Sales / Marketing

Dedicated to training logistics professionals

by Alex Chan

Teamwork and excellent communication make Kuehne + Nagel Limited's customer service department

Successful customer service staff need an all-round knowledge of logistics operations

As one of the world's leading logistics providers, Kuehne + Nagel understands that a skilled and knowledgeable customer service team is the key to meeting and exceeding client expectations.

"We are among the industry leaders in many areas, including sea freight forwarding, airfreight forwarding and contract logistics, which gives our customer service staff the added pressure of meeting the highest international standards," says Hartmut Looschen, the company's general manager of sales and marketing.

With 26 years of logistics experience, Mr Looschen strongly believes that the best training ground for customer service skills is an entry-level position in operations. Starting there allows new joiners to get broad exposure to the business and a clear understanding of how things work. Without that, it is more difficult later on to answer the general range of customer enquiries and anticipate possible problems.

Jeannie Lam, Kuehne + Nagel's manager of customer service, confirms that experience in operations has helped her to excel in her current role. In fact, she began in 1993 as a secretary in the airfreight department of another company, where she learned the nuts and bolts of logistics. Subsequently, she moved on to positions in operations, warehousing and sales.

"Besides learning from my daily job responsibilities, I also picked up a lot from interacting with people in the industry," says Ms Lam. This proved to be a vital advantage when she joined Kuehne + Nagel in 1999 as customer service coordinator and was recognised with her promotion to the positions of supervisor, assistant manager and manager.

Extensive training

"Before taking on my current role, I attended a management training seminar in Thailand which really prepared me for the job," she says. This is just one aspect of the extensive training the company provides. The first step for new recruits is a detailed orientation programme, covering essential industry and company knowledge. It deals with systems, standard procedures and operational guidelines to ensure all staff are fully equipped to handle day-to-day task before assuming their main responsibilities.

"Basically, we put candidates through a series of aptitude tests before they join and formal training begins as soon as they start the job," says Mr Looschen. All programmes are overseen by the company's worldwide KN Academy - Kuehne + Nagel's global learning network, but are also tailored to individual needs and specific career objectives.
"An international team of career development specialists and coaches implements these courses and ensures uniform quality throughout the company," Mr Looschen says.

Different cultures

With a global network of approximately 40,000 staff at 750 locations in over 100 countries, the company has to know how to deal with staff and customers of varying cultural backgrounds, and who have different approaches to doing business. Being able to think globally and act locally, therefore, is of paramount importance.

"Hong Kong, for example, is fast-paced with demanding customers, but clients elsewhere may do things differently," Mr Looschen explains. "Therefore, our customer service staff must be able to adapt as necessary."

For this reason, the team includes several nationalities, allowing staff to learn from each other about dealing with customers in the most effective way.

"You need excellent communication skills and should have a drive to solve problems, if you want to succeed in this area," says Mr Looschen. "It's a rewarding job for those who are up to the challenge," Ms Lam adds.

Salient Points

  • International companies must meet consistent customer service standards
  • A grounding in logistics operations helps in answering customer enquiries
  • Strong communication skills are a vital attribute
  • Comprehensive training programmes assist steady career progression
  • An understanding of different cultures helps when handling overseas customers

Taken from Career Times 21 April 2006
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