As the less-than-truckload landscape changes rapidly and the market hurtles down the path towards tighter capacity, and higher costs – one must wonder what all of this means for today’s shippers and 3PLs. The days of the time-rich, doting sales rep; bringing pizza by the shipping office and shaking hands or slapping backs every other day are arguably behind us. Not every problem can be solved with a wink, nudge or quick phone call.
The reality is, that most carriers at the top of the LTL industry are consolidating into large publicly traded corporations that operate with the effectiveness of Wall Street banks and are regulated tighter than ever before. They make fewer and fewer exceptions for customers.
As their operating costs continually rise – the ranks of back office, support personnel and even account management are stretched thin and expected to handle more requests, more customers, and do so with increased accuracy. Carriers have set up more systems to more efficiently meet the needs of their growing customer bases – and drawn more technology-based solutions, policies and automation into the equation as needed. This is understandable and not surprising. However, does it have any negative effects on how issues are analyzed or solved, and how customers feel they are being assisted?
There is no question that all these changes translate into shippers needing to be educated enough around the freight industry in order to advocate for themselves and their employer with the carriers they use – or if that is not possible then outsource to someone who can. There is an ever-increasing system in place of rules, processes and strategies when it comes to getting what you need from your LTL carrier.
One example of this is dealing with reweighed or inspected shipments, resulting in a change to the cost on the invoice. Many of the large carriers have specific queues or groups, apart from account management or even W&I, to receive and handle these requests. Things can get back-logged very quickly and it may take weeks to get a response. Moreover – the individual assessing and responding is more than likely not who oversaw the invoice change and may not have all the context into what transpired.
Additionally – from a pricing and costing perspective, carriers are making decisions with much more data at their fingertips now than ever before. Their dimensioners are scanning and collecting up to fifty percent of dims on all shipments. Even higher with some carriers. The potential curve-ball here is that with large amounts of data comes a huge responsibility for the analyst to fully quantify and understand what they are looking at in order to propose something fair to both parties. Shippers must be able to push back when required and make sure that they are indeed getting the best bang for their buck. In 2019, the Pricing Departments of most carriers carry more weight when it comes to accepting business than the Sales Groups do.
The self-serve industry itself as well as aspects of self-service in all industries are growing very quickly. Not only is there a convenience factor at play, but with increased automation, development of machine learning, and 24/7 access from anywhere – it’s no wonder self-serve is trending in that direction. The question is – can LTL adapt to that kind of system? Are LTL issues black and white – programmable into software, or is there too much gray to filter through?
We are betting somewhere in between. Carriers need to be held accountable and shippers need tools and resources to do so efficiently. ReconOps must operate with precision to efficiently manage the exceptions that inevitably arise for our clients. It's going to be more difficult to garner positive results, making it more critical than ever for shippers to engage experts who can manage the process successfully.