The world has changed. Including how people move around it. After a few unpredictable years, global mobility leaders throughout Atlas® World Group have mastered the art of the pivot to meet customers and clients where they are today—and get ahead of where they will be tomorrow.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
International relocation was one of the pandemic’s hardest-hit sectors, but Atlas® International Vice President of Business Development Tim Hall says he has seen an encouraging adaptation to the new normal. “In 2023, we find ourselves better able to make projections than we were before,” says Hall. “I can’t say there still aren’t challenges, but we’ve seen a welcome increase in consumer confidence for international relocations both from the private and corporate client perspective.”
President and CEO of Cornerstone Relocation Group® Janelle Piatkowski agrees, saying Cornerstone is enjoying a dramatic recovery in volume numbers. “Many clients are nearly back to pre-COVID levels of relocation. But interestingly, move types are morphing. Domestically, we have more renters, lump-sum recipients, self-moves, and new hires. Globally, we are seeing more short-term assignments and permanent one-way moves rather than longterm assignments,” says Piatkowski.
PERSONALIZED EXPERIENCES IN A DIGITAL WORLD
Director of Avail® Move Management Jessica Nichols’ job is to ensure Atlas’ gold standard for the customer experience. And while there has been a sharp increase in digital-solution demand in recent years, Nichols says one thing she notices is customers seeking a more traditional customer service experience. “As we continue to focus on technology and offer innovative solutions for our customers, we’re finding that more and more transferees want access to our people,” says Nichols. “Really, it boils down to communication. People want to know a real person is here to help them in whatever manner they need. For Avail, that means re-education of what that personalized experience looks like in this new era. We thankfully have several repeat customers, so when they move in this ‘postpandemic’ world, we must walk them through what this move will look like versus one they made during or even before COVID.”
Clear communication is also a priority for Piatkowski and Hall, both of whom echo Nichols’ sentiments and remain committed to a hands-on approach. Piatkowski says
that she doesn’t expect the pendulum to swing away from technology but recognizes the renewed sense of relocation as inherently personal.
For President and COO of Champion International Moving, Ltd.™ Rudy Planavsky, that renewed sense of a personalization changes nothing.“We’ve always been a little ‘old school’ in our approach. Everybody can use the same labor, the same freight lines, or the same drivers. There's nothing about that that's uniquely different. It’s our people and our personalized approach to process that really makes the difference for our customers.”
THE SUPPLY CHAIN CUTS SOME SLACK
While the supply chain has become a fourletter word in recent years, there is a sense of alleviation happening within the industry. “It is definitely improving from 2021 and
even 2022,” says Planavsky. “Last year there were times when 100 container ships were waiting at North American ports. That number is down to around 30 right now.”
Hall shares Planavsky’s optimism—but remains cautious. “I think we can expect the supply chain to look a lot like 2022 in 2023, which is positive, but I believe there will still be pressures from port shortages or stoppages,” says Hall. “Planning for the future, it’s certainly something we take into consideration as we deal with required delivery dates and customer expectations. We have a ways to go, but I do think we are out of the eye of the storm.”
For Avail, an easing supply chain also means a shift in customer service. Says Nichols, “Our customers expected delays when the supply chain was in disarray, but now that delivery windows have shortened in areas like e-commerce, our customers are expecting the same when relocating. Once again, it goes back to managing that relationship to set expectations and communicate clearly to our customers.”
CHANGE IS THE CONSTANT
In dealing with corporate clients, Nichols is seeing a major shift in the way those clients relocate their teams—with many moves being placed directly in the hands of the employee. “Moving has never been one-size-fits-all, but we’re beginning to see corporate clients retool their relocation benefits in new ways that are situationally tailored. It’s becoming less of the lump-sum benefit or tiers and more of a core-flex policy based on individual needs.” Nichols adds, “I think it’s a good thing because it allows our customers to express their needs and creates a very open dialogue.”
Piatkowski also notices the trend of employee-initiated moves but adds that she expects to see more phased moves from origin or temporary rental to final destination, or even “final” moves for retirees and those who are downsizing. “Employers may provide access to potential customers, but the real point of purchase is at the consumer level, case by case,” says Piatkowski. Unsurprisingly, technology is an enduring trend that remains top of mind for everyone.
Nichols says virtual survey tools are a large part of her team's customer service process, and she has enjoyed seeing how they use artificial-intelligence (AI) capabilities to learn and improve. Moving forward, Avail hopes to build upon their digital customer experience with other options like live chats that can cut down a lot of questions for customers through AI learning.
Hall is equally as excited about technological potential, saying, “I think about how easy it’s become to book appointments or track updates at businesses as common as a doctor’s office. I would love to reach a point where a customer could theoretically be lying in bed at 2 a.m. and think ‘OK, I’m ready to plan my move,’ and then do so from the palm of their hand and receive all the information they need within minutes. My goal is to create that kind of modern experience for our customers.”
Other major developments in recent years have been an increased awareness and
need for cybersecurity and ESG measures. Says Planavsky, “Data and information privacy are more important than ever in our digital landscape. Our customers require it, as they should. We’re also seeing a big push for quantifiable sustainability efforts from companies who solicit our services. Once we were just movers, but we’ve all had to become so much more to better serve our customers.”
SETTING THE TRENDS OF THE FUTURE
As Atlas enters its 75th year, its global mobility leaders predict a bright future if they continue thinking strategically about what is to come. Piatkowski sees reciprocity as the key to Cornerstone and Atlas’ mutual future success and says that her company will rebrand to feature service excellence, agility, and stability at its forefront. She calls them the hallmarks of staying power and longevity for the next 75 years. “We have partners around the world and have gained a lot of confidence back over the past few years,” says Hall. “We will continue to focus on technology and data privacy, competitive pricing, and creating an enhanced experience for our customers. Our challenge forward is to continue to assure our owners that this model is sustainable. We aren’t a onehit wonder who fades away. We are here to stay.”
As the customer support system for Agents and subsidiaries, Nichols is also focusing on sustainability, saying it is the only way to move forward. “Everything we do has to be centered around growth—and keeping the customer at the heart of everything we do,” says Nichols. “Trends come and go, but if we change and adapt with them, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.”