Comfort vs Change

Want people on your side? First get them past what they’re afraid of

Comfort vs Change
Photo: Nexxiot

Every cargo shipment, anywhere in the world, is subject to risk. Yet there’s a range of data points and related metrics—often gathered from the cargo itself—that could mitigate those risks. With a positive effect on successful deliveries, customer satisfaction, even insurance premiums. So why are some carriers, 3PL’s and freight handlers nervous about sharing such useful information?

It’s because there’s a side effect to being open and transparent: your customers can see where things went wrong. So, they’ll think you make more mistakes than your competitors, who aren’t sharing that info. In reality, of course, you’re making fewer mistakes—because you have a clearer view of what’s happening inside every container, and can fix problems early. But that logic is easily lost on a customer who’s angry about a consignment stuck at the border.

While transport asset and cargo monitoring technology like Nexxiot’s can solve a lot of these “hardware” problems, we recognise the “software” of human behaviour—emotions and instincts—is a challenge too. In this article we’ll explore how to turn cultural readiness from a risk to business advantage… by changing perceptions of what really matters.

The perils of being open and transparent

There’s an old Chinese saying: “The nail that protrudes, gets hammered down.” Many languages have an equivalent of “to stick your neck out” or “put your backside on the line”. The takeout here: sharing information that could reflect badly on you carries risks. We humans are a collection of biases and emotions; we have a tendency to assign blame to the messenger who discovered the problem, rather than to the factors that caused the problem itself.

The transport industry has long operated behind a curtain, with few customers having true visibility on what’s happening within the box. And in truth, if you search YouTube for footage of what happens every day on loading ramps and sorting hubs, you’d look closer at things like insurance and service levels in contracts.

Any lack of trust resulting from lack of information and negative experiences results in slow execution of processes, poor accountability standards and finger pointing. This all contributes to slow changes in how transport is managed, and customers remain in the dark.

Now imagine the alternative. If every customer enjoys full transparency and visibility over their cargo—with supply chain monitoring technology or a rail freight sensor and IoT gateway system—the market would work as markets should: customers demand improvement, suppliers innovate to offer it. But this isn’t yet the case.

Smart container monitoring—like Nexxiot’s technology—makes a lot of your critical cargo data visible, complete with associated risks. Temperature rising inside a reefer? GPS position suggesting a delay tonight? Two hazardous shipments in close proximity? All available.

But the shipping firm or logistics provider that enables that asset monitoring counterintuitively may feel it is putting itself at a potential disadvantage. The concern can be that end customers see a reality they weren’t previously aware of. So it can feel like making it visible is a business risk …. And it can feel like a personal one too.

Cognitive biases: the prime suspect in perceived risk

And that’s the key point: personal. People’s understanding of risk is deeply emotional. We put undue weight on a tiny risk that’s constantly talked about, like a plane crash; we avoid mitigating obvious future risks because they provide comfort in the Now, like eating too many cream buns. And changing our behaviour—as we all know after that third eclair—is hard.

That’s a shame, because getting a grip on risk is among the most useful things anyone can do. It’s the key to acting logically, rationally, purposefully. And smart use of data is the best way to develop it. But we have to work with the world as it is, not as we might like it to be—so let’s start by with a few notes on these emotional drivers. Psychologist Dan Kahnemann called them cognitive biases.

There are hundreds of cognitive biases, but just five explain nearly all human decision making: loss aversion, the proximity / availability / familiarity biases, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Loss aversion is the biggest: people value what they already have, and it takes a disproportionate effort to persuade them to give it up. But others matter too.

Proximity Bias leads people to overweight evidence in front of them rather than its distant cause: hence scapegoating. Availability Bias is in play when we rely on data that’s easier to get hold of, rather than more truthful. (Unavailable information = long-term carcinogenic effects on health. Available information = this barbecued T Bone is awesome.)

Also of interest is Familiarity Bias: the tendency to think we’re better off with what we know now. (Which is why it’s so hard to change people’s beliefs.) While the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the simplest of all: the less people know, the more they think they know. (Before you think “I know someone like that”, look in a mirror. Six out of ten people are prone to it)

We can’t escape our biases. They’re human nature. So, what’s an honest fleet management or cargo services team to do? Turns out there is a strategy that works—and it’s surprisingly simple.

Rewrite the rules of the Blame Game

Chasing information is a normal part of most people’s jobs. Wouldn’t it be great if doing so involved less effort?

After all, most supply chain participants spend a big chunk of the working day tracking down late tank containers, investigating ISO tanks, or pursuing pesky pallets. Problems are often solvable with fairly simple data points, like a corrected manifest or up-to-date loading plan.

Here’s the nub: whatever someone’s job description says—Forklift Operator to Administration Manager—their actual function is to solve problems. Data can help them do so. In a way that wins them the admiration of their bosses. And that’s the incentive to get out of their comfort zone and try something new: personal benefit.

That unscheduled walkaround Fred the Forklift operator does each morning: it’s prevented seven accidents this year. Those extra notes Freda in the office makes on each manifest: it’s helped twelve customers avoid a two-week delay in customs. But their supervisors never knew about it, never realised how valuable those tasks were. So, the workers received no thanks or recognition … until now.

With greater access to data, all those things become explicit. Metrics demonstrate that without Fred’s daily walkaround or Freda’s accurate record-keeping, negative consequences were avoided. In this mode of thinking, workers along the supply chain aren’t the victims of data. They’re using that same data to prove their capabilities, to demonstrate they’re doing an effective job. In other words, they’re making themselves look good.

Getting the data on your side

Start with that thought, and you’ve deep-sixed the notion that transparency of information leads to the Blame Game. You’ve replaced it with satisfaction, a glowing sense of pride, and explicit confirmation that they matter. All of which sound great at Fred and Freda’s next performance review.

And that’s our key to the kingdom: to make it personal. Understand how people view risk, and supply tools that foster the positives: data that bolsters their pride in doing a good job and makes their competency apparent to their supervisors.

Recast the conversation: from comfort to change

Not everyone is a driver of change, but everyone can benefit from it. And if we as an industry can agree that transparent and visible data on our shipments is a good thing, we can all enjoy those benefits. Ourselves. Our employees. Our customers.

That’s the takeout: exposing the data doesn’t mean exposing your problems. After all, the problems were there anyway. It’s about using information to address the problem. That’s what Nexxiot’s solutions do: make smart use of data. Dozens of sensor types, billions of data points, and intelligent software on the backend that presents that data as meaningful metrics and actionable insights. The sort of information that improves your service and streamlines your costs, even cuts your carbon footprint.

Transparent, visible data isn’t a threat—so present it with an alternative narrative: that it gives people the recognition and respect they deserve.

Accept. Adapt. And thrive.

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