with change come chances

IAM Annual Meeting, 4 October 2019, Chicago, IL, US

FIDI’s panel discussion at the IAM convention featured the opinions of some noteworthy industry figures, including major relocation specialist Graebel and heavyweight services user the US Department of State. FIDI Marketing and Communications Manager Magali Horbert takes us through some of the highlights of the discussion

FIDI Global Alliance hosted a panel discussion entitled Corporate Accounts, Government Customers and RMCs: How to Get More Business at the IAM Convention in October.

The session was moderated by FIDI Global Alliance Secretary General Jesse van Sas who conducted the discussions between Ken Brown, Global Mobility Lead at Shire; Russell Gambino, Senior Programme Manager, World Bank; Ben Ivory, Senior Vice President of Graebel; Joleen Lauffer, Executive Vice President, Aires; and Charles Olden, Branch Chief – Transportation Management at the US Department of State.

Introducing the session, Van Sas said the aim was to answer those questions move providers ‘want to ask but do not always dare to’, and give the opportunity for corporate accounts, governmental customers and RMCs to explain their requirements, stressing the importance of giving correct and truthful answers when tendering for business.

‘Our moving industry has not been spared challenges in the past 20 years,’ he said. ‘The upcoming relocation industry, powerful relocation management companies, invoice auditors, the increasing pressure on rates, compliance matters – you name it, we have all seen it landing on our doorstep. But we, the movers, were also able, very often, to address these challenges and offer solutions. 

‘Yet, many movers are mystified as well as impressed by the sheer number of requirements to participate in large tenders or to be allowed to enter a pool of qualified movers. Requests for proposal (RFPs) of more than 100 pages are no longer an exception, each with different rate structures. Various SLAs, full of legal language, land on move providers’ desks, each with a variation of the same requirements, requesting compliance and audits.

‘Some of the movers happily comply with these requirements, many others curse them, perhaps even ignore them or, even worse, some blindly sign the documents but do not apply the rules in practice.’

Van Sas added that two aspects, in particular, are high on the corporate and government agenda: compliance and transparency. ‘More and more customers are likely to want – or require – some level of explicit agreement from their providers in terms of compliance, quality, financial transparency, and so on,’ he said. ‘Therefore, by having the opportunity to learn more about the goals and objectives of customers, we will help the movers prepare for the future and, hopefully, to book in more business.’

Here are some of the highlights of the questions posed to the panel during the following discussions:

What is the biggest challenge the relocation industry is currently facing?

Joleen Lauffer of AiRES, said the most important concern for movers is to get the quality of service right, a statement echoed by Graebel’s Ben Ivory, who stressed how vital it is to respond well to clients’ needs. 

Part of this process is good communication, said Russell Gambino of World Bank. This isn’t easy because moving can be stressful, he said, but we need to strive for clarity from both client and supplier sides. Movers can have a tendency to want to overachieve, which can create high expectations that make delivery more difficult. Sometimes, it pays to be pessimistic and realistic!

The US Department of State’s Charles Olden agreed that communication is vital, helping clients understand next steps throughout the moving process. Flexibility is also an important trait, he added, so the strategy can be adjusted when things do not go according to plan.

Why are RFPs so long and complex?

Gambino said that when it comes to RFPs, although one size does not fit all, in big organisations procurement departments often have a single model for all their suppliers. The legal and risk requirements mean these documents have to cover many details and different aspects – not to mention, said Ivory, laying the foundation for long-term customer and supplier relationships.

Lauffer said many small companies are going to find it increasingly difficult to fulfil the compliance and regulation requirements asked of them. While, standardisation is a helpful trend, there is a risk that we are diluting what sets us apart on a competitive level, she said.

Gambino said service-level agreements (SLAs) and key performance indicators (KPIs), for example, help the industry keep track of the level of quality and services it is providing – although conceded that there is some work to be done to simplify the requirements and the language used in RFPs.

Ivory believes that standardisation is important for the industry, particularly to regulate the increasing use of automation. Lauffer added that standards could be key to help suppliers rebuff requests that are not practical or realistic, while Gambino felt the trend could help the industry streamline its processes and help with regulating the difference in service provision between countries.

What is the role of quality certification – and what should it be?

Olden said quality is measured at different levels, from the materials used, the crew’s ability and overall satisfaction with the job – and does not necessarily mean getting it perfectly right the first time round.

He stressed that certification means that companies need to live up to a certain level of services. However, the bottom line is this is demonstrated by what is actually done, not necessarily by showing a certain certificate.

Nevertheless, Lauffer said certification is critical when recruiting first-time partners. Once they become a part of the Aires supply chain, reaching internal KPIs then become more important – Aires measures its suppliers on six specific (but non-disclosed) KPIs.

Gambino concluded this segment by underlining that the RFP process goes both ways: we want our vendors to be happy, he said.

When you are a prospect and want to stand a chance of winning an RFP, how can you reach the decision makers?

Lauffer said don’t be afraid to reach out when you are a new prospective partner. Educate us, she said; personal contact, visits and educations material all help us understand new markets and the specifics of the
moving process.

On the other hand, Brown said Spire relies on RMCs to find the right suppliers and match for the company, rather than personal contact from prospectives.

Because of its already large number of vendors, Olden said the US Department of State is often reluctant to bring in new suppliers and dilute its current pool of trusted partners. It’s a balancing act, he said: the organisation seeks out deep partnerships, and isn’t keen on changing to new and unknown partners. For this reason, he added, getting a foot in the door is often a question of timing, rather than a consistent procedure. But the department does keep a running list of interested companies, so it might well pay to knock at the door and keep an eye open when new RFPs come out.

Ivory said the onus was on suppliers to take the time to learn what the process for each organisation is, and that your motto should be ‘persistent patience – and patient persistence’.

Gambino advocated fostering relationships with other agents. The moving industry is a place where true and long-term relationships exist; these are key to stay relevant and in business.

Customers are changing. What is the future for move providers?

Each of the panellists gave their own vision of the future for the moving industry. 

Moving is certainly not about to disappear, said Olden. Governments will continue to relocate people on a large scale. Meanwhile, Ivory said the world was increasingly mobile and people will continue to relocate – although the industry needs to get to grips with their diverse and evolving needs. We need to nurture great relationships and draw upon the industry experience we have, while not shying away from adapting to innovations and change.

Brown said that companies should ‘lean into’ developments in technology, using existing, and future, technology and tools to make the moving process smoother – for clients, bookers and movers – and facilitate better communication along the way.

Lauffer echoed these comments, saying that technology will play an increasing role while customer expectations will continue to grow and omnichannel support will become more prominent, as will customer self-service. Movers’ ability to adapt to each type of customer will be key – and they should remember that the millennials who make up the biggest part of the workforce are young – and often single – now, but in 10 to 15 years, their lives and needs will change.

Gambino said technology was transforming industries across the world. We will always be moving people – the World Bank will send more people into the field, for example, and technology will create specialisation. To conclude he said we should all remember that with change comes opportunity.