There are many different factors that affect shipping efficiency. Whether it’s a disorganized dock design, poor carrier communication, inflexible operations, or overly complex processes, inefficiencies have a way of catching up with you. Smart shippers understand the impact any potential bottleneck in their shipping operation can have and are constantly searching for ideas that keep their freight moving without delay.
The first thing shippers need to understand is that the cost efficiency and service performance of a logistics operation are determined before the first pallets leave the dock. They are the result of good planning, processes, and decision-making.
The pressure most shippers now face of working with shorter lead-times and tight delivery windows, make efficiency all the more important. And with available carrier capacity swinging to the extremes of either too much, or not enough, lately, it’s important to take care of your key logistics partners and ensure a good experience for them, too.
When capacity gets tight again, the partner relationships you cultivate now will pay off. As any industry veteran knows, being in a buyer’s market for freight doesn’t last forever in a cyclical market. For these reasons, we’ve outlined eight things you can improve in your own loading dock and shipping operations to lower your costs and establish you as a shipper of choice.
- Dock Design
An inefficient loading dock design can be one of the main problems within your transportation process. When your dock is prone to complications and becomes a bottleneck, it creates delays getting trucks loaded which can impact on-time delivery performance and result in all sorts of OS&D issues.
The staging areas on every dock need to be clearly marked and defined so the right freight can be located and loaded easily. Shipping department employees need to be well trained on the processes, too. Time spent trying to find pallets or confusion over what product is part of a given order because things are not marked correctly are two common problems better processes on a dock can fix.
Does your scheduling process put a burden on your transportation partners? A lack of flexibility with how you work with carriers to get them loaded could end up costing you in the long run. If you offer limited shipping or receiving hours to carriers rather than open windows of time, you’re making it more difficult for drivers.
The reasons for being restrictive with dock availability can make sense (for you) but creating a balance may be better overall from an efficiency standpoint. An easy way to start could be to offer a limited number of appointment times to key freight in specific lanes. This solution will increase the likelihood of transportation partners accepting your loads because it gives them more specific and reliable options for pickups and deliveries. Also, allowing dock appointments enables shippers to better schedule employees because the work that needs to be done can be planned better.
Develop an open dialogue with your carriers. Clear communication between shippers and carriers can help keep your transportation partners informed of any changes in your shipping patterns and reveal any overlooked issues. By having a mutual understanding of one another’s day-to-day struggles, you can foster long-lasting partnerships and implement simple yet efficient solutions that will check or even lower costs to the benefit of both of you.
Regular carrier reviews and discussing KPIs is a good way to accomplish this. You’ll also receive better service on a regular basis if you make a point to include your carriers in forecasting. Alerting your transportation partners to upcoming volume shifts is a sure way to get preference because visibility is critical for operational efficiency.
- Detention Times
Nobody wants lengthy detention times — especially carriers. If drivers are waiting for hours on end at your dock for their trucks to get loaded or unloaded, your rates are only going to increase, and you’ll develop an unpopular reputation. In order to account for inefficient loading processes, carriers have to add charges like detention fees to offset the long hours their drivers spend sitting idle.
One way you can decrease wait times is by integrating drop trailers into your shipping operation. While they may come with additional costs or require more coordination, they should have a positive impact on your bottom line in the long run.
- Loading Processes
It’s important to lay out your yard and provide instructions to drivers to minimize the time spent picking up or dropping off a load. You can reduce dock times and make it simpler for drivers if you provide clear signage, pre-load containers, implement staged loads, and give instructions for your shipping requirements that are easy to follow.
It also won’t hurt to offer perks for waiting drivers, such as free Wi-Fi, coffee, water, or vending machines, because thoughtful gestures like these go a long way for maintaining driver satisfaction.
While some material handling equipment used on the dock may be expensive or excessive for what you need, not all new machinery needs to break the bank. Even things as simple as enhanced safety devices to assist with trailer loading can have a huge impact on your shipping efficiency, and they take very little effort to integrate into your daily operations. Well maintained hoist trucks and pallet jacks should be a given.
Sometimes larger investments, however, like a dock scheduling system, can prove to be invaluable to your dock’s efficiency. A loading process that is connected to your TMS or ERP will provide direct benefits such as lowering labor costs and eliminating unnecessary manual planning.
- Lead- and Transit-Times
Are your delivery service expectations realistic? Loads have to be properly planned and account for realistic transit-times. But, this cannot happen in a vacuum from what is necessary from a production and scheduling standpoint.
Shippers have to build in the necessary lead- and transit-times that loads need. Failure to do so will result in either missed delivery dates (poor service to your customers) or paying a premium for a faster delivery that became necessary at the last minute (higher costs). It’s important to know carrier transit times precisely and use that information to find the optimal balance.
- Invoice Payments
As one final way to take care of your carrier partners, remember that truckload carriers highly value consistent cash flow. Delays in invoice payments have real consequences for carriers, so if you want to be a partner to the carriers taking care of your freight, don’t make them chase you down for being late.
Shippers can also utilize electronic billing to automatically send payments to their carriers to simplify and automate the payment process. This kind of digital readiness will not only help you increase operational efficiency, but also express your technology capabilities to your transportation partners.
Shipping efficiency starts with good planning and preparedness. Almost every unnecessary expense and delivery problem that occurs could have been prevented before the load leaves the shipping dock.
When your shipping processes closely align with carriers’ priorities, you’ll not only ensure your freight moves smoother but are also demonstrating a respect for the carrier’s time and bottom line. Acting like a shipper of choice comes with benefits, like more desirable rates or getting access to capacity when you’re in a bind. An efficient shipping dock is a win for your customers, carriers, and bottom-line.
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