In the migration business

Mar 20 | 2019

An interview with Jason Diggs by Steve Jordan.

Jason Diggs, Managing Director, Anglo Pacific

The migration industry from the UK, has been a staple diet for international moving companies for decades.  Movers in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and, to some extent, the USA, have exchanged the household goods of those leaving the UK in hope of finding a better life, and often returning with mixed emotions, since the days of the ten-pound-Pomme, and before.  

Over the years migrant shippers have come and gone, some have stayed the course yet few, if any, have refined the science of moving migrants in quite the way Anglo Pacific has.  Having been in that business myself, I was intrigued to find out how the industry had changed with evolving customer attitudes and changing migration policies.  Jason Diggs, the company’s Managing Director, explained.

Anglo Pacific was started in 1978 with a youthful entrepreneurial spirit and a combi van to serve the needs of London backpackers and quickly became one of the main baggage shippers in London. From there it was a natural progression into removals, groupage and trade shipping. Anglo was quick to recognise the opportunities offered by the Internet and, by 2000, had its own online quoting platform for baggage, a huge advantage at the time. The company was sending removals quotes by e-mail long before most others and has continued to embrace technology to enhance its business and customer experience.  Today Anglo runs regular groupage services to 24 destinations worldwide and ships in excess of 10% of the whole UK international market. Uniquely it offers trade customers a guaranteed transit time backed by a money-back guarantee.

Challenging migration market
Jason said that there were a number of factors that had made the current migration market more challenging than in the past.  These had resulted in a significant reduction in tonnage in recent years.

Although Jason said that the push factors for leaving the UK are high, the pull factors are not as attractive because the cost of living is high and job opportunities are not what they were.  Countries have opened up their migration policies to the rest of the world and the UK is no longer the origin of choice.

2018, he said, was very inconsistent. It started slow and the busy summer season dropped off very sharply in October with pricing under continual pressure. “We spend upwards of £500,000 a year on Google so we see the trend quicker. I have never seen a downturn as quick as last October. Brexit, it seems, has caused a lot of indecision and, in practice, paralysed migrants’ decision making. When the Brexit vote was taken in 2016 the value of Sterling dropped significantly and has stayed low.  This combined with falling house prices has reduced migrants’ net wealth and made them consider whether waiting would be a good idea.  The lack of a resolution over Brexit has given them no relief.”

Jason said that the Internet doesn’t help in that it allows customers to perform their own research to establish the cost of living abroad. “We need a generation of migrants who have forgotten what migration used to be,” he said. “Because they are being pushed down on their migration wealth, they will push down the supply chain, which includes the moving service.”

The migration market in the UK has shrunk by around 50% in the last few years. With upwards of 50 specialist international moving companies fighting for the reduced work it’s not surprising that prices have been forced down. “Last summer we were asked to match pricing that was at low season rates,” Jason explained. “It takes a brave company to stick true to pricing.  Customers can easily compare pricing and are not scared to negotiate.  You have to decide how far down you are prepared to go.”

The changing approach to surveys
But Jason says that it’s too easy to become fixated by price because demonstrating value is harder now than ever before. Only around 20% of the surveys Anglo Pacific did in 2018 were face-to-face. “We now engage with the customers by phone, e-mail, SMS and to a limited extent, video.  Video is not the saviour of the industry.  It saves some money and allows you to build some rapport, but it won’t ever replace personal contact in the way we know the physical home visit has done over many years.  I have been surprised at the lack of penetration video has made to date given how consumers have adopted this technology in many other aspects of their everyday life. Perhaps it’s finding that jump from acceptance for personal use to a business use.”

Another change is the need to give an indication of price before attending a survey. “I don’t think you can provide a home consultation without giving an indication of cost in advance or you won’t get an appointment. The job has changed. It’s far more consultative now. We now have move consultants, not sales representatives.” Anglo Pacific uses a specialist training company to provide high-level training to help its consultants convert these increasingly rare opportunities. “Size of move, postcode and destination are no longer any guide to the motivation of the client.  Buying habits have changed with everyone.  Now the person you see is negotiating from the first contact. They know what a good price and a good insurance premium is and they will tell you upfront. They will take your volume and price and price check you.  But at least you got the time in front of the client to build rapport and value that the other companies didn’t get.  Any sort of engagement, even a reply to an SMS, is very valuable.”

Transactional moves and the throw-away society
Jason believes that many clients view booking a move as little different to booking a train ticket. Clients now have so much information available that they see the service offered by movers as purely transactional.  “We already see that in baggage,” he explained. “People want to hit a few buttons and make a decision very quickly. They take it as read that you are good at what you do.  They assume everything will be as planned. That’s how they consume every day. I think we do ourselves a disservice as an industry when we say that we are different so the user experience needs to be that different. I don’t think consumers buy into that any more, they want things done the way they want. It’s consumer power. They have brought their buying habits into our industry.”

Society has also become more throw-away, with people having fewer things that they treasure. This lack of emotional attachment has contributed to the reduction in shipment sizes, the reduced declared values for insurance and a drop-off in insurance take up. “We spend a lot of energy thinking it’s not fair,” said Jason. “Well what is fair? We need to deal with it and build a customer experience that is reflective of how they purchase whilst getting the absolute essentials we need to provide the service.”

So how do you get a sales message out to customers who don’t want to talk to you?  “You have to use video, e-mail and SMS to communicate with clients because people now run their lives on a smartphone.” Jason says that you should get your point across in no more that 12 words emphasising to the customer that they need to talk to you.  “If you are not part of the process, the decision is truly transactional. Some people still put value ahead of price, but you have to find them.”

Managing quality
Managing quality is harder today because of the lack of engagement with customers. It’s more difficult to manage expectations when you have minimal contact. For that reason, Jason said that you have to rely on a robust process.  For example, an Anglo move manager always calls a client on move day to make sure everything is as expected. Customers are given the opportunity to comment on written reports and negative comments are followed up quickly.

Jason is undecided about the handling of complaints online.  He said it is hard for a corporation to engage with a customer on social media. “It’s often better to try to take the discussion off social media and on to the telephone or e-mail. It’s hard for a company to have a fair say on social media.”

Agency relationships
Jason expects the quality service to flow seamlessly through his close niche of long-term destination agents.  As an independent company he is free to change agents whenever he wishes, but he prefers to work with an agent to correct anything that goes wrong. “Our relationships are not based just on rates and reciprocation which is why many are now true partnerships established over many years,” he said. “We talk about trends and how we can work together.” Jason said that many trends, such as online servicing and the growth of the transactional relationship with customers started in the UK.  

The here, now and future
Three years ago came a change in ownership and more recently a change in warehouse location and loading processes. Being part of a shared operational facility, where “live” loading freight from collection vehicle to export container is an everyday best practice, has driven a new level of efficiency and container utilization while decreasing the need for double handling and all the challenges that come with that. “I think Anglo would be in a tougher place now were it not that we could share some costs and continue to find better ways to do what we have always done,” said Jason. “In a changing consumer landscape you are forced to look at what you know, question it and make the necessary changes. When you are handling a million cubic feet of groupage freight a year, if you are not evolving then you are not standing still, you are being passed.”

Since Anglo Pacific started over 40 years ago, many things have changed and continue to change, but the culture of the company has remained the same driven by the people who work there. That culture was created by a youthful combi van owner but has a common thread running through the business throughout its history.  “Innovation, our people and openness to change will always be synonymous with the brand because that is what built it,” said Jason.

Click here to read the next editor's pick.

Click here to read the magazine.