The position of being a process driven or customer service oriented company is a fine line to walk. Many in the industry are beginning to stray away from the customer service aspect, and are starting to focus solely on the bottom line. This way of thinking may bring short term profits, but with the risk of treating a customer like a number, and in the long run pushing a customer away. The shipping industry is still built upon relationships; it’s still a service oriented business and will most likely always be.
Since its branch launch in 2010, SITC Container Lines (Thailand) Co.,Ltd, has grown into a main shipping carrier in the Thailand – Intra-Asia service region. They have built up an outstanding market image with fast-transit time, high frequency schedules, and a reliable container shipping service provider. SITC is sticking more closely to the customer service oriented route, and are reaping the benefits. Their success story continues with year-on-year growth which was largely depends on a team that has customer service integrated into their DNA. LM was fortunate to sit down with three top management at SITC Container Lines (Thailand) to get their views on what continues to make them successful. Mr. Kevin Kong, General Manager of SITC Container Lines (Thailand); Mr. Hiroki Murakami, Owner’s Representative & Sales Manager of Japanese Accounts Division; and Ms. Nanun Kaewmukda, Sales Manager of Thai Accounts Division, are all vibrant parts of SITC Thailand‘s proactive marketing strategy.
Customer Service Oriented DNA as a Working Culture of SITC
SITC is a container liner service provider with its operation headquarters located in Shanghai and Hong Kong (SITC International was listed in Hong Kong stock market in October 2010, Stock Code -HK1308), and differentiates itself as the biggest privately-owned container shipping line in China and 23rd in Alphaliner’s global liner rankings. Mr. Kong has taken what he’s learned from over 20 years working with SITC and has integrated the customer oriented mindset into the business in Thailand. “Since opening in Thailand, we have worked tirelessly to build up a team of motivated, customer focused individuals,” said Mr. Kong.
“This high level of personal touch is built into the DNA of the company at SITC. In general, SITC’s DNA is composed of 6 core elements – Focus, Teamwork, Execution, High-Efficiency, Risk Control, and Customer-Oriented Service. Some other container lines might mainly focus only on the cost, but at SITC we are customer focused. Shipping is still a personal relationship business, so we try to make it as easy as possible to work with us. Customers seek us out because we are easy to get along with. It shows in our performance as well. For example, in the past five years, our service routes have increased from 2 sailings per week, to 8 sailings per week now; and we have kept double digit year-on-year growth in the amount of TEUs that we’re moving since 2010.”
Most significantly, in 2014 we were awarded by Thai National Shippers Council (TNSC) the “Best Small & Medium Shipping Line” award. It was recognition that the efforts SITC made were appreciated by our customers, both small and VIP,” said Mr. Kong. Ms. Kaewmukda is on the front lines with her sales staff every day and is motivated to help each customer they come into contact with. She went into further detail about the type of business and team she tries to run. “We try to make our service a one stop solution for our customers,” said Ms. Kaewmukda. “We have been growing very fast, and we’re trying to be an active player in the market. I’ve always stressed to my team that customer interaction is the most important element. We try to be a partner and a friend to our customers. We also actively cooperate with freight forwarding companies as a business collaborator. This is a service business, and we must always be available with quick responses to support our customers.”
“If you have a service oriented mind, customers will surely be aware of it, and select SITC as a priority or first-choice to use when similar ocean freight options are offered. Problem solving is a value added service which helps differentiate us as well. It’s a key success factor on why we’ve had such strong, quick, and stable growth in the Thai market.”
Inter-Asia Strength – Making the Strongest Position Even Stronger
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the SITC group, and the 6th anniversary of the Thailand branch opening. The company originally started with Qingdao -Japan main ports service in 1991, serving only in Shandong province in China. From there, the China – Japan service became increasingly important and expanded to all of China’s main coastal ports. Today, SITC carries nearly 30% of the market share of this route between the two countries.
SITC started its Southeast Asia service in 2004, with an initial presence on the China – Philippines and China – Vietnam route; and followed by Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and East Malaysia. Currently in the Thai market, SITC’s Thailand branch is operating 8 sailings per week with distinguished selling points on: the fastest direct service to Shanghai/Ningbo with 4 sailings per week; 3 sailings per week to Haiphong and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; 2 sailings per week to Manila and out-ports of the Philippines; 3 sailings per week to Japan’s main ports, and the fastest service to Jakarta with a transit time of 4 days.
Thailand is also seen as an important country in SITC’s eyes, in part to the Japanese connection. Japanese companies have deep roots in Thailand’s industrial development for nearly 50 years, which makes it even more attractive to have a base of operations in country here. To help facilitate this, Mr. Murakami was brought in and has become an important marketing force of the Thailand branch. “I’ve worked with SITC Thailand branch for five years now, and my main focus is on the Japanese trading firms, factories, and forwarding companies that run import and export activities in Thailand,” said Mr. Murakami.
“Thailand has many industries that largely originated from Japan-investment, and I feel excited that SITC have brought me here. It is a challenge, but a valuable opportunity to work with so many Japanese-invested companies and clients here. Currently, a dynamic SITC brand image has been introduced and planned with Japanese affiliated companies here in Thailand. However, my Japan sales team is still striving our strategy and efforts on practicing the standardized and tailor-made Japanese service/business module for our customers. That is my target and mission,” said Mr. Murakami.
“Having a Japanese representative in our Thai branch helps us to approach the Japanese companies more frequently,” Mr. Kong added. “Any issue can be dealt with more accurately, efficiently, and sufficiently instead of having to wait to talk to someone in Tokyo. It’s great to have an ‘on the ground’ person here as an immediate contact-window for our Japanese accounts base. It’s a key to our success in the market in Thailand. Mr. Murakami has shown his capability to facilitate our relationships with the Japanese companies in Thailand, and the SITC DNA of ‘Customer-Oriented Service,’ is actually favorable with all kinds of business culture and nationalities,” said Mr. Kong.
“Right now we are focusing on ASEAN trade, especially Thailand to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam,” Mr. Murakami said. “We entered and made competitive service routes at the right time, as we saw the opportunities in the market and quickly secured some market shares in South-East Asia. We are acting as a strong player in the Inter-Asia market, and we’re looking to expand that reach even further. For instance, last year we had a large jump in the Philippines market for both main ports and out-ports, and now we are the main carrier for Thailand to Philippines service with a sophisticated service coverage to Manila North & South, Batangas, Cebu, Subic, and Cagayan. ”
“The ‘fast transit time, high frequency, and high density,’ service network is the core of our strategy.”
Thailand is a central country for the ASEAN region and an international trade hub that creates the largest container movement volume. While in 2010, we started with only 2 services per week, and today we have 8 services weekly, a ‘Daily SITC’ service image has already been built up in the market,” said Mr. Murakami.
Future Outlook – A Tough, Uncertain Year Ahead; but With Optimistic Business Thinking
Mr. Kong left us with his thoughts on what the year ahead may bring. “We expect this year to be slower and full of uncertainty with the forecast of oil price and those fixed merging cases in our liner shipping industry. We are still focusing on Intra Asia market and projecting solid growth despite the downward trend in the industry. We will keep investigating niche markets and ports, as we see an opportunity to grow and find more unique point to point locations. SITC has a diversified working culture and business vision, and it helps us daily with our interactions with customers. We see many opportunities in the South-East Asia area, Thailand is especially a lucrative place for investment among ASEAN countries in the next 5 to 10 years. Being proactive instead of reactive is what worked for us in the past and a key to helping us succeed in the future. In 2016, SITC Thailand working team will be more dedicated on being the first-choice of our customer and make our strongest position even stronger.”