Keeping track of the 800 shipping containers that Maersk Line has on its vessels at any one time on their way to Ford’s assembly plant in Argentina is no easy job – especially when they come from as different places as India, Japan, Germany, China, and the UK. Nevertheless, it is necessary.
“Ford needs to have the spare parts on time because they are producing with only one or two days of stocks on hand,” Pablo Zengarini, a care business partner with Maersk Line in Argentina, explains.
“If I find an issue, I try to fix it immediately and after that I always advise Ford. They need to know there might be a delay so we can make contingency plans that can be put into effect if the container doesn’t arrive on time.”
Fortunately, this is something that happens rarely. Zengarini manages all the information in a spreadsheet. This makes it easy for him to check for deviations from transit times, which is something he does several times a week. In February, the spreadsheet doubled in size.
“Reliability and cost are the two critical points in our supply chain, and these were the key reasons for us to switch more business to Maersk Line,” says Alejo Santa Cruz, a productive material senior analyst with Ford Argentina.
Customer service has been a sore spot for the shipping industry for years. While Maersk Line expects digitisation to improve the customer experience in coming years, improved cooperation between front line employees and Maersk’s Global Service Centres (GSC) is already paying off.
Hence, Pablo Zengarini can be more proactive with Ford because the GSC handles all the transactional work, including the bills of laden, which are documents issued by a carrier to acknowledge receipt of cargo for shipment.
“We provide copies of the bills of laden at least two weeks before the vessel is expected to arrive in Buenos Aires. That gives them time to check the documents, receive the originals a week ahead of time and prepare for the customs clearance of the cargo in Argentina,” says Karen Ingente, a process expert heading the Ford account at Maersk’s GSC in Manila.
The GSC also handles the rolling of bookings, i.e. moving delayed cargo to the next vessel, the verification of gross mass tickets, i.e. mandatory statements on the weight of the containers and many other tasks.
Karen Ingente arrives at work at 8 pm in order to mirror the working hours of Latin America, so she and her colleagues can answer customer questions and requests as they come in. Any issue must be resolved within four hours, which is usually only challenging in the more complex cases, e.g. when changing the destination of containers. Having all the necessary expertise under one roof is a big advantage when doing so.
“All the global back-office processes are done here, so we have a knowledge base to deal with any kind of difficulty. This set-up also makes it is easy to coordinate necessary changes. If we have a problem with a bill of laden, we can speak to a colleague on the next floor and solve it right away.”
“Other times, the customers are asking for the estimated time of arrival of vessels, so we answer that and send them guides on how to find the information they are looking for on maerskline.com. In short, our work is basically about proactive care and customer education,” Karen Ingente explains.
One step forward
Ford has been in Argentina for more than 100 years and currently produces 450 cars every day at its assembly plant in Pacheco, just outside Buenos Aires. In order to keep the plant running, a whopping 10,000 containers with parts are imported every year. After being rewarded the recent extra business, Maersk Line now handles roughly two thirds of these containers – some of which are on their way for up to six weeks from the Far East.
“You know, here in Argentina we are far away from other countries. It’s not like being in Europe or the US where you are in the middle of maritime routes,” says Alajo Santa Cruz from Ford.
Maersk Line proved itself by providing reliable service on the European route. Combined with a cost effective offer, Ford decided to take their collaboration one step further and also work with Maersk Line on its key Asian route from Thailand.
“We have been working hard with Maersk Line’s customer service and commercial department to set up the new procedures with all of our suppliers, and everything is going as planned. The excellent routine between the three parties is a key element for our value chain and something we are proud of,” Alejo Santa Cruz says.
“Always a solution”
For Pablo Zengarini, who is on the phone to Ford “up to 10 times a day”, ensuring the Ford account remains a success relies heavily on the cooperation with the GSC. Taking care of the many tasks that they do, allows him to remain proactive and make a difference to the customer; i.e. by managing any deviations that his spreadsheet reveals.
“A lot of things can happen, such as a port strike or a storm. When this happens, I try to find an alternative route or an alternative product, maybe leaving a container on the vessel until it reaches the next port, and making sure to get it on to another vessel to Buenos Aires from there. I won’t let the container get stuck en route and if you work hard, there is always a solution,” says Zengarini.
Recently, Zengarini worked closely with colleagues in Thailand, making sure that a shortage of containers would not disrupt the flow of parts to Argentina. A process was set up, forecasting the pick-up of empty containers for the coming week on Fridays, allowing Zengarini to keep Ford informed about the situation.
“I have succeeded in creating a bond of confidence and a communicative environment with the import analysts at Ford. This has helped build a strong relationship and helps to ease our work on a daily basis,” says Zengarini.
Ford Argentina makes cars for the local market and re-exports cars to Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Colombia and Paraguay.