WT100 Blog

Carriers: Overcoming the Barriers to Near Real-Time Order Visibility

July 14, 2014

During the course of recent conversations with customers, partners and prospects, we identified that one of the biggest pain points for carriers today are providing visibility for the brands they represent – and doing so in near real-time (within two hours) and at the lowest possible cost. Today, many carriers can’t do this in two days let alone two hours, and increasingly this will be the differentiator that causes carrier contracts to be won and lost. 

The reason for this is simple—both brands and end consumers are demanding more real-time information on their orders and returns. As a result, carriers need to evolve their business models to provide more value to both parties, as they often serve as an extension of the brand and find themselves communicating on their behalf. Carriers have to understand end-consumers’ preferences (like when is best for them to field deliveries) and provide a quality customer service experience that protects the brands they represent.

There are two current trends exasperating the difficulty of providing real-time order information: an increased use of third-party logistics operators and bleeding supply chain talent causing “tribal knowledge” to be lost.

3PLs: Another Layer in the Chain of Custody
Companies are rapidly evolving their operational models to make deliveries faster. To make these deliveries, many retailers use third-party logistics operators (3PLs) who in turn contract "lifestyle couriers." These are self-employed couriers, some of whom make only 1-2 deliveries/month in their spare time using the trunks of their cars. This helps 3PLs to make last mile deliveries, but can also be a huge financial risk as 3PLs are on the hook if orders get lost or are late. In addition, as the ambassador for the brand or retailer product being delivered, their relationship with said brand or retailer would be damaged if the end consumer was unsatisfied.

These couriers can't afford, nor want to use, the ruggedized handheld devices like those used by FedEx or UPS drivers, but the 3PLs still want to get information about deliveries to the couriers electronically, as well as to get electronic proof of delivery that they can communicate to their customers (the retailers). As a result, some 3PLs push iOS and Android apps to these couriers, which allow them to tap into its logistics networks, have customers sign off on deliveries on their phones and provide proof of delivery back to the retailers. As the face of the brand/retailer, 3PLs will need to tightly control and protect the customer service experience – and using apps available on the couriers’ own devices is a key way to make this happen.

Taking “Tribal Knowledge” Out of the Delivery Equation
The next visibility roadblock is even more serious—bleeding supply chain talent. According to the CSCMP, the shortage of qualified drivers, now at about 30,000, could swell to nearly four times that by 2016. Currently, only about 17 percent of the driver population is under 35.

Beyond the impending capacity shortage is the concern that each lost driver also represents decades of lost knowledge and insight. While new, younger drivers join the workforce each year, the tradition of experienced drivers passing on their tips and tricks to the new generation is in jeopardy as the current generation of drivers retires more quickly then the new can be brought on. Paper-based route planning and load/order tracking may be “what we’ve always done,” but for companies to retain important details about what experienced drivers do, it is important to invest in the kind of real-time tracking that will enable visibility from the loading dock, to each customer’s doorstep to ensure items are delivered on time and as promised.

In light of the challenges with changing workforce dynamics, carriers need to equip their drivers with cloud-based solutions that enhance visibility and control throughout the mobile supply chain to ensure that proper instructions are documented and followed, no matter the driver. This will not only ensure high levels of customer service (as drivers are responsible for proactively communicating with customers when ETA windows are not going to be met and follow workflows specific to customers’ customers’), it will help carriers provide order visibility within increasingly shorter windows of time.

The use of mobile supply chain technology is essential. Companies that use it will be in a position to counter any issues and provide the real-time tracking information required to stay competitive.

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