One of the privileges of developing software for customs brokers is that you get an honest, behind-the-scenes look at their businesses. After a while, you start to see trends, and you get a better sense of what works in this industry. And then you see what works much, much better. Here are some of the things I’ve observed my most successful broker partners doing.
- Selecting a Niche
Picking a niche allows you to develop specific domain expertise that your competitors won’t have. A niche can be a specific industry like automotive or garment, a geography like a particular port or border crossing, a specific mode of transportation like ocean or pipeline, or a specific service level like high touch, high compliance, or lowest cost.
One of the top recruiters in our industry told me that individuals with experience and credentials in the area of International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR) are in hot demand. It seems that U.S. weapons exports are on the rise, and the declarations associated with these exports are a rapidly growing niche.
Size is also a niche. Clients can get a certain type of service from a small boutique brokerage that they can’t from large brokers. Smaller brokers should keep that in mind when considering taking on a large client.
- Differentiating Service
This can include everything from tracking additional data elements important to the niche, to adding special checks and balances to additional services useful to the niche, but not purely a brokerage function, like warehousing or local delivery.
The variations here are endless, and they’re usually seen by importers as table stakes that they are unwilling to pay extra for. Having a track and trace app, web reporting, document imaging, electronic billing, and a host of other modern services is a must just to make it to the final round of an RFP.
Brokers truly differentiate their services by focusing on their niches. Everyone will have track and trace, but not everyone will successfully be able to manage receiving return products for a Non Resident Importers (NRI) or capture actual received weight after shrinkage for agribusinesses.
- Automate, Automate, Configure
Brokers have to support their niche and differentiation with technology. This can include everything from electronic data interchange (EDI) to automated third-party email notifications, automated checks on clients, and tailored reports and documents. Work release artificial intelligence can help focus staff on shipments in danger of missing cutoffs. There are even systems that learn from patterns in your data entry to make suggestions the next time you are doing a similar entry.
One of the biggest ROIs you can get from a good brokerage system is to bring in your service provider once a year for a system health check. For a day of consulting you could find another 20 percent productivity just sitting in your system. You pay for this productivity whether it’s utilized or not, and sometimes all you have to do is change a system setting or create a new template or workflow to find it.
The capability gap between a good software platform and a bad one is huge, and the difference between a broker that has automated and configured their workflows to the limits of their software and a broker who has not is even larger. There’s always a way to work better.
Benn Bekic, is executive vice president for strategy at WiseTech Global, a developer of cloud-based software solutions headquartered in Sydney, Australia.