By Jennigay Coetzer – first published in Business Day newspaper, 28 January 2011

Most leading South African courier services companies have been focusing on areas like on time deliveries, reliability, and streamlining their distribution processes. But these should now be a given, says Andy van der Velde, MD of Berco Express.

He says, the next point of focus will be on customer service experience, in the interest of customer retention, and this is already happening in the US and Europe. “The aim is to develop a culture of customer service excellence across every point of contact within the company.”

Berco is on a major drive to ensure all its staff are professional, friendly and knowledgeable in the way they interact with customers. Van der Velde says this is really in terms of retaining customers and gaining market share.

He says last year there was the considerable spin off from the World Cup, which boosted delivery volumes for three months prior to the event and one month during the event.

On the downside, the volcanic ash that grounded planes in the UK caused considerable delays in landing goods at Heathrow airport, as did further closures of the airport due to heavy snow during the peak period leading up to Christmas.

“This is our heaviest trade route, and there were 10 days of no trading volumes due to the airport closures,” says van der Velde.

Keeping customers informed about what was happening and getting the goods through as soon as possible also increased the administrative load, which impacted costs.  He says the fact that the economy has not recovered as quickly as expected has driven courier services companies to become more efficient and work smarter.

Some of the larger South African courier services companies are offering outsourced warehousing facilities and holding stock for their customers. This is a well established trend in overseas markets and is gathering momentum in this country, says van der Velde.

“We have four warehouses focusing on inventory management and increasing stock turnover.” He says the company has been helping customers to plan how to reduce their inventory holdings and make more frequent, smaller deliveries to free-up cash tied up in stock.

While this could mean spending 10% to 15% more on deliveries, for large customers the money they save on reducing inventory could run into millions of rands. “The aim is to have active, just in time warehousing instead of overstocking,” says van der Velde.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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