May 2006 | Commentary | Carriers Corner

How To Be A Better Shipper

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Shippers utilizing the services of cross-border carriers, third-party logistics providers, or other intermediaries to transport freight across international borders should always demand a high level of service. But service is a two-way street.

Here are some ways you can help your carriers provide timely pickup and delivery, while ensuring a seamless flow of goods up and down the supply chain.

1. Make sure that what you require from your carriers is both realistic and legal. Forcing carriers to meet unrealistic delivery times, or do something illegal, eventually will backfire. The responsibility ultimately ends up back in the laps of the shippers making these requests.

2. Negotiate terms with carriers up front, and stick to them. Carriers, just like all other businesses, need positive cash flow. To keep funds liquid, they often grant credit. But carriers do not have to automatically grant credit to their customers; it is a privilege that has to be earned. If you want carriers to give you the privilege of credit, prove that you deserve it.

3. Be flexible about requiring an original bill of lading (BOL). With all the legal requirements carriers face today, they cannot always give out a signed BOL. In Canada, for example, carriers have to keep the original BOL stamped with a customs release for six years. Instead, carriers can provide a clear and legible signed proof of delivery. Remember, a bill of lading is three things: a contract for carriage, a receipt for the cargo, and, most importantly, a transfer of title to the cargo once delivered.

4. Work to build a trusting relationship.Carriers want to trust you. Do not, for instance, send contracts with more terms and conditions than feasible. Remember, this is supposed to be a relationship—let's work together.

5. Drivers are paid to drive, so let them. Drivers are not paid to pull off the road to make a phone call for dispatch instructions or other information. It is in their best interest—and yours—to drive the truck, so provide the dispatcher any and all information about your shipment when you book the freight. Dispatchers are responsible for drivers, so carriers will not give out a driver's cell phone number to shippers. In most cases, drivers use their personal cell phones.

6. When booking shipments, provide accurate weights, measurements, and customs clearance requirements. If the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) stops a carrier that presents incorrect information—such as the wrong weight or a different consignee—the DOT will eventually go after the shipper of record. Giving incorrect information only makes it appear that you are doing something illegal.

7. Remember, shippers and consignees are always responsible for the cargo. When moving freight across international borders, shippers are responsible for their shipments' contents, weight, and customs clearance information. Be sure to have the proper information and documentation, as well as proper, full, and prompt payment.

8. Pay your bills! Carriers can always approach shippers and consignees for payment. A bill of lading carries the same message as a mechanic's lien—it does not transfer the title until freight is paid for.

9. Be mindful of the facts surrounding claims. Remember, it is illegal to hold payment or reduce payment for any freight, cargo, or damage claim. Under no circumstances can shippers hold back freight payments or reduce them by the amount of a cargo claim. These are two separate legal issues, and are dealt with as such by the courts.

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