April 11, 2017 3:55 PM, EDT

3PLs Tout Technology as Tool to Build Relationships in Supply Chain

Ari Ashe/TT

LAS VEGAS — As technology makes communication easier and provides real-time data quickly, third-party logistics providers are emphasizing the need to use the information to build stronger relationships with shippers and motor carriers, according to panelists at the 2017 Transportation Intermediaries Association Capital Ideas Conference.

Technology can save shippers, carriers and 3PL companies money and time, and also improve the relationship among the three critical cogs in the supply chain, panelists said.

Bob Biesterfield, president of North America surface transportation at C.H. Robinson Worldwide, said technology allows shippers, 3PLs and carriers to eliminate unnecessary phone calls, faxes and e-mails through automated processes. C.H. Robinson ranks No. 5 on the Transport Topics Top 50 list of the largest logistics companies in North America.

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“The expectation is around efficiency: efficiency in communication, efficiency in problem resolution, efficiency in billing, efficiency in back-office function,” Biesterfield said.

Smartphones, tablets and reliable mobile networks make it easier to give 3PLs updates on the location and status of the truck driver hauling a load, a concept known as “track and trace.”

“Customers are expecting visibility; customers are expecting updates in 15-minute increments. ... It’s taken on a bit of a life of its own,” Biesterfield said.

Scott Joseph, managing director of Reserve Management Group, added that technology makes honesty more important than ever when events cause delays on the road. Reserve Management Group is a medium-size shipper specializing in recycling.

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“If a truck is broke down, or something else is wrong, let us know,” he said. “Trucks break down every day. It helps us adjust our system. With all this automated software, we can dial things back and fit things in. ... As the technology comes online, people need to realize that they can say there is a problem.”

Good communication and customer service are equally important for 3PLs to improve relationships with motor carriers, according to another TIA panel.

“We have our own rules: If you sit at a dock for more than two hours, you get $35 an hour. The carrier knows coming to us that they’re going to get a square deal,” Tadmore Transportation CEO Pete Emahiser said. “So I lose $70 on a load, so what? I gained a carrier who knows I’m going to give him a straight shot, and I will make that money back time after time after time.”

Jimmy DeMatteis, CEO of Des Moines Truck Brokers, said that he wants his drivers to know they’re a critical cog in the supply chain and a valued part of his team. He said that about 80% of his business goes to repeat carriers because he doesn’t want “one-time Charlies” but rather “repeat Petes.”

“To me, it’s important to let them know they're the key ingredient to us getting the job done,” said DeMatteis, whose company ranks No. 100 on the Transport Topics sector list of the top freight brokerage firms in North America. “We invite drivers to our office. When we bring them in, everyone knows they’re supposed to get out of their seat, walk over to that guy, shake his hand and say ‘thank you.’ ”

Reputation was a theme among conference panelists. They said since technology is making it easier to share reviews, the quality of your company name is more important than ever.

“It’s all about building reputation in this business: how you and your employees conduct themselves through every step of the process throughout the life of the load and how you handle the payment process," said Justin Frees, executive vice president of carrier development at Arrive Logistics, which ranks No. 73 on the TT freight brokerage sector list. "Loads are short-lived, but relationships last forever. ... Word of mouth is a big thing in the industry right now,”

Chad Boblett, owner of Boblett Brothers Trucking, said that reviews written about the broker often are more useful than a credit score.

“I want to see what’s being said and what you do when you do have problems," he said. "Are you doing anything to correct it? I know as an owner-operator that things go wrong and you get bad reviews, but I want to see whether you’re responding or writing a rebuttal to address the situation."

Boblett also wants to work with brokers that pay him within 30 days and avoids those that take longer than 40 days. He also urged brokers to share a direct office or cellphone number rather than routing drivers to a phone tree. Finally, he recommended that brokers post as many details about a load as possible and the per-mile rate upfront.

“You work hard for your reputation, and you’ve got to work your [butt] off to keep it,” DeMatteis said. “We want to give 100% effort to everybody that we work with, zero excuses.”