Proper Mix of Human Touch and Technology at Freight Brokerages

Andrew Lynch | Zipline Logistics

Automation—we hear about it everywhere. So much so, that the concept has lost quite a bit of the punch it once packed. But despite its oversaturation in the modern vernacular, automation’s advance into more business processes continues at an ever-increasing pace. It is nearly universally accepted in logistics that tech should not only have a seat at the table, but it should be driving critical business decisions and processes.

According to a recent Deloitte report on the state of automation, “The journey to fully autonomous artificial intelligence is part of a growing trend in which companies transform themselves into AI-fueled organizations where AI is an integral component of corporate strategy. This trend is also about a sustained commitment to redesigning core systems, processes, and business strategies around AI and its possibilities.” While digitization is common across all industries, its place within the freight brokerage ecosystem is particularly pronounced.

As technology continues to advance, the question of how ingrainted it should be at the organizational level continually rears its head. There are a few completely tech-based solutions for freight that have garnered quite a bit of buzz and attention over the past year. If the hype is to be believed, digital freight matching and singularly tech-based solutions promise to disrupt the freight brokerage industry. While their place in logistics cannot be denied, these tech-heavy solutions cannot fully eliminate the need for human interaction at freight brokerages.

Automation, left to its own device, will consistently fall short in solving a problem as complex and nuanced as critical freight delivery without critical-thinking and human interaction. Moreover, your customers want to deal with a person when engaging with your organization, not solely a machine.

According to research from Usabillia, “Only 17% of retail customers expect to resolve an issue with their order without human assistance.” In an industry where service is so heavily valued, it fails to reason why handing the keys solely to an application would work. Rather than looking to one extreme or another, brokerages should look to balance the proper ratio of technology and human touch to solve today’s logistics issues. The question is “How can they find that balance?”

The Rush to Incorporate New Tech at Brokerages

The explosion of new logistics technology has only been matched in fervor and intensity with the rush to bring it into the industry fold. Many firms have raced to bring the latest and greatest technological solutions to the marketplace without having stopped to evaluate its practicality. And in the dash to bring new tech into the fold, many have attempted to replace the foundation on which our industry was built—human interaction. But this is not the correct approach. Rather, human touch and technology should supplement one another. Neither should be the sole solution for your firm.

Many firms have raced to bring the latest and greatest technological solutions to the marketplace without having stopped to evaluate its practicality.

Freight has always been a relationship-driven business. Despite lofty promises from tech-reliant providers, automated solutions will not change that reality. With the seemingly endless variables that can go awry during service-critical transportation, it is crucial to have a human’s problem-solving abilities on hand to sort things out for your customers. While new tech can enable your organization to work smarter and more efficiently, it cannot entirely augment the need for interaction between your partners and your organization. Firms should not look to technology as a one-stop solution. They should instead see technology’s potential to enable employees to make better, smarter and faster decisions.

Deloitte continues in its report that, “Its (AI Integration’s) end goal: an organization in which humans and machines work together within designed digital systems to harness data-driven insights.” That is exactly what we should all strive to do. Let technology do what it is best at—gathering, storing, and synthesizing information. And then let people do what they are best at—critically thinking about that information, acting, and building relationships with customers and carriers.

Proper Tech to Human Ratio for Better Decisions

The role of human interaction and critical thinking has not disappeared from freight brokerage firms. In fact, one could argue the need for the human element has increased in necessity.

It is true that the hands-on, labor-intensive process that once filled many of our companies’ roles has been alleviated by automated processes that work more efficiently than humanly possible. Faxing bills of lading is no longer needed, and manually entering order information is no longer the norm.

Automation can record, track, prepare, and uncover data in a much more refined manner than we can, and by integrating machine learning processes into our businesses, the amount of available data for the supply chain has exploded. Its insight is invaluable, but it is not yet sophisticated enough to make the decisions necessary for thriving in the service-critical logistics industry. That must still be done by humans. When given access to more information, your organization can make better decisions about your customer freight—like choosing the best possible carrier for an order, identifying consolidation potential, foreseeing potential capacity constraints, and optimizing overall spend.

Having a technologically-enabled team will allow your organization to serve customers best by making the data-driven choices necessary for succeeding in today’s logistics environment. Customers want to work with people, especially when those people are armed with comprehensive logistics data for making sound decisions about how to move their orders. Data alone cannot problem-solve. Human intelligence will always be necessary for exception management and interpretation.

The Right Balance Can Help You Keep the Pace

The structure and life cycle of business has radically changed throughout the 21st century. Organizations are created, disrupted, and become extinct at an increasingly quickened pace. According to a team of analysts at Credit Suisse, “The average age of a company listed on the S&P 500 has fallen from almost 60 years in the 1950s to 20 years currently.” Today, information can be created and shared almost instantaneously, which has changed how we all operate. In order to compete, we must be able to filter constant volumes of data and adapt to new inputs at an abbreviated pace. Businesses must make quicker, more accurate decisions to keep up with the competition. This is only possible through technologically-driven and human-reasoned choices.

The famed Iraq War General Stanley McChrystal has spent his post-military career teaching the leadership concepts he learned in combat. He argues that the actions he took to modernize the military and adapt the armed forces to more quickly react to a changing environment applies directly to the modern, technology-driven private sector. “The speed of change is faster than even modern technology can communicate,” McChrystal said in an interview with Forbes. “The environments are much more nuanced and complex; they are constantly changing and unpredictable.” To stay on top of this uncertainty, McChrystal said to do the counterintuitive thing and put the volumes of data in the hands of your people. This will allow you to take valuable data created by your technology in the place it will be most effective—further down your organization.

Having technologically-enabled people is the only way to keep pace with a rapidly shifting business environment. You must take the invaluable data gathered by your tech and surrender it to the people who make decisions for your customers daily. It takes this invaluable information paired with situational reasoning and relationship-building to survive in today’s brokerage environment.

To be a competitive force in today’s freight brokerage landscape, you must concurrently invest in technology and people, not one or the other. You must strike the right balance for your organization to arm your team with the most useful information for customers in order to consistently make the right decisions for those you do business with. It is in finding the proper mix that you can give your customers the seamless human experience they look for while still unlocking the increased efficiency and accuracy that
technology brings.              

Andrew Lynch is Co-Founder and President at Zipline Logistics, an Ohio-based, digitally enabled, managed transportation partner. He can be reached at 888- 469-4754.

Photo credit: Peshkova/