Back in 2007, Steve Jobs famously took to the stage with a game-changing announcement:
“Well, today we’re introducing three revolutionary products. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device… These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”
That day wasn’t just about the birth of the iPhone that’s likely in your pocket right now.
It was a significant pivot for Apple – a shift from being ‘just’ a computer company to a pioneer in creating a digital experience wherever you are. As a matter of fact, in the same keynote address that Jobs presented, he announced the change from Apple Computers to Apple Inc. This wasn’t a format change; it was a conceptual change that focused on delivering value to customers in a rapidly changing environment. And just like Apple seized the moment and tapped into the smartphone revolution, there’s another industry undergoing a shift today, now at the precipice of a similar digital transformation – air cargo.
The Digital Air Cargo Shift
Historically burdened by paperwork and a lack of transparency, the air cargo industry has been itching for an overhaul when it comes to internal digitization and delivery to customers. This difference is particularly prominent when cargo airlines stare at their highly digitized passenger counterparts. And, much like Apple, some industry players are embracing this change with gusto.
Qatar Airways, a leading cargo airline, exemplifies this digital shift. Similar to Apple, the shift is not a one-off launch of a device – it’s a function of identifying the change and embracing it. Across the board, from internal digitization to distribution, from evolving on payment collection to integrating offerings like automated AWBs in digital bookings, they’ve committed to digitizing the customer journey, bringing in a sense of ease and simplicity reminiscent of how the iPhone made sophisticated technology accessible and intuitive.
A recent interview with Faisal Karamat, Qatar Airways’ VP of Customer Experience, underscored this theme when he shared insights about Qatar’s digitalization journey for WebCargo’s Digital Air Cargo Monthly report:
As Mr. Karamat said:
We’re always looking for ways to leverage technology to simplify business… E-bookings have improved our speed-to-market, utilization and reach… and have made it easier to keep customers up to date on our products and services. Likewise, our customers save time and resources, and enjoy a faster, better experience by replacing manual processes with eBookings.”
This is far from a one-off. During the course of the interview, Mr Karamat also touched on the other digital unlocks that stem from underlying digitization.
One of these was the recently launched allotment booking, which launched in June 2023. This joined other features like WebCargo’s Pay. With extensive fronte-lin experience in customer service, Qatar Airways also helps encourage digitization:
“The e-AWB feature – a recommendation from Qatar Airways Cargo – has helped the user process AWB and HAWB information together with the booking…. Features like these and others like wallet pay, and book now & pay later models will enhance the overall customer experience and help expand coverage to more commodities and products like pharma and express by easing the international invoicing and settlement process.
Much like the intuitiveness of scrolling on an iPhone screen felt refreshingly natural in 2007, the naturalness of booking air cargo online in today’s digital era is undeniable. Speaking shortly after their launch on WebCargo, Guillaume Halleux, Chief Cargo Officer at Qatar Airways Cargo, who is also on Freightos’ board of directors, spoke of the surprisingly swift adoption of their digital platform in an interview:
“We were absolutely pleasantly surprised with the speed of adoption of our customers… In some places today, more than a third of our bookings come from that channel, generating better internal efficiencies, benefit for Qatar Airways, and obviously helping customers book their cargo faster.”
The gradual evolution
This doesn’t happen overnight. The first iPhone in 2007 didn’t even have 3G, which came along one year later. The high-resolution Retina screen that iPhones now boast only came along a few years later, as did Face ID. A purple iPhone (super important!) was only introduced in 2019, while the large resolution iPhone Max came even later.
Similarly, airline eBooking may have started with a core of WebCargo’s air cargo rate management but it has since evolved far beyond. eBooking with WebCargo Sky was the the most important innovation, akin to the release of the underlying iPhone, but it has since been built upon dramatically:
- eBookings have expanded to contract rates, additional services and even dynamic pricing
- Value added services on top of those eBookings grew to include basics, like integrated tracking, as well as innovations that make customers’ lives that much easier, such as eAWBs, allotments and ULD booking.
- Finally, eBookings took an accelerated approach to distribution offering a broader scope of service to more forwarders with integrated payments as well as integrations into leading Transportation Management Systems.
Much like the iPhone (and maybe it’s more recent younger sibling, the Vision Pro), digitization is an unlock that creates opportunities but that path is still stretching ahead.
Air cargo feels like anything but the iPhone (despite being responsible for actually delivering the iPhones). Steve Jobs understood that an intuitive, seamless user experience is key to customer satisfaction and from the facts on the ground, it’s clear that Qatar Airways is striving to make cargo booking as simple as booking a passenger flight online.
This is more than an improvement in processes – it’s a reimagining of the air cargo industry’s customer experience.