Becoming a Shipper of Choice

Becoming a Shipper of Choice

Becoming A Shipper of Choice

Tight capacity has made the relationship between shippers and carriers a two way street. Shippers may go to the marketplace to search for carriers, but with more freight to choose from, carriers are in a better position to turn away work that may generate extra headaches. To make sure you aren’t left scrambling to book loads, it’s time to focus on becoming a ‘Shipper of Choice. A shipper of choice is a strategic partner, aligning their business goals along with that of their carriers for the benefit of both. Focusing on finding compatible carrier partners, developing good communication and helping make life a little easier for drivers will grow priority relationships with carriers and avoid uncertainty.

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Determining Gaps
Shippers who do not invest the time or effort to build mutually beneficial relationships with carriers can often experience intermittent equipment availability, pricing fluctuations with the spot market, and overall uncertainty when seasonal volume spikes. To avoid these pitfalls, shippers must analyze what their current practices are and look for gaps in order to set up corrective actions. Shippers can begin by sitting in the shipping office. Take a look at how your front-line employees are treating the drivers who come and go to and from your facility. Note how long it takes to process a load. Look at the area where the driver waits for his load. Listen to the conversations that happen. You’ll learn a lot, we promise! Next, review your payables. We all know that payroll and Uncle Sam are typically the first to get paid in any business, but are you putting off those freight bills for an extra week? Is the carrier being pushed to the side to pay for that new office renovation instead? Shippers must also review their carrier contact list. Does your organization have contacts at 3 different levels of the carrier company? If the clerk and the driver know each other by name, the sales person and your traffic manager meet for a review every month, and your CEO meets with theirs for lunch once a quarter, then you’re probably in pretty good shape. If not, then what can you do? Finally, talk to your IT department and bridge the gap between the operational flow of freight and the electronic flow of data. Is that a cumbersome process for either side? Is one department working extra hard to make up for a deficiency on another side?

Becoming A Shipper of Choice: Tactics & Strategy
If you or someone in your organization goes through this analysis, and finds that there are gaps between your habits and those which are considered “preferred,” there’s no need to panic. There are some simple tactics any business can do in order to quickly improve its status with carriers. The first is known as load leveling. Smoothing volumes throughout the week can allow for significantly more predictability on the part of the carrier, which can drive both capacity improvements and lower costs. Second, think about the physical properties of your freight. If your product overhangs the pallets or slip sheets, then carriers may be more fearful of damage to your product. Getting the right pack sizes and packaging materials can go a long way toward improving load turnaround times at the dock. Finally, it all comes back to communication. The fewer surprises there are in a system, the better off both parties will be. If you have a requirement that super sacks of food ingredients can’t ship on a trailer with wood sides, then it’s important to make that clear before you go to market for capacity and pricing.

These tactics are a good start and important component of a long term strategy for positive carrier partnerships. The foundation for carrier interaction should be built around frequent, open, and honest communication. This communication should come on a “3by3” basis, with persons from multiple levels of each organization building productive working relationships. A common platform will enable good communication, and in many cases can be a Transportation Management System (TMS), or an integrated Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) platform. In lower-tech cases, that platform could be a standardized spreadsheet shared between the two organizations on a regular basis. In any case, that platform should allow for clear transfer of data and confirmation in both directions. The last component, and most universal of any transactional relationship: pay on time. A customer who pays on time with minimal administrative burden is going to get the next available load nearly every time.

Respecting Drivers: Walking the Talk
The driver is the touch point in any transportation relationship and quite literally, where the rubber meets the road. Respectful treatment is not just the lack of mis-treatment, but rather treating the driver for what he or she is: a trained professional performing a critical service. Many shippers have improved driver lounges, provided free wi-fi, and provided other amenities to make their docks the most desirable in the business. Drivers like to work with people and in places that treat them with respect, just like anyone would.

Having a reputation as a partner that carriers want to work with takes time and some amount of effort, but the return on your investment will more than offset the cost. If you take a good hard look in the mirror at how you work with your carrier base and find that you are could use some help, take comfort in the fact that help is out there. At Columbian Logistics Network, Shipper of Choice in today’s tight-gripped marketplace… and we can do it before you find yourself with uncovered loads at your busiest season, or paying spot-market rates.

If you have questions about becoming a shipper of choice, contact

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