The service provided by container shipping lines has deteriorated since 2016, and is now seen by importers, exporters and freight forwarders as more problematic, according to the second annual shipper satisfaction survey released by Drewry, UK, and the European Shippers’ Council (ESC), Belgium.

The survey reviewed different levels of satisfaction for 16 different carrier activities. The 400 shippers and forwarders who participated in the survey rated the service of container shipping lines with a score of 3.2 on average on a scale of 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied).

Satisfaction with documentation accuracy scored 3.4, but quality of customer service received only 2.9 and transit times and reliability of booking/cargo shipped as booked attracted scores of between 2.9 and 3, respectively. All the service features received a poor or medium level of satisfaction score from customers.

Shippers and forwarders also said that carrier performance has deteriorated between 2016 and 2017 in four areas—the range of different available carriers, the range of different available services, the price of service and the overall carrier service quality. But, carrier performance, related to sustainability/green and carrier financial stability, has improved since 2016.

“It is disappointing that, even after the big reorganization of container services following the start of new alliances, carriers still do not meet the expectations of their customers,” says Nik Delmeire, secretary general of ESC. “At the time of the survey, the carriers’ Emergency Bunker Surcharge, which we regard as customer unfriendly, was not yet in place, and it is reasonable to think that the results of the survey would be worse if it was done now.”  

The ESC invites carriers to meet with their customers to discuss real operational issues instead of resorting to new cost surcharges.

“Shippers and forwarders want a balance between service quality and price, but the survey shows that carriers are cutting back on service and offering less choice to shippers,” says Philip Damas, head of the logistics practice at Drewry.

To receive a higher level of customer service, some Drewry customers actively avoid direct contracts with ocean carriers and instead deal with forwarders and intermediaries.

“These issues make Drewry focus more on the transit times and service levels of providers when we provide benchmarking analytics to beneficial cargo owners,” Damas adds.