Freight shipping companies are pretty good at just-in-time shipping, but what about just-in-time communication?
When it comes to the biggest frustrations that shippers have with carriers and freight brokers, the research that we, and others, have done indicates that poor communication is at or near the top of the list.
That’s right, what really gets their blood boiling is not service levels or the rates that freight shipping companies charge, it’s things like lengthy response times to requests about shipment status or a failure to proactively communicate known delays.
Here’s a typical quote from a recent survey we completed on the subject of live, personal communication in the freight shipping industry:
“The frustration comes when someone doesn’t pick up the phone to tell you immediately that your load is not going to be delivered on time. Instead, most want to send an email and only give half the truth about what is going on.”
The Role of Technology in Freight Shipping
Shippers don’t see technology as a substitute for live, human interaction. In fact, some larger companies are including direct communication as a contract requirement, stipulating that dedicated contacts or teams be in place at a carrier or freight broker, as opposed to a robo response.
How interesting is that? Despite our obvious love affair in business with technology and our gadgets, we’re seeing a backlash against an over-reliance on this technology – particularly in freight shipping. Make no mistake, shippers want to be able to monitor their supply chains online, just not at the expense of the human touch.
To understand the shipper’s perspective, let’s use an analogy from everyday life.
Say you’re waiting for your first-grader to be dropped off at the bus stop, which normally happens at 3 p.m. on the dot. When that doesn’t happen, you worry. At 3:10, you start to sweat. At 3:25 you’re in full-out panic mode. When you call the bus company, you don’t want voicemail or a clerk telling you they’ll “look into it and get back to you.” You want an answer – NOW. Better yet, you wanted a text alert or phone call at 3:00 alerting you of a delay because some person, thank goodness, was thinking less like a bus company and more like a parent.
Similar emotions are at work when a critical shipment delay threatens to bring down an assembly line or undermine a big holiday promotion. At these times, logistics managers need a real human being – not a computer screen or a vague email – to remove the uncertainty and spell out exactly what’s going on, when it will be fixed, and how.
Technology Should Increase, Not Decrease, Live Human Interaction
Unfortunately, some freight shipping companies view online shipment status information the same way customer service departments view the FAQ section of the company website. “Hey, there’s no need to talk, the information is right there online.”
Instead of reducing the role of “live” human interaction between shippers and their freight partners, technology actually creates MORE opportunities for direct, proactive intervention.
Think about it. It used to be that we knew a shipment was late when it didn’t show up on time. Today, we have almost a real-time view of where a truck is on its journey. On Wednesday, our system can alert us that a Friday delivery time in Los Angeles is in jeopardy. That’s a call to action for a thinking human being to get involved and solve the problem.
More information means more opportunities to proactively and creatively solve the inevitable problems that come up on the road.
The Human Side of Freight
It’s a sad irony that, in this hyper-connected age, the role of live, human interaction is diminishing in the freight management process. We write about it our recent white paper: The Human Side of Freight.
Freight shipping companies have become very, very good at transmitting information – over wires, through the air, in reports. But we mustn’t confuse this with communication – the kind of direct, personal communication between shipper and provider that results in clear alignment on status and next steps.
That’s where the money is.
That’s the human side of freight.