He has a strong track record of working with liner agencies, possesses the memory of an elephant and enjoys work the most when Hoptimists are handed out. A while ago, we had a nice chat with Mikael Grubert, the Customer Service Manager of Greencarrier Liner Services in Denmark. We talked about the shipping industry, customer service standards, and the fact that a lot of cake indicates that, Yes, It’s possible!
Hi, Mikael! You have been in the shipping business for almost nineteen years, right?
Yes, that’s right, I started out with the Israeli company ZIM Lines together with Bulgarian company, Bulcon. For a short period, I worked at Unifeeder with shortsea vessels going to and from Denmark and to and from Germany Rotterdam. Then I got employed by the North American company, CP Ships, where I stayed for four years. However, for the last eleven years, I have been with Greencarrier Liner Agency and Evergreen. I started out in the export department and also worked with equipment, and today I am the Customer Service Manager, also taking care of our export sales.
What does your job as Customer Service Manager involve?
My job covers a lot of things. I am in charge of our equipment and are making sure that we have the containers ready for our bookings, keeping a close dialogue with our depot and terminals in Aalborg, Aarhus, Fredericia, Kalundborg and Copenhagen. I am also in charge of our cost control and then I have the overall responsibility for the customer service making sure the operations run smoothly and that we keep the deadlines. Right now, I am also working with sales on the export side together with our Managing Director Morten, making day-to-day-offers and following up with customers.
You don’t have a problem keeping busy, do you?
Well, it sounds like a lot! But I focus on being able to quickly move from one thing to another. I always have a few irons in the fire; one minute I need to control a container for damages, the next minute a customer is calling and asking for a rate, and the third minute one of my colleagues needs my assistance.
So what would you say is your primary area of expertise?
I think my primary area of expertise is that I have a good overall knowledge. I have been in the industry for a long time and I know pretty much everything there is to know about procedures, programs and systems. My colleagues say that I have the memory of an elephant! It is true, and actually very helpful sometimes! Often, when we try to solve a problem at the office, I am like “Hm, I think we have had a similar case before” and then I remember an example from the past and know what to do.
Do you see any change in the customers’ needs over the years?
Yes, for sure. It has changed a lot towards becoming more focused on freight rates and container costs, especially on the import side where we see that many customers are switching carriers for smaller amounts. But looking at the bigger picture, I see that prompt action and replies on inquiries is becoming more important in the shipping industry. Today, customers want the needed information much faster than previously.
What have you done to meet this increasing demand for speed?
Actually, we have been working on a comprehensive project to develop our customer service standards within Greencarrier Liner Agency. We have defined goals and metrics such as how fast we apply to e-mails, pick up the phone or send out information as well as accuracy on invoicing and bill of lading. And I am happy to reveal that Denmark scored very high and fulfilled all KPI standards set internally in the company! It made us very proud – we off course bought a cake to celebrate!
That sounds really nice, congratulations! So what made you succeed so well in meeting those customer service standards, do you think?
I think we succeeded so well because we always give our customers our full attention. As soon as they contact us with a booking, we let them know that the booking is received and taken care of. Our customers are a big priority for us. We are not among the largest shipping lines in Denmark, so we don’t have unlimited resources when it comes to containers and capacity. But even though a lot of customers are focused on freight shipping rates and container costs, there is luckily still room for those who appreciate the personal daily contact, the fast replies, and the accuracy in documentation and a general high quality in the customer service.
What is the biggest challenge in the shipping industry at the moment?
The biggest challenge is the overcapacity in the market right now. A lot of shipping companies are bringing in new and bigger vessels, so there is too much space available, especially in the Far East trade. As the increase in volume does not match the increase in demand, shipping companies lower their rates to fill up their vessel. This means that as a liner agency you have to fight for every booking. I think there will continue to be a lot of competition in the coming years.
What part of your job is the most fun?
The most fun part of my job is when we get a request for a booking and we make it all happen; we work together and in cooperation with Evergreen and the customer in terms of equipment and sailing schedule. Delivering a solution to the customer where everything fits perfectly together is a great accomplishment, something to strive for, and what makes me happy at work.
Do you have an example of a successful customer project to share with me?
Yes, I do! Just before Christmas, we got in contact with a huge waste material company. They needed to empty their stock in two days, because they had new stock coming in. We managed not only to provide them with enough containers, but also load the cargo into the containers just in time to reach the feeder vessel from Aalborg. On the very same day the feeder vessel was about to sail, the company got into problems with the deadline of the customs. There were no more than five minutes left before vessel departure! So we off course dropped everything we had in our hands, and together with the port of Aalborg we managed to get the cargo loaded onto the vessel, just in time for departure!
Wow, that sounds very stressful! I bet the customer was happy with your service?
Yes, they certainly were! If the cargo had not been loaded onto the vessel in time, there would have been huge costs to the company. The next vessel would not depart until a week later. You can only imagine the cost for 30 containers being stored for seven days at the port terminal. So it was a very good feeling when we were assured that the vessel had sailed off with all of the containers loaded onto the vessel. We actually bought some cake again!
Cake again! Apparently, it is a good sign, indicating that things are possible?
Yes, it seems like it! And things are always possible – even when they don’t seem possible at all. We always try very hard to help our customers, even if it means that we are not necessarily the ones who provide the actual solution. If a customer contacts us with a request that we simply cannot handle, we try to direct them to someone who can. Hopefully, our customers appreciate our help and remember us as a company that is always willing to try our very best to make things possible.
Any exciting news or happenings going on in Denmark that you would like to share?
Yes, we have introduced what we call “The Customer of the Month”. Each month, the export and import departments choose a customer, which they visit and hand over a Greencarrier Hoptimist with number 1 to. A Hoptimist is a Danish designed decorative item that symbolises joy, life and a belief in possibilities.
The criterion for selecting The Customer of the Month is not necessarily the customer that made the most bookings. It is more likely to be a customer that we managed to help in the best way possible: that special booking that we remember as a project where we truly succeeded in meeting our customer’s demand, and made that extra effort. We recently handed out our first Hoptimist and had a very positive response. And so we hope to hand out many more in the years to come!
Thank you so much for talking to us Mikael! We are sure there will be a lot more cake and many more Hoptimists to hand out in the future for you at Greencarrier Liner Agency in Denmark!