The task was to speak with the customers

Published on 14 September 2017

When the screens went black around the world, employees and executives alike found new ways to support one another each other and serve customers. Their ingenuity, adaptiveness and determination not only kept the business moving, but also show that A.P. Moller - Maersk is indeed stronger together.

Søren Toft, COO at Maersk Line, at work to bounce back from the cyber-attack: "It was a great experience to see the immense efforts and amazing teamwork.” Photo: Jesper Schwartz

“We planned and scheduled vessels with marginal data, without incurring delays outside of our normal planning. Many people used their own equipment and took late night phone calls to make this happen. It was a team effort across the board,” says Stephen Davis, Maersk Line’s Marine Manger on the US East Coast.

This description of the reaction to the cyber-attack that hit A.P. Moller - Maersk on 27 June 2017 is echoed around the world. Most employees will recall where they were and what they did, be it setting up a chat group, helping a colleague or carrying out entirely new tasks. Each initiative is a part of the bigger picture that shows how the company bounced back, while focusing on its customers. 

15% of global trade

In the wake of the cyber-attack, Maersk had to take down between 1,500–2,000 systems. Immediately, countless employees from across the globe, in all functions and brands, went out of their way to help their colleagues in the recovery effort. This was fundamental to Maersk being able to keep 15% of global trade moving with the help of Twitter, Excel, WhatsApp and Gmail.

Lia Tamara Jaspe, Network Design Manager in Panama, was one of many who took on new roles to help the recovery. She says “initially everyone was terrified when the virus struck, but then the management team began to react with creativity to find solutions, using WhatsApp, Macs, Gmail, etc. The cargo team needed help so I volunteered.”

"From then on, there was a spirit of everybody working together, of being creative and doing whatever it took to find a way to make it work,” she adds. “To me it proved that Maersk is so much more than containers in a terminal. I have worked here for 25 years, and honestly, it made me so proud to have dedicated my life to this company.”

Spreading the word

Shereen el Zarkani, Global Head of Sales at Maersk Line, was working from Egypt at the time of the attack and that represented an additional challenge. After new channels of communications had been established, the massive task of reaching out to thousands of customers could start:

“We had to make sure that the sales people knew what was going on globally. In particular, we have the key clients who have executive sponsors from across the business, and this was exactly the time when we needed them,” she says, adding:

“Whether an executive call or a sales representative in the frontline, the task was first and foremost to speak with the customers and constantly update, reassure and appease them.”

Depending on the progress of the recovery, sales personnel were helping their colleagues in customer service answer queries from many customers as to the whereabouts of their containers. Here, Shereen el Zarkani highlights the finance employees helping operation, emphasising that “it was very cross-functional”.

Employees, across the board, were keen to lend a helping hand wherever needed. For Leonardo Veintemilla, Sales Channel Manager at Maersk Line, plunging into Customer Service Support in Panama was a learning experience:

“It was gratifying to step in and learn a different perspective from the frontline team – especially at that difficult time where we didn’t have the tools available to support our customers the way we would like to. However, having the right attitude went a long way in making them feel that we were doing everything we could to provide an excellent service with the resources we had available,” he says.

New roles and new countries

Others threw themselves into not only new roles but also new countries. Manjini Balanarayanan, an Operations Team Manager working in the Global Service Centre in Chennai, was one of many who were flown to frontline terminals to assist. There, the containers had arrived, but, with so many systems down, no one knew where they needed to go.

“Initially, we didn’t even have good Wifi to get connected with ­additional resources, so we had to be creative while management in Maersk Line Asia Pacific and MCC provided good support with innovative ideas," says Balanarayanan of his arrival in Malaysia. "We tried using lots of alternative ways to ­communicate with one another, using WhatsApp and Google Drive in sending the data information.”

The silver lining, if any, to the crisis, is that we have a renewed sense of purpose and a pointer to a different way of working.

Navneet Kapoort, Head of the Global Service Centres.

In the days and weeks following the cyber-attack, a huge number of employees have gone to enormous lengths to help their colleagues, the business and our customers. Photo: Maersk Line

It was very cross-functional.

Shereen el Zarkani, Global Head of Sales at Maersk Line, on the organisation's reaction to the cyber-attack

"However, everyone was in the same situation, and with the terminal, MCC and Maersk Line working together, we found alternative ways to solve the problem,” he adds. “Over the two weeks we reduced the ­number of containers with unknown destination from 7,500 to 400. By working innovatively and as one team we came back strong and really worked well.”

In Mumbai, Navneet Kapoor, Head of the Global Service Centres (GSC), found himself in a uniquely challenging situation, having only joined the company some weeks prior to the attack.

“I was amazed at how the GSC teams took charge, brought forward a can-do attitude and worked across organisational boundaries to find solutions for our customers. Decision making was fast and innovative ideas, which involved leveraging data assets or technology differently, were brought to bear,” he says.

Saving 30,000 bookings

The GSCs are in essence an extension of the front line, responding to customer e-mails, answering queries and managing disputes. Kapoor points to the fact that the cyber-attack reminded the entire ­organisation of what it could do to ­manage the customer experience.

“If we took it upon ourselves, we could truly be frontline people. So instead of waiting for directions and, asking ‘what should we do?’, we asked ourselves how we could step up and serve the customers. This was when the entrepreneurial spirit really came to the fore,” Navneet Kapoor says, pointing to bookings as an example of a problem, where quick thinking and initiative solved a big problem.

The situation was as follows:

Maersk Line was unable to take bookings because the systems were down. Every hour represented a huge inconvenience for the customers and a loss for the company. Hence, customer service and the commercial team took it upon themselves to build a stand-alone, independent booking system, reaching out to some team members who knew programming. A solution was launched within 24 hours and it took no less than 30,000 bookings over the next couple of days.

“This, and the many other examples, reflect how we were able to break down boundaries across teams and brands, forcing ourselves to prioritize what’s most important,” says Navneet Kapoor, adding:

“If I were to boil it down to the very basics, what our colleagues did is quite simple but powerful: Put customers first, then A.P. Moller - Maersk, then team and then self. The silver lining, if any, to the crisis, is that we have a renewed sense of purpose and a pointer to a different way of working.”

Pulling together

Just after the cyber-attack hit the ­company, Søren Toft, COO at Maersk Line, was on a business trip to China:

“I saw how all colleagues across all functions were pulling together, working hard and doing their very best for the company to recover and get us out of the situation as quickly as possible. It was a great experience to see the immense efforts and amazing teamwork,” says Toft.

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