Supply Chain Series – Customer Service Representative (International Freight Forwarding)

Hunter Campbell’s Supply Chain Salary & Employment Forecast Series profiles jobs within the Supply Chain job family including jobs in demand, salaries, and employment prospects.

In this instalment, the role of Customer Service Representative (International Freight Forwarding) is in the spotlight.

Purpose of the role

A customer service representative in international freight forwarding is often described as the engine of the business and for good reason. A Customer Service Representative nurtures a portfolio of clients alongside the Business Development Manager or Key Account Managers and will typically be the first point of contact for clients.

The role is busy and multifaceted involving a wide range of responsibilities from administration, data management, data entry, customer service, sales support and relationship management. The typical duties of a Customer Service Representative are likely to include some or all of the following:

  • Help manage current customer accounts
  • Confirm freight bookings and track orders
  • Provide shipment quotes for customers and set up shipments and documents as required by customers
  • Set up any documentation
  • Deal with a high volume of inbound and outbound phone calls
  • Maintain relationships with carriers and customers
  • Provide exceptional customer service to customers and carriers
  • Solve customer and carrier problems and help resolve issues
  • Be a professional representative of our company that other employees look up to

Qualifications

Generally, formal qualifications are not required for entry-level or Customer Service roles. However secondary and tertiary level education, particularly in a relevant field (such as Supply Chain or Operations-related qualifications) are held in high regard.

Some larger companies offer graduate training schemes. You’ll typically spend two years working in different departments across Customer Service to get to know the whole business. As well as building up experience you will often study for relevant professional qualifications during this time.

If you work for a smaller company the training may be less structured. It will usually include an induction process followed by on-the-job training.

The training provision varies considerably between companies, so research carefully when job seeking.

External courses are available in several related areas and professional qualifications are also offered by various organisations, CILT being the preeminent.

Key Skills Required

A Customer Service Representative is very much a client-facing role and one that represents the business and is responsible for not only providing efficient, friendly customer service but is also responsible for managing ongoing relationships with customers and carriers.

An effective Customer Service Representative will possess the following key skills and experience:

  • Communication skills, as they liaise with a variety of people
  • Clarity in communication and good attention to detail, as major problems can arise through inaccuracies
  • Organisational and planning skills
  • Teamwork, tact and good interpersonal skills
  • Good geographical knowledge
  • Sound industry knowledge; ideally previous experience in international freight forwarding
  • Flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • Problem-solving ability, particularly when working under pressure.
  • Good numerical skills
  • Language skills – are not essential but can be useful if there is a focus on a particular region or country

With continued supply chain disruption and ongoing demand, the key skills that have been in demand over the last three years have been resilience, the ability to work accurately under pressure, and the ability of CSR’s to be able to think on their feet and come up with quick solutions.

Career Prospects

Immediate progression from a Customer Service Representative is often to the level of the Senior Freight Forwarder or Senior Export Administrator, followed by Export Office Manager or Shipping Manager. Working as a Customer Service representative in Freight Forward also opens avenues for growth into other areas such as Key Account Management, and Business Development. The skills gained as a CSR are valuable and there are many examples of CSR’s progressing in a business and taking on future senior leadership roles in the industry.

Recruitment forecast

There’s no denying the fact that labour shortages have been one of the biggest points of struggle for those across all industries, and international freight forwarding in particular.

Now that freight markets are normalizing following the significant disruptions caused by COVID, increased demand, logjams and significant geopolitical events (the War in Ukraine being one example) and rates are coming down, freight forwarders need to put efficiencies and cost reductions back into focus. There has been a drop in demand (albeit from such a high level of demand never seen before) and yield which has resulted in a big transformation, focussed on moving shipments faster, cheaper and better with a high quality of service.

However despite industry demand stabilising the requirement for skilled, tenacious CSR professionals who can manage a varied and complex role, while building and maintaining customer relationships remains high.  As the face of the business and someone with such a high degree of customer contact the importance of a good CSR professional cannot be underestimated.

Salary Guide

Salaries can differ considerably depending on experience and scope of the role, some Customer Service reps look after key clients whilst others will be looking after a varied portfolio. When getting to the senior level of the role there tends to be a bit more role responsibility including team leadership, training or even management.

Below is an estimated salary guide of what we are currently seeing in the market.

Junior Customer Service 0 – 2 years experience – $65,000 – $75,000

Intermediate Customer Service 2-5 years experience – $75,000 – $85,000

Senior Customer Service 5+ years experience – $85,000 – $100,000

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