Stellar customer service is the key to long-term partnerships in today’s business world says Baburaj Vakiyal, COO and founding member of Hawk Freight Services.
Hawk Freight Services is the UAE wing of Hawk Freight Logistics, established in the UK in 1987. Based out of Heathrow, London, the company’s management decided to set up shop in the UAE in June of 2003. This also marked the start of Baburaj’s stint with the company, kicking off operations in a leased unit warehouse to now being a marked presence in DWC.
The chat with Baburaj begins with him reflecting on the company’s growth curve in what has proved to be a slow year for many businesses. “The growth we’ve seen is truly remarkable,” he beams with pride. “We’ve always looked for ways to adapt to market circumstances and maximise revenue streams. So in a year where many other business would have been happy to only sustain, we have continued to identify ways to grow and distinguish ourselves from the competition.”
“Our fundamental business strategy has been to optimise and improve the services offered to customers, because we don’t want to get involved in a price war with the competition. The difference isn’t usually a lot, and price war victories are very temporary. Someone will come and beat your price tomorrow. Our differentiating factor, therefore, is our quality of service,” Baburaj explains. “But if you’re able to win on service, then you have set the foundation for a long-lasting partnership. We haven’t been afraid of taking on projects even on a negative profit margin because we are always compensated in terms of client loyalty. If your proposition is based on low prices and little else, then you aren’t really offering clients long-term partnership value. As our clients grow, we grow with them, and this is only possible in a long-term partnership.”
The company’s business strategy echoes Baburaj’s sentiments: Customer service that delights. As a company based in the UK, does Baburaj feel there are customer service challenges that are unique to the Middle East market?
“I’ve been here for about 19 years and can see a huge difference in terms of connecting with people and forging partnerships. There is a lot of pressure because you work with a lot of expats and everyone is trying to add value to their organisation. The competition is greater and you have to keep adding value to retain clients and continue to grow though new business. We have a 24/7 customer service department to cater to the needs of our overseas clients. Friday, for instance, is not only a working day in other markets but is also one of the busiest days of the week. A lot of consignments get released by shippers on Thursday and Friday, which means they require immediate operational support. We feel this a major gap that we’ve been able to fill.”
Emerging technology is proving to be a game changer in the transport and logistics industry. Drone deliveries, 3D printing and delivery apps were unheard-of in the previous decade but are being looked upon to add even more value in terms of speed, efficiency and flexibility. Speaking on the role of technology in the company’s success story, Baburaj admits that the company has faced a few challenges in keeping up with tech savvy clients. “The demand is for greater integration and better tracing visibility. As a service provider, we definitely recognise the need to be a step ahead. In a world where a client is only a WhatsApp message away, we need to be able to offer exceptional responsiveness and quick turnaround times.”
Trends to watch
“When we started 20 years ago, 3PL was a term unheard of. Now people are talking about 4PL. The sky is the limit for the transport and logistics industry, and we have ambitious plans for expansion in this region. In 2017, we aim to open another office in DAFZA and beginning freight transport within the GCC,” says Baburaj looking to the future.
With the UAE becoming an increasingly favourite destination for start-ups, Baburaj feels there is still a lot of room for new players in the transport and logistics sector. “There are many gaps that remain to be filled and still new ones that are being created by the ever-evolving market. “There is enough room for new entrants in the industry. We come across new names every day. We see employees leaving existing companies and setting up their own, and then those companies being dismantled and the partners setting up their own separate firms. To truly survive, however, you need to have a unique value proposition upon which you can build long-lasting partnerships,” he concludes.