepared to put his or her name to an openly critical appraisal – one which courageously challenges the status quo.
Welcome to the air fright industry.