UPS’ Cindy Miller on the redefinition of ‘customer experience’ in forwarding

There was a time not long ago when the shipment of goods across an international border was considered a matter of grave, time-consuming importance that may take days to resolve. With e-commerce, those days are gone forever as customer expectations are continuing to be more demanding. The concept of waiting the traditional “five to seven business days” for delivery, or a two- to three-week delay for international goods, is yesterday’s conversation and should not apply to today.

Air Cargo World recently spoke with Cindy Miller, president of UPS Global Freight Forwarding, about how these rapid technological advances are reinventing the forwarding and customs brokerage businesses. From her perspective from many different roles within UPS – from a delivery truck driver in 1988 to regional manager in Europe – and how the nature of the relationship between the forwarders and their customers has fundamentally changed.

Q: How is UPS speeding up the process of customs clearance for e-commerce?

Cindy Miller: Customers face all kinds of challenges, and one of the biggest is, as they continue to grow and they end up with multiple shipments, that’s just multiple headaches at the border. So, we’ve got a solution and it is ever-popular right now, called Trade Direct. We allow customers to consolidate all their shipments, have them all pre-labeled and origined, and we can send them to multiple locations. It’s a single window of clearance and a single consolidation of data that gives us the ability to move products across a border seamlessly – that’s something that’s current, it’s now, it’s needed, it’s being requested, it’s in demand.

Q: What type of emerging logistics technology do you find most exciting?

CM: The next step is how we can use artificial intelligence [A.I.]. Today, A.I. gives you the ability to say, “We should anticipate that,” so there won’t be a problem at the border. I think companies that master A.I. are going to continue to keep the supply chains moving in a fashion that is a step ahead of customers’ expectations. It’s not really about giving customers what they’re asking for at the moment, it’s more about being more predictive in getting ahead of those issues that are potentially in the supply chain. We’ve got our technology platform – Flex Global View [FGV] – that gives you the capability of sending proactive alerts, so that customers don’t have to have packages on top of their minds all the time, and that someone else is out ahead of it and giving you the information you need – even though you didn’t know you needed it at the time.

Q: How did your experience being manager of the European region prepare you for your current role?

CM: I also had 28 years in the small package and courier business. Coming to the freight forwarding business, one of the things about Europe is, number one, it gave me a really good perspective and understanding that no matter where you are on the planet, everybody’s looking for the same thing – it’s not that the U.S. suppliers and U.S. customers had a different set of expectations than they have in Europe. And what I’m finding now is that it isn’t any different in Asia. The overall business perception and customer expectations cross borders and boundaries very easily.

Q: What do you consider the greatest challenge for UPS global forwarding in the next few years?

CM: Number one is technology. Even when you think you’re doing it well, you’re never doing it well-enough for tomorrow. Waking up constructively dissatisfied has to be the soup du jour, so to speak. Every day, as much as you think you’re improving in technology, well, that’s yesterday. The other thing is understanding the customer’s needs. The freight forwarding industry, from a historical perspective, has been very much a B2B kind of engagement. But we’re seeing that, as you look beyond the big players in the freight forwarding market, there’s a different perception of what they, as customers of UPS, want, but they’re also being driven by the demands of their end-consumers. You get to a point where customer experience expectations for freight forwarding are not different from the expectations from consumers ordering their favorite team’s football jersey.

Q: Has the current wave of protectionist tariffs had an effect on air cargo at UPS?

CM: Obviously 2017 was a phenomenal growth year, and signs are showing that it’s going to continue to grow, at least from what we’ve seen so far. What you bring up, whether it’s trade tariffs or headlines about tariffs, the question is “Does the rough language in the headline really translate into what we see at borders?” At this moment, we’re not seeing that. It’s a lot of huff and puff on the political level, but economies are still gaining momentum. That means product is still moving – consumers are still consuming, manufacturers are still producing. UPS understands that stable, predictable environments are really the best for customers and consumers. We stand at the ready to continue to make sure that that flow of goods across borders continues to happen as seamlessly as it can.

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