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Ocean carriers were out in force at the Multimodal show at the NEC Birmingham, UK, this week, schmoozing shippers and forwarders onto their stands and endeavouring to repair the damaged relationships of the past two years.

CMA CGM, ONE, Maersk, Cosco and MSC all had highly populated stands, as did Ellerman City Liners and shortsea specialists Samskip and Containerships.

A year on from the last Multimodal the balance of power has shifted firmly back to shippers, after what forwarders told The Loadstar was the most challenging period to navigate they could remember – with broken supply chains and skyrocketing freight rates claiming several casualties among their clients.

Indeed, the deepsea container carriers have redeployed their sales staff from administrating rollovers back into the field to talk to customers, as demand across their networks remains subdued.

Some carriers told The Loadstar they were refocusing on service quality, particularly after-sales service, and ensuring that they improved their enquiry response times.

“We know we are in a battle for cargo this year, and it’s not going to be just about rates,” a senior carrier executive told The Loadstar. “We are looking for efficiencies in every part of our offer to shippers that will speed up the door-to-door movement of cargo.

“I’ve told our sales team today to help every single shipper that visits our stand and to make sure we are the carrier of choice,” he added.

This will be welcome news for Oceanwide Logistics MD Paula Bellamy (whose stand must win an award for the most inspired in the hall), who told The Loadstar she rued the demise of the carrier inside/outside sales rep.

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Oceanwide Logistics stand

“I’m a people person, I think people buy from people. I want to pick up the phone and speak to a carrier,” she said. “Please give me a real person, because the computer sometimes says ‘no’, and I don’t like that.”

Poor communication and a lack of customer service was a complaint widely heard on the sidelines of Multimodal and during evening networking events. One forwarder, however, on hearing that MSC had been named ‘Sea Freight Company of the Year’, told The Loadstar that was a “disgrace”, adding: “They have thrown enormous amounts of money at PR and image, and bugger-all on service levels.”

However, most of the shippers and forwarders The Loadstar spoke to agreed that ocean carriers were now making a big effort to improve their response times.

Moreover, visibility of the status of shipments appears to have improved dramatically, according to shippers, even compared with the period prior to the pandemic, as carriers invest in better software and container tracking equipment.

Meanwhile, attendees at the Multimodal show ranged from shippers and forwarders with huge annual volumes of container imports, to UK and Irish exporters with just a few boxes a month, to students keen to learn about the logistics industry.

One local student told The Loadstar he was “amazed” to see how the supply chain worked, and that seeing and talking about trade was “far better than learning from a book”.

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