Don't hide from the truth

Mined products specialities in the Great Lakes means that dust related complaints are often received Mined products specialities in the Great Lakes means that dust related complaints are often received

Whether there is an ISO Standard in place or not, ports are generally waking up to being more proactive with their soliciting of feedback.

“Perhaps driven by privatised operations but also by greater competition, there is a marked, positive shift in the attitude with which ports and terminals address complaints,” says Gagan Seksaria of ICTSI Africa.

“Terminals are getting adept at addressing situations together with their stakeholders even before they have a chance to turn into complaints,” he says, pointing out that ICTSI’s terminal in Toamasina is working closely with the shipping lines to help them optimise their vessel stowage plans. It’s a win-win result, “minimising house-keeping moves and preventing the lines’ invoices from fattening”. He adds: “As a by-product, we end up making our vessel operations more productive.”

Getting ahead and being responsive instead of reactive has been key for the Port of Los Angeles, says spokesman Chris Cannon. Although it didn’t involve customers directly, “getting some local residents so angry about air pollution that they sued the port really opened our eyes that to be successful, we needed not only to pay attention to operations but also to the community outside the gate.

“What we try to do now is get ahead of it all, we meet once a month with the port community advisors to hear their concerns. And if people come to us, we try to be as honest and transparent as possible, explain what considerations go into our decision making and that helps build trust.

“In order to grow, you have to think holistically: it’s not just about business, it's about the community and the environment; if one of the pieces of the foundation isn’t there, your growth will be limited.”

Looking outside the gate has also meant a proactive approach for Steve Fisher
 of the
 American Great Lakes Ports Association.

He explains that quite a few of the bulk ports in the Great Lakes region specialise in mined products, so they often have complaints about dust blowing off coal, stone, iron ore or even salt shipments. “A pile of this at a port can blow quite far, and every now and then there’s coal dust over everyone’s cars,” he says. This means many of the ports are now involved in some kind of neighbourhood liaison work with local groups. “To be honest I think usually this process starts with a complaint, but the port usually realises quite quickly that they have to get out there, start to meet up and talk with the community – and it generally works.”

Dr Webb concludes: “It’s not rocket science, everyone knows from their own individual experience what it feels like to be valued or not,” he says. “An open, consistent and systematic complaints handling response lets everyone know that your organisation treats complaints and problems seriously, and is serious about addressing them.” 

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