July 2008 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

Get Peace of Mind by Choosing the Right LTL Carrier

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David L. Miller is chief operating officer of Con-way Freight. 734-994-6600

In the harried world of logistics, selecting a less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier is one of the most important decisions a shipper will make. LTL carriers that know and properly value the variables affecting the cost of goods delivered and the overall customer experience can mean the difference between keeping you satisfied or losing your business. Shippers most value carriers that pick up and deliver when promised, maintain consistent transit times, and provide professional customer service, according to Mastio & Company's 2007 LTL Customer Value and Loyalty study.

Addressing these concerns delivers what every shipper hopes to get and every carrier hopes to give: peace of mind. Carriers can best achieve that goal through a balance of attributes - consistency, reliability, and service.

Consistency: Getting It Right Every Time

A great LTL carrier must be consistent. Just as it's useless to patients for surgeons to perform successful operations most of the time, it's equally futile for a company to stake its reputation on a carrier that usually delivers on time.

Will its next unscheduled delay affect your most critical delivery? Ensuring that you work with a carrier that maintains a strong consistency record helps mitigate that risk.What contributes to a carrier's consistency? First, network breadth. Ask the carrier how many facilities it operates and where they are located, because every 10 miles from your site could exponentially affect the service quality you receive. Find out how many U.S. ZIP codes it can reach, and in how many days.

Also look at its organizational structure. A single, coast-to-coast network with complete North American coverage is best equipped to provide consistency.

Next, look for network gaps. Carriers without a single, unified network have to fill those gaps and that inevitably means handing off your shipment to another carrier for final-mile delivery.

Because every additional pair of hands that touches your freight increases the risk of delay or damage, shippers must decide whether they're willing to assume that risk. Broad, single-network coverage with the maximum number of direct service points provides the smoothest journey for your freight.

It also results in quicker, more convenient customer service. Whether your freight calls for a one-day, two-day, or long-haul solution, one call to a single number, with one pickup by your usual driver, makes doing business less complicated. If an LTL carrier you're considering can handle any size market and any length haul with one interaction - by phone, over the Web, or in person with the driver - you've found a carrier that can deliver.

Reliability: Standards as High as Yours

It's crucial to evaluate not only the carrier's consistency but also its performance and delivery standards. Shippers want fast and reliable transit times, not a forced choice between speed and reliability.

Finding the rare LTL carrier that can offer the confidence of both is vital in today's competitive landscape.

One important reliability indicator to consider is safety. Consistent safety performance is the foundation of carrier reliability. Incidents and accidents on the road can mean delays. Look for a carrier with a proven safety record. State trucking associations often track and publish carrier safety records and can be a good source of confirming data.

One safety initiative that is a frequent topic of conversation in the industry - speed governors on carriers' trucks - also supports environmental sustainability. A carrier that makes good business decisions designed to protect your shipment, its employees, the motoring public, and the environment is one with a big-picture business model suggesting consistent performance.

An effective way to find a reliable carrier is through word of mouth. Who would know more about selecting an outstanding carrier than a fellow shipper? When it comes to performance, consistency, and responsibility, word travels fast. Referrals from a carrier's current customers provide the most powerful references available.

Service: Investing in the Customer

Once a shipper has narrowed its search to LTL carriers offering similar performance and consistency levels, as well as broad coverage through a shipper-friendly single network, the next critical element to explore is service quality.

The shipper must investigate what to expect from the relationship. Questions to ask should focus on the day-to-day communication, responsiveness, and support the carrier provides. Will you see a parade of unfamiliar faces picking up and delivering your freight, or a known and trusted professional who visits the site every day?

Another service element to explore is visibility into shipments, account details, and billing accuracy, as well as availability of customizable online tools that make it easier to do business. Will shippers have to ask about their freight's status, or will they have the ability to track it online 24/7?

Investment in the latest Web technology to make such features available shows a commitment to service beyond the simple transport of shipments from point A to point B. It shows a carrier capable of providing tools that respond to the shippers' needs. It's a measure of how well the carrier is able to gain trust and provide confidence and peace of mind.

The carrier's annual investment level in its business also indicates its health. The LTL business is a capital-intensive industry. To provide effective services, carriers must continually invest in infrastructure such as physical facilities, freight handling equipment, and new trucks and trailers. Carriers that run with old equipment and outmoded facilities will put your shipments - and your satisfaction - at risk.

All freight motor carriers are not alike. A seasoned, reliable carrier with a record of solid investment in its network and years of hard-won expertise in LTL as a core competency is most likely to deliver shipments the right way in the right time with the right service … with no surprises.

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