One digital platform: designed by customers, for customers

This article is from Stolten – December 2022

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Digital transformation is a phrase that has dominated the business landscape in recent years – and with good reason. Contained within that broad term is a range of solutions and processes that are changing the way companies from banking to agriculture work, collaborate and develop products.

And while the bulk liquid shipping industry may have lagged behind, Stolt Tank Containers (STC) is remedying that with a range of leading digital solutions. The company’s digital journey began almost a decade ago, but the launch of a new mySTC customer portal, as well as a growing number of bespoke integration projects, are creating new customer benefits.

At the heart of this multichannel customer experience is not just added flexibility, transparency and efficiency, but collaboration too. By seeking out opinions from customers who love digital as well as those who are yet to be convinced, the STC team has created solutions for some of the real-world issues faced by customers.

Simpler, faster and more efficient

STC’s mantra is 'make things easy for the customer and efficient for us'. This puts customer excellence at the heart of everything the company does, and nowhere is that more true than with digitalisation. By simplifying every stage of the customer journey, the company is driving engagement as well as increasing its own efficiency.

“Our customers expect more efficiency, traceability, transparency and responsiveness,” says Shane Robertson, Digital Strategy and Innovation Manager (pictured). “There are a couple of ways to do that. You can throw more people at the problem and hope your customers don’t mind an increase in cost. Or, like us, you can use technology to solve the issue. That way our cost to serve doesn’t increase even if customer demands do.”  

Flexibility is key when it comes to the digital solutions offered by STC. The mySTC portal provides customers with a single login to request and manage quotes, book new shipments, download copies of shipping documentation, and even track their bookings through the key voyage milestones. For other customers, bespoke integration allows the STC team to connect its systems directly into those of their customers, allowing for the seamless and secure transfer of data and reducing the need for manual, repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

“The example of invoices is a great one,” says Robertson. “Historically, we would send customers a PDF document and someone on their side would manually input the data into their system. By cutting out the manual processing side, we not only save customers time but also improve accuracy and help them better track their data.”

By working digitally, STC is transforming its communications into standardised structured data, providing a greater opportunity for downstream automation. It is working more efficiently, delivering customers faster quotes and booking confirmations, all while streamlining its own internal processes and removing the need for teams to carry out time-consuming microtransactions. 

“In a way, it’s all about aligning what we do with the changes happening outside the workplace,” says Drew Atkins, Product Owner, Customer Facing Digital Solutions (pictured). “Most people use apps for banking and ordering food or taxis. Everything is at your fingertips – and we want to provide that same ease, consistency and well-designed experience.”

Solving problems through co-creation

Collaboration with customers is a driving force behind the success of STC’s digital efforts. By listening to customers, the team was able to see that companies, whether operating in the Middle East, Europe or Asia, often faced universal challenges. Creating solutions that not only overcome these challenges but are also capable of adapting as market and customer demands evolve requires building customer feedback directly into the process.

To do this, the company set up the customer reference group. This allowed the STC team to directly source the opinions and feedback of customers and use this to drive updates and changes to its digital offerings. But importantly, the team didn’t just ask customers they knew were regularly using mySTC. They also targeted those who had used it once and then gone back to manual ordering.

“It gave us amazing insight into what was missing from our offering in terms of functionality,” says Atkins. “We could open a dialogue with customers to say, ‘we’ve removed that pain point – what do you think now?’"

“The issues we are looking to resolve are often the same ones our customers have identified internally. The fact we are already working on creating a fix is blowing them away.” Drew Atkins, Product Owner, Customer Facing Digital Solutions

By directly seeking out the opinions of users who had used mySTC and then gone back to manual orders, STC was able to show not only that it’s listening to the concerns of customers but that their opinions are important. The fact that digital orders now represent 50% of the total, up from about 25% a year ago, is proof that more and more customers are seeing the value of these solutions.  

“If you are only playing to the crowd that is already onboard, you are not going to make any progress,” says Atkins. “It’s the customers who aren’t booking digitally that we need to offer extra incentives to. If we can win them back, then our existing digital customers will benefit more too.”

For bespoke integration projects, even closer collaboration is creating digital solutions that are delivering real value for customers. Infineum and STC have been working together for over 20 years, and a lot has changed over that time. By integrating STC’s data directly into Infineum’s systems, the two companies have been able to take the relationship to a new level in terms of visibility, efficiency and transparency.

“We worked with STC to integrate order processing and vessel details tracking and since then we haven’t needed to do any manual data entry in our own planning system,” says Francesca Cupellini, Centre of Excellence and Compliance Manager, Global Supply Chain, Planning and Procurement, Infineum.

“The billing process between our two companies is also fully automated, working on the match-and-pay basis. Stolt was the first freight-forwarder that was able to achieve a complete integration on this scale.”

Infineum is not the only customer benefitting – a range of companies are streamlining their processes and increasing oversight. “We started using the mySTC portal in April 2022 as a single point of contact for equipment and shipping,” says Gayatri Ramakrishnan, Shipping Officer at Scott Bader, another long-term STC customer. “The best example is moving 36 bulk ISO tanks smoothly every month from the UK to mainland Europe. It is convenient because before the month starts, we know the vessel schedule and that bookings are placed in the respective vessel.”

Anticipating needs, creating solutions

This forward-thinking approach is not only delivering great results for STC, but for customers too. And, says Atkins, the reaction has so far been incredibly positive. “I’ve sat down with some of our largest customers and talked through our future plans. The issues we are looking to resolve are often the same ones they’ve identified internally. The fact we are already working on creating a fix is blowing them away.”

The company’s long-term aim is to position itself as a champion of digital standardisation in the bulk liquid logistics industry. And while the team has certainly taken some significant steps in achieving that aim, there is still some way to go.

“There's a number of exciting features that we are working on right now,” says Robertson. “And, of course, we are working closely with our customers to make sure we are always creating the best digital experience possible.”

STC’s digital solutions are another extension of the customer-centricity the company puts at the heart of everything it does. In a fiercely competitive marketplace, STC is working in a way that separates it from its competition and forges stronger connections with its customers. 

This article is from

Stolten – December 2022

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