Even though the peak season in transportation recently ended, it’s never too early to start preparing for the next one. What did we learn from the 2018 peak season that we can apply in our planning for 2019? What actions should companies take now to start preparing? How can technology help in the preparation process? Those are some of the questions I discussed with Sam Ralat, Sr. Director of Carrier Innovation at project44, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.
2018 lessons learned
They say those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. With that in mind, I began our discussion by asking Sam what lessons the industry might learn from the 2018 peak season. Sam was upbeat in his response, saying it was a good season for both shippers and carriers.
“Despite a record capacity crunch, we came out of the peak season relatively unharmed,” he says. “In 2018, top five carrier UPS Freight was bracing for a potential strike and completely emptied out its network. I was very impressed with how well other less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers stepped up to plan and react to the UPS situation even though it happened at the worst possible time. It showed these seasoned carriers put a lot of thought into it.”
When I asked Sam if there were any big surprises, he indicated that there really weren’t any mainly because people had already learned from previous years’ shipping disasters. “Shippers worked closely with carriers to identify processes and technology to address past problems,” he notes. “Therefore, I think going forward they are going to look at the 2019 peak season as an opportunity.”
Improving the customer experience
One change that has happened is that both shippers and carriers are coming to the table with a lot more data on supply and demand. This has allowed them to pivot from a singular focus on rate negotiations to collaborative process improvements.
“Shippers, more than ever, are looking at how they can make their customers’ experience better,” explains Sam. “They’re looking for their carriers and technology partners to help them with that. Even though shippers are often very automated internally, they are still picking up a phone to call carriers and producing paper bills of lading. With the data they now have available and the new collaborative environment, they are working with their carriers to identify areas for improvement and digitizing the whole process. Increasing customer expectations are driving shippers to ask carriers and technology partners how they can help them.”
Actions to take now
Patting ourselves on the back for a successful 2018 season won’t prepare us for the new challenges we are likely to face in 2019. So, I asked Sam what steps shippers should take now to make sure they are prepared.
Sam recommends shippers focus on two areas: assessment and planning. First, look at what went right and what areas could be improved. Which carriers were most willing to work with you to improve processes and the customer experience? He says, “It’s not about which carrier had the lowest prices, but which carriers collaborated with you to create the most value. Then you need to start working with those carriers to plan how you’re going to handle the 2019 peak season, which is typically September through November for LTL. Therefore, those plans should be in place by June.”
Since Sam had mentioned digitizing as part of the improvement process, I asked him to elaborate on which technologies might be most helpful. Going back to our discussion on rising customer expectations, Sam says that being able to provide customers with advanced visibility is becoming more important. He went on to explain that it is more than just shipment tracking. It’s everything that happens from before the shipment is picked up through final delivery. “That involves a lot of data so it needs to be exception based.
“You need the total control tower view because exceptions will always come up and you need to know what actions you can take. Those actions invariably involve working with carriers in a collaborative way to solve problems.”
What are the biggest mistakes companies could make in preparing for 2019? What actions should they take to prepare for success, not just this year, but over the long term? I encourage you to watch the full episode for Sam’s insights and advice on those questions and more. Then post a comment and share your perspective on how to best prepare for the 2019 peak season in transportation!