BunkerEx: Balancing Humans and Technology
Every morning at the BunkerEx headquarters, our entire team gets together to brainstorm innovative ways for technology to make bunker buying faster and cheaper for our clients. But bunkering is an art as well as a science, often relying on human knowledge and care to deal with complex issues before, during and after each delivery. Each stem requires huge amounts of operational attention, so buyers want someone experienced to represent them – something machines aren’t very good at.
So how do we balance the power and speed of technology with the care and experience of our brokers?
We strongly believe in the human touch, but we need to make sure it scales. That means delivering a personalised, human service to all of our clients 24/7 and giving each stem enough care and attention to ensure it goes smoothly. The question is, how do you achieve that?
Hire more and more brokers
Traditional brokers have tackled this by growing teams as they get more customers. This gives shipowners the human touch, but because staff are one of the largest costs of any company, a big team of brokers gets expensive quickly.
At BunkerEx, we charge buyers nothing and our supplier commission is 80% cheaper than the market average. We want to stay that way, so this is simply not an option.
Additionally, hiring more and more bunker brokers doesn’t solve everything. There is no guarantee of consistency with a big brokerage team and the high standards we set may not be maintained across every bunker stem.
Instead, we’ve built a platform for our brokers so they can do their job better, but also faster. This frees up their time so they can focus on what they love and what they’re good at: talking to customers.
Whilst computers are experts when it comes to quickly analysing huge amounts of data, our brokers are experts at advising shipping companies and using the information to our client’s advantage. By utilising both, our clients enjoy the best of both worlds.
Our brokers already have the capacity to spend more time with each customer than a traditional broker could, thanks in part to our trading platform.
The BunkerEx platform does a host of clever things to help our brokers and clients:
- We connect buyers directly to all the most reputable, pre-vetted suppliers in each port.
- We provide them with access to live, accurate indications based on our own trade data and algorithms.
- We reach out, negotiate, firm counter and fix with suppliers all in just a few clicks, cutting out 90% of the back-and-forth on email and Skype.
- We show all offers in real-time along with the nuanced terms and individual T&Cs, followed by automatic confirmations just seconds after fixing.
All of these features allow our brokers to help more customers in less time. What’s more, we’re constantly developing the BunkerEx platform to make it smarter, quicker and easier to use.
Our ‘BunkerEx Spot Price’ gives accurate, up-to-date price indications based on our recent trade data, Platt’s prices and changes in the crude market.
Power to the Bunker Buyer
Where we can, we like to give our clients more power to achieve the best price whilst still fixing with a supplier they feel happy with. The ultimate decision always rests with the buyer, who has complete access to the platform and is free to choose any offer they want (the best offer is not always the cheapest!).
The advantage of directly connecting parties via technology is total trust and transparency. There is no delay between the offer being made (by the supplier), seen (by the buyer) and fed back (to other suppliers). It eradicates any human bias, and is not subject to manipulation from dishonest brokers looking to earn extra margin.
We’re proud of our trading platform, and because it’s backed by our large database of suppliers (200 registered and counting…) and is accessible via smartphone, it means buyers can still get competitive offers late on a Friday evening (for those that like to leave it late!).
We allow buyers to review and unselect suppliers they don’t want or are already direct to. The example above uses Test Data to protect our supplier’s privacy.
We’re also working on collecting claim and trade data from all our suppliers and feeding that back into the database. This means we can automatically flag and remove suppliers from our system if we feel there is a heightened claim risk, so our clients remain better protected.
Despite all these clever tools, we still like to talk to our clients for each delivery to ensure we’re doing all we can to help. Besides being available on the usual channels (telephone, Skype, ICE, email) we’ve also put a Live Chat feature on every page of our site, so clients can speak with a broker at the touch of a button.
Managed by humans
BunkerEx is not a fully automated bunker platform. Behind the scenes, our brokers speak to clients, check through offers, liaise with suppliers and lots of other tasks that allow us to provide a world-class service to the customer.
So is BunkerEx just another ‘online platform’?
The term ‘automation’ and ‘online platform’ is quite trendy in the shipping industry at the moment. We’ve been described as an online platform, and we could have been just that. But most of our value comes from our people, as bunker buying is an inherently human process.
We work hard at connecting the technology with our brokers. It’s important for our clients to know they always have access to a broker. One of the ways we do this is by showing them which broker is handling their enquiry, everytime. If they are away or on holiday, we show the backup broker along with their contact details.
The current available broker’s contact details sits in the corner of every screen of the platform.
Balancing and scaling technology with the experience and relationships of humans is often difficult, but worthwhile. As we continue to grow, keeping that genuine connection between our brokers and customers is our number one priority.