March 14, 2022 2:29 PM, EDT

Moving Experts Discuss Evolving Industry Challenges

Jim Edwards of Altair Global RelocationPaying your moves a competitive rate is critical, says Jim Edwards of Altair Global Relocation. (SunJae Smith/American Trucking Associations)

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The nature of the moving and storage industry requires in-person interactions, but consumers increasingly expect the level of automation and customer service they receive from online sellers, moving industry executives said.

“You can’t automate people coming into your home, packing up all of your personal goods, putting them into a truck and moving them across country,” said Jim Edwards, senior vice president of supplier partnerships at the management consulting company Altair Global Relocation, during a March 9 session at the inaugural American Trucking Associations’ Moving & Storage Conference Annual Meeting here. “What does that mean from a labor standpoint? You have to pay people competitive rates in order for them to provide that service. You have to pay for them to be trained and you have to pay for them to be vetted.”

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Companies also must meet the expectations of consumers who are increasingly used to immediacy with customer service, said Jannette Matula, an international mobility business partner at Vanderlande, which supplies process automation and baggage handling systems for warehouses, airports and the parcel market.

Moving & Storage Conference panelists

Moving & Storage Conference panelists at the session on "The Future of Relocation." (SunJae Smith/American Trucking Associations)

“I think that the whole Amazon phenomenon has really just driven consumers to an instant gratification mindset even more,” she said. “I don’t expect that to change. But with the desire for instant gratification, there’s also the expectation of quality and service and making things right if something arrives broken. And to relate that to the moving industry, I feel like expectations are the same.”

Operators that hold themselves to these high standards tend to stand out, she added.

“It’s how a company that’s accountable for that move handles the situation that really matters,” Matula said. “Those kinds of behaviors and processes are really going to be what separates the successful moving companies from the unsuccessful moving companies.”

Edwards noted while there is room for automation in areas such as processing billing information, it’s important to set service expectations appropriately for customers and clients. He said that factors including rising costs for fuel and labor must be included in negotiations, and urged carriers to be transparent about economic realities.

“My advice is to really help your clients understand — walk them through,” he said. “We’ve seen some excellent materials provided from moving companies recently with respect to that.”

Lynn Shotwell

Shotwell by SunJae Smith/American Trucking Associations

Worldwide ERC President Lynn Shotwell also stressed the value of the moving sector’s work. Her company, which specializes in corporate relocation, scrambled to get people moved during the pandemic. Now, they’re focused on moving people amid the Russian and Ukrainian war.

“At the end of the day that human touch is so necessary to help people through really difficult times,” Shotwell said. “As I talked to corporations, what they’re telling me is they need information. They need real-time information, the ability to connect with all of their providers, and [to] know what’s happening to that person and to all of their goods in real time.”

Worldwide ERC in a survey found 48% of its members want a single technology platform for all types of moves. That includes domestic and international as well as business trips, long-term assignments and permanent relocations.

“They want it across all of their service providers,” Shotwell said. “They want at a glance be able to see what’s happening with their shipments, what’s happening with the visa status, what’s happening with the home purchase and the real estate or the corporate housing,” she said. “The challenge is that most of them admitted that they don’t have the funds to invest in getting the technology that they want.”

Shotwell said some are using specialized software platforms, while others have custom-built their own systems. There also is increasing interest in more traditional human resource information system platforms, she said, even though that sometimes requires complex data analysis and ready availability of the required data.

Edward said that while the moving and storage sector may have previously sold itself short, today it must stress the value it provides while also maintaining fair business practices for customers.

“To me its supply and demand,” he said. “I tell our client services people that if somebody needs to move their household goods, then they need to pay what the rate is. My only request to any moving company is that they’re market-competitive.”

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