CRM in Transportation: Vertical Markets Spotlight

Article Featured Image

When it comes to CRM, the transportation industry is all over the place, both figuratively and literally.

Part of the reason is that there is no single type of transportation company. Industry participants include logistics firms, airlines, bus and rail lines, shipping companies, rental car companies, and more, moving people, cargo, and sometimes a combination of the two, from Point A to Point B. Each has a unique customer base, with their own unique needs and expectations, and the use of and benefits from CRM systems differ greatly depending on the subsector.

One common element, though, is that CRM within the transportation industry has witnessed substantial transformation, primarily fueled by technological advancements and evolving customer expectations, says Robert Khachatryan, founder and CEO of Freight Right Global Logistics.

“The past year has seen a significant uptick in embedding [artificial intelligence] into CRM systems, making customer service more predictive and responsive,” he says. “Modern CRM tools have allowed for the delivery of tailored experiences to a wider audience, boosting customer loyalty and retention.”

Khachatryan’s company uses a variety of CRM tools. Its pure-play CRM solution is Salesforce, and its proprietary payment platform and CargoWise enterprise resource planning system also have CRM elements in them.

By employing AI, including some large language models, Freight Right can now better personalize responses to queries about shipments, shipment management platforms, and other issues, according to Khachatryan.

“The use of LLMs is expanding more and more, and the expansion is becoming faster,” he says. “Two years ago, we didn’t use any LLMs. A year ago, we started using it to draft emails and letters to customers. Now we’re able to include it in Salesforce and a lot of our sales processes.”

Khachatryan adds: “When you’re in multiple touches to customers, you’re able to customize the message based on previous interactions, based on the customer’s company information, and whatever record you might have that’s accessible in the CRM.”


Though most airline flights are full these days, having bounced back from COVID-19 travel bans, the battle for passengers is as fierce as ever, according to Jason Valdina, senior director of go-to-market strategy for digital engagement channels at Verint. So CRM strategies need to have a strong focus on CX.

“The transportation sector at large, and airlines specifically, are unique in the sense that it’s a really competitive business,” Valdina explains. “Consumers have choices. These are not monopolies in most cases.”

To meet that challenge, airlines today can collect tremendous amounts of information on their customers. Some of that is attributable to loyalty programs. American Airlines is generally regarded as the pioneer in this area, but now all the airlines have programs that enable them to easily collect vast amounts of information from customers.

“The reason that they are able slice and dice information and have numerous tiers for their loyalty programs is largely because they have a lot of data about you,” Valdina says. “They know what credit card you pay with, whether you like the window seat or the aisle, what food you like to eat, your favorite beverage, etc.”

The biggest recent advance for airlines is the ability to not only pull data from the CRM system, but also the context around that data so that they can more precisely meet passengers’ needs, going so far as to anticipate the drink a customer might want on a particular flight, according to Valdina.

Airline CRM systems also need to work with other systems, including ticketing and booking systems, notification systems, agent support systems, in-flight systems, and more, to ensure that carriers continue to get the customer’s repeat business, Valdina adds. “There are numerous systems that have to be tethered together to provide a seamless customer experience and a seamless engagement experience.”

The better those systems work together, the better airlines can respond to customers regarding weather or equipment disruptions. Those disruptions happen to all airlines, what makes the difference is how the airlines respond to those disruptions, Valdina adds. By responding to those disruptions quickly airlines can proactively address customer concerns, an important element in customer retention.


Trucking and shipping companies typically have very thin margins, trouble finding and retaining qualified employees, and fierce competition. For them, some might say that customer information is just as critical as diesel fuel.

“A complete picture of every customer, shipment history, and past interactions in one place is critical. CRMs with built-in alerts, account health tracking, and other visual ways of tracking customer sentiment are becoming critical for companies in this space,” says Nikolaus Kimla, CEO of Pipeliner CRM. “More companies are also using CRMs that offer data enhancement so the contact data in the system is as up to date and comprehensive as possible. This helps transportation companies keep track of changes in contact information and personnel, which is critical for customer retention.”

Kimla adds: “The best decisions are made with clear data, and the right CRM provides valuable insights into customer behavior, shipment trends, and sales performance. Transportation companies can leverage this information to optimize pricing strategies, identify new growth opportunities, and make informed business decisions that keep them ahead of the curve.”

Given the need for cost efficiency and to meet customer expectations, automation is another key focus for transportation companies. CRM systems need a comprehensive workflow automation engine for as many core processes as possible. This allows frontline sales and support people to better focus on higher-value activities, such as account management and relationship building.

Trucking companies are also trying to tackle their staffing shortages with CRM systems.

Verint has worked with UPS on its dispatch system to help ensure drivers know the most efficient routes, have the right size truck for the packages they are delivering, and have all the pertinent information when they need it.

AI has also started to make its impact felt in this subsector, according to Kimla. “CRMs that offer AI assistant functionality to help streamline email communications, for example, are increasingly becoming more valuable to transportation companies where communication with customers and prospects is so dynamic,” he says.


Like trucking/shipping companies and airlines, auto rental companies also have a mix of equipment, staff, and customers that they need to manage, for which they rely on a variety of CRM systems, according to Valdina. Those systems also need to include data or integrate with other systems that handle accident, insurance, roadside assistance, and other details.

In the wider automotive industry, the CRM landscape continues to evolve at a dynamic pace, aligning itself with emerging market trends and technological advancements, according to Geert Leeman, chief revenue officer of SAP Customer Experience. “In the last year, we have observed a significant digital transformation with the increased integration of AI and machine learning into CRM systems.”

Leeman adds that automotive companies have seen a shift in the technology available in vehicles, where upgrades are not as much software-based as hardware-based, as well as shifts in consumer behaviors when it comes to ownership models. Customers will lease a vehicle over a few years, but vehicles are always connected and updated via IoT. So automotive brands need to understand the vehicles and their monetization paths over time as well as consumers and their monetization paths over time.

“This has led to increased investments into CRM and CX from our large automotive customers to our innovative consumer-first brands to have a 360-view of each vehicle and a 360-view of each customer in a unique offering…that connects both in real time at every step of the life cycle,” Leeman says.


“There are still a lot of companies that could do better in leveraging the insights they have from past interactions with customers,” Valdina says. He also expects more use of conversational AI within CRM systems and better recognition of customers’ preferred communication channels.

Though the subsectors within transportation have different needs and expectations from their CRM technology, one commonality that experts see is a deeper use of AI. Much of the AI in this sector is still in the experimental stages, but experts expect it to be more embedded in the transportation CRM systems in the next year or two. Khachatryan says his company and others within the industry have just scratched the surface of what they might be able to achieve with CRM AI.

“AI-powered CRM systems are likely to offer conversational interfaces to engage customers, predictive analytics to identify buying signals, and automated after-sale services. These solutions can also help provide valuable insights for companies to streamline their workflows and improve overall operational efficiency,” Leeman predicts.

Khachatryan expects broader adoption of blockchain within CRM frameworks to enhance transaction transparency and security and also expects real-time updates via IoT to enable companies to provide customers immediate updates about their shipments.

With the rise of electric vehicles and software-defined vehicles, companies will also need CRM systems that can handle more complex customer queries, educate customers about these technologies, and provide top-notch support, leading to an even more interconnected and data-driven CRM landscape, Leeman adds. 

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at spenterprises1@comcast.net.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues
Buyer's Guide Companies Mentioned