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Open up LinkedIn and check out the profile of senior salesperson at a freight forwarder or carrier and you’ll probably see several top-tier providers as previous employers.

Historically, a carrier’s relationship with importers and exporters was built by sales people. The best of them accumulated books of business contacts, which moved companies with them.

But, increasingly, a carrier’s customer relationship is being built by the brand, which explains their newfound obsession with customers. In their words:

“freight made personal” waves proudly on Air France KLM Martinair Cargo’s banner.

“We are going all the way to meet our customers’ demands …” from Maersk’s homepage.

“Size is not the name of the game anymore, but customer orientation”, from Hapag-Lloyd CEO.

“Today’s air cargo customers want a quick and fully-digitized sales experience with extensive, agile self-service options”, United Cargo’s President upon signing up with WebCargo.

Here’s what drove this change.

1. The Horizon Expanded

To survive and thrive, carriers needed to differentiate quickly.

Containers may be standardized but carriers are doing everything in their power to differentiate on how they move them.

Ocean carriers, in particular, feared better pricing and service offering visibility would commoditize their core product, sucking carriers into a pricing tailspin.

So, they broadened, rolling out new service offerings like guaranteed delivery times, booking commitments and improved shipment tracking. They began sponsoring innovation, like Lufthansa Cargo’s engagement with accelerator, Plug and Play.

Broadening service offering adds value and differentiates from competitors. Carriers chose different paths. Maersk, for instance, is swiftly moving from port to port to a door to door offering and beyond. Others are integrating with companies that provide forwarding services, such as CMA CGM’s near-total holding in CEVA Logistics). Others, like Emirates SkyCargo deal with Alibaba’s Cainiao, are entering into partnerships.