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Customs declarants at H.Essers gain time, efficiency and job satisfaction with Customaite

Customs declarants at H.Essers save time and boost efficiency with Human-Assisted AI from Customaite. Discover how AI revolutionizes document processing in the logistics industry.

Wim Van Emelen
Wim Van Emelen

Jun 06, 2024

Since the Brexit, H.Essers' customs department is even busier. An increased by 40% in activity, up to 110,000 documents by 2023. ‘We were short of people and time,’ testifies Wim Gijbels. ‘At the same time, we wanted to get rid of copy-paste work for customs documents.’


One of Belgium's largest logistics companies, H.Essers, has been in business for almost a century. That being said, the family business is far from outdated. On the contrary. Today, it is an international logistics player with 7,500 employees and 1.3 million m2 of warehouses in 89 of its own branches in 18 countries. It now enriches its accumulated expertise with the latest AI technology. And for good reasons.

‘The UK is a very important trading partner for our European clients. But since the Brexit, every transport across the Channel needs customs documents. That has a huge impact on our organisation,’ explains Wim Gijbels. He is Business Unit Manager of the customs and forwarding department. His team provides supporting and essential services for transport departments, for goods arriving or departing at air and sea ports and passing through H.Essers' warehouses

Manual process with high chance of errors

This growing customs business is both an opportunity and a challenge, especially within a company that is growing very strongly, both organically and through acquisitions. ‘Customs declarant is a bottleneck profession. It is very difficult to find the right people. At the same time, many tasks still require manual labour and repetitive copy-paste work. For each declaration, we look for data on the type of cargo, weights, container numbers... in often dozens of documents and invoices. We then type these into the customs system, which is time-consuming. Moreover, it is far from obvious to do this error-free.’ 

(Read more in: The invisible paper chain in today’s Customs document flow)

Gijbels felt his people could take on more valuable work than retyping data. ‘My team prefers to deploy its expertise. It wants to grow and have time for more complex tasks. But unfortunately, due to a lot of routine work, that didn't happen enough.’

Human assisted AI saves hours of time

The solution was not to work more. But rather to work smarter. To realise this, H.Essers' IT innovation specialist Robin Ceunen and the customs team took to the market. After one conversation, it was clear to both IT and business. Customaite offered the solution.

Wim Gijbels (1)-1

Today, the software reads information from e-mails, attachments, freight documents, invoices... and makes a proposal for declaration. An employee checks, adjusts and validates. This final human responsibility is typical of human assisted AI. The technology saves the most time in complicated files consisting of hundreds of pages. ‘Such files used to take half a day. Today, they just take 20 minutes. Now, what used to take an hour is completed in just 10 minutes.. In addition, the whole process is displayed on a simple canvas. Everyone can follow the declarations from ‘open’ to ‘done’.’

Help in adopting new technology

Sometimes technology is not the biggest challenge. Getting people on board in a change process often requires more effort. ‘Together with H.Essers, we are working on adoption. That is not always easy in a sector still being managed with Excel files,’ says Wouter Mertens, Chief Customer Success at Customaite. ‘We offer a learning path and support for all questions. Customer Success is an essential part of Customaite.’

H.Essers experienced this total concept in practice. Gijbels: ‘The product is tailored to our size and needs. The tool was introduced in phases. Our people received and continue to receive personal guidance in implementing and scaling up in our organisation.’

A can-do mentality and continuous improvement are key to a good roll-out. Mertens: ‘During the start-up phase, we thoroughly checked what works and what doesn't, how people experience it, which tasks had the most potential for automation, and so on. Things that didn't work well, we put back on the drawing board.’

Partner with shared values

On top of the state-of-the-art technology, there was the chemistry between Customaite and H.Essers. ‘We were looking for a company that matched H.Essers and our can-do mentality in terms of vision,’ says Gijbels. ‘We like simplicity. What you see is what you get. When we look for solutions, we want the same thing: user-friendliness, simplicity. We found all that at Customaite. Their hunger to work on the best solution also appealed to us. Their IT specialists think with us, find solutions and greatly simplify them. We bought a solution. We got a partner with whom we discuss and implement opportunities.’

‘Our people experience the improvement. They become better, more efficient, happier, can help each other better. They experience that they create space, that they get more time to really focus on our customers and can go to trainings again. There was often not enough time for that before. This helps to create a working environment where they are happy to come and want to stay. Their job satisfaction increases.’

Expansion due to success

Every day, the AI software learns from the improvements entered by declarants. As a result, speeds and correctness increase. At the same time, the success makes Gijbels and his team dream of next steps. ‘Through human validation, the software learns continuously, and the predictions and analyses become more and more accurate. Already, Customaite has an accuracy rate of 89%. That bodes well for the future,’ says Gijbels.

‘We are considering whether we can also use Customaite in our forwarding activity. There is still too much manual and repetitive work in our current way of working. There is room for more efficiency. We want to use the added value of our people so that we are able to create added value for and together with our customers. We are already looking forward to the first demo for this activity.’

Watch Wim's full testimonial below:


Wim Van Emelen

Wim is known for providing structure, simplifying complexity, providing clear communication, motivating and inspiring teams and above all reaching results. He loves helping customers and teams to reach goals in a structured and agile way, always keeping the end goal in mind.


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