Carriers! What does “Shipper of Choice” mean to you?

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Behind the Wheel with #TheFreightCoach, Written by Chris Jolly

If shifting, volatile market conditions taught us anything, it’s that the days of carriers putting up with unfair treatment like extended dock times and frivolous fines are over. In any market, but especially right now, carriers and brokers need to constantly evaluate who they’re working with. With the driver shortages we face as an industry, there’s a growing need to improve the capacity provider experience from end to end.

As a shipper, if you’re having difficulty covering your freight — it might be your operation. If the facility you are working at or with is notorious for not having restrooms or amenities for drivers, or if they’re known for lengthy wait times that roll into layovers, this can impact your freight. If your facility doesn’t offer overnight parking or secure parking nearby, drivers notice these inconveniences and will choose to avoid your loads.

While some issues shippers cannot easily solve (like location), others can be solved by actively addressing them. All said, I sat down with three asset-based trucking companies to talk about what they look for in an ideal shipper, or “Shipper of Choice.” Starting with what’s important from the carrier point of view, here are the pain points we wanted to address:

  • Creating long-term partnerships
  • Better driver treatment
  • Reducing dock time
  • More appointment flexibility
  • Decreases in fines & penalties
  • Continuing operational excellence

With these improvements in mind, here were the top 10 items capacity providers looked for in a shipper:

  1. Communication → How accurate is the information given to us? How reasonable are they when communicating?
  2. Lanes → do they fit our network or close to us?
  3. Commodity → is the product floor loaded, palletized or hand stacked?
  4. Pay Terms → Are the payment terms reasonable? (Note: as is typical, providers don’t like to go above a 30-day payment term.)
  5. Facility Conditions →  Are there restrooms or a driver lounge? Are these areas clean and accessible?
  6. Overall Accessibility → Parking availability?
  7. Load/Unload Efficiency & Speed → Are we frequently left waiting? Are delays properly communicated?
  8. Detention History → It’s part of the game, but when it comes to detentions, are the shipper’s wait times excessive? Are we compensated, and compensated well?
  9. Operational Characteristics → Does the driver check-in area have signage? Are the dock doors easily accessible? Do they accept drivers early? If not, can they wait on-site?
  10. Driver Treatment → Do they treat our drivers well? Do they treat us as an extension of their own team?

In essence, a “Shipper of Choice” is a shipper that prioritizes creating a stable, balanced carrier-shipper relationship. Among all the items listed above, they really and truly value and consider:

Communication

Clear, on-time communication — it’s essential in every interaction in our industry. It’s not just a buzzword; we need to execute it. It costs time and money for everyone involved when a truck sits idle. By communicating more effectively, we can work to improve this experience and retain drivers. Plus, better communication will improve your ability as a shipper or a broker to effectively and efficiently move freight.

Relationship vs. lowest pricing

On the asset side, there are so many efficiency metrics and interdependencies between customers. Assuming there’s a lane and commodity fit, the overall relationship dynamics of an incumbent should be a primary consideration when moving freight.

In my conversations for this piece, a senior manager at a trucking company told me about a long-standing customer they had, with over 20 years of service together. Even with excellent service, after all those years together, they never had the opportunity to run an RFP with this customer. Then, after no conversations, the customer decided to roll out an RFP — cutting the carrier out of many of their key network lanes.

While price likely played a large role in this decision, conversations should have been had between partners. Carriers are not a commodity — when they consistently hold up their end of the bargain with reliable service, their efforts should be recognized. At the very least, the carrier’s familiarity with the lane and the level of service required for the business should have been appreciated during the customer’s decision-making process.  If not, why will people haul your freight in the short term if there are no long-term benefits?

Building a solid, reliable network

As a capacity provider, we need to know that freight is locked in for the long term, and that our partnerships are reliable. Are they going to ditch us to save a buck? Will they invest in the relationship? Or, at the very least, are they willing to have conversations with us on adjusting and or “fighting” for the business if needed?

In close…

Shippers – if you’re looking for reliable capacity, no matter the market conditions or shifts, consider looking at improving your carrier experience.

The right carriers for the right lanes are out there. When we find them, we need to work with their business model to create mutually beneficial partnerships. The right carriers are loyal and hard-working entrepreneurs, and will bring the levels of service you expect and desire.

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