Customers have high expectations of their forwarders. Often a forwarder’s day-to-day business can seem like nothing more than a struggle to satisfy those demands.
But how can forwarders break free from being driven by what the customer wants and regain control? How do you make time to think about running and growing your own business?
Forwarding is a unique area of the logistics sector. Freight forwarders often follow a cradle-to-grave philosophy in which they own all aspects of the job file, starting when the customer service team feeds them an initial booking.
Many freight forwarders are frustrated that they end up feeling like glorified admin staff who aim to just get the job done. In doing what they need to do – ensuring the freight gets to the right place, at the right time, for the right price – they don’t develop their forwarding skills or their forwarding business. Desk operators have no time to do what they’ve been trained to do: maximize yields for their company, deepen carrier relationships to benefit all clients, and find creative ways of balancing their loads using hubs and gateways.
A danger in the forwarding world arises when the capacity to add value to customers relies heavily on the creativity of only a handful of key staff. If those staff leave, the expertise goes with them, and the customers soon follow.
The mindset of some within the freight forwarding community is that they don’t need an automated transportation management system. Some forwarders use excuses like “automation won’t fit because we’re hands on” and “every transaction and every customer requirement is unique.” While those may seem like credible concerns, in reality they have little to do with how a TMS could change their business.
By using the built-in, process-driven intelligence of an advanced TMS, combined with the expertise and personal connections of skilled staff, a forwarding business can be more productive, more profitable, and less subject to the risks of staff turnover.
If you have ten agents working in isolation to cut down costs for customers, they’re not working to benefit or remove costs for your business. Few forwarders have the streamlined internal systems to have their staff collaborate effectively and maximize buying power. The productive creativity comes when they all have a single, automated view of the business and their clients. Without it, staff who don’t communicate with one another are running direct jobs to the same destination at the same time on the same day every week.
And that is just one example of where automation can help freight forwarders stop acting like admin staff for their customers and start making money for themselves.
Today’s TMS systems allow you to strike the right balance between creativity and productivity so that the unique pressures your clients’ demands bring to your business will instead become the unique high level of quality they come to expect.
Every customer is special and should be made to feel that way, but in reality there is much commonality and replication in the underlying tasks you complete for each one of them. Identifying this in a strong business process management review is key to keeping the business sharp. For a forwarder, the effort of being creative every time for every task is just not sustainable. If you need to do something the same way twice, then you should capture the procedure and automate it.
Yes, forwarding is different, and yes, the processes are different. But with the right analysis of those processes to identify what tasks can be automated, it’s clear that forwarders have more in common with highly process-driven logistics operations than we may first think.
Simon Clark is vice president of business development for Europe, the Middle East, & Africa at WiseTech Global, a creator and developer of cloud-based software solutions headquartered in Sydney, Australia.