Five Traits of a Good Intermodal Drayage Trucking Company

Travis J. Barnier | DrayMaster

A trucking company refuses a load at the last minute, has a questionable compliance record, or suddenly closes up shop. In a very tight market like today, working with a good intermodal drayage trucker is essential for 3PLs and freight forwarders. As the partner responsible for the first mile of an import and the last mile of an export (along with domestic shipments) the right trucker can make you a hero to your customer. The wrong trucker can hurt—if not ruin—a customer relationship.

There is a lot that rides on a trucker (no pun intended), and you expect them to come through no matter what. So how do you choose the right ones to rely on? Let’s look at five key traits that make up a good intermodal drayage trucking company.

Tender Refusals: Know the Why

If a trucker refuses a tender, the reason should be a good one. Most 3PLs would rather have a trucking company be honest about their capacity and refuse the load immediately, rather than say yes to the load and have to backtrack later.

Truckers that consistently accept loads—even during peak periods or during snow storms and hurricanes—are going to be a top partner for your 3PL. Even if a trucker can’t accept a load immediately, the best ones will be proactive in offering an alternative such as, “We can’t take it now, but we can pull it to the yard and hold it until the delivery appointment.”

Knowing a trucker’s tender refusal rate before you use them can be hard, but the 3PL community talks a lot! Ask around to find out which truckers are problem-solving partners and which leave their 3PLs high- and-dry.

Clear & Competitive Rates: No Surprises

What is important when it comes to a trucker’s rates? Should they be the lowest? Are you getting quotes that never seem to match the invoice?

If you can be confident in your trucker’s quotes, it is a sign that you have a good partner. If the trucker uses a rate management system, then they have an easy-to-use tool for tracing quotes because the prices are recorded on both the 3PL and trucker side. If there is a disagreement about an invoice, each party can avoid the dreaded task of digging through emails and instead simply pull up the record in the rate management system.

Whether a trucker uses a rate management system or not, the company should give you detailed rates that are easy to understand and don’t hide any surprises. The last thing you want is a conflict at the end of the line and the feeling that you’ve been gouged. Everyone’s trust and reliability is at stake when it comes to transparent, accurate quotes.

Hearing “I can fix this for you, but it’s going to cost X” is better than learning about the problem after it’s too late to do anything about it.

Communication: You Can Handle the Truth

A good trucker should give you the straight and honest truth, no matter how bad. A great trucker will proactively communicate any issues, take responsibility for their portion of it, and offer ways to solve it—even if it comes with a price tag. Hearing “I can fix this for you, but it’s going to cost X” is better than learning about the problem after it’s too late to do anything about it.

Leveraging tools that allow you to find, extract and/or calculate information you need from your truckers can greatly increase efficiencies and decrease the need for numerous phone calls and emails back and forth.

Compliance: Ask the Tough Questions

To be fair, compliance can be a tough category to judge because the rules and regulations change so often. But no matter what, 3PLs can ask detailed questions about the trucking company’s safety department: Are they watching and monitoring hours of service? Are they collecting logs? What procedures do they teach their drivers? How often and what is the content of their safety meetings? If a trucker’s certificate is conditional, why?

Some 3PLs dig deep into safety practices when vetting a trucker, but many don’t, especially if they’re working with a small trucker. The easiest and most reliable way to know a trucking company’s compliance record is by using a compliance monitoring and certificate monitoring service that will notify a 3PL if a trucker is not in compliance.

Service: Go Beyond References

Most of us know what good service looks like when we have it, but how do we judge it before the fact?

Go beyond the customer references the trucking company gives you; those references will likely be situations in which everything went perfectly, but none of us has a 100% success rate! To get a clearer look into a trucker’s service, try to find a customer that isn’t listed on a reference sheet, or boasted about in marketing materials, and contact them about the trucker’s service.

In addition, do a news search online for the trucking company. Are they in any concerning articles or accident reports? Check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in the company’s home city: Have there been complaints against it? Ask around at a dock or warehouse to see if the trucker’s drivers are courteous and professional. These approaches will give you an unvarnished look at how a trucker does things right and how they fix a problem when things go wrong.

Find the Secret Sauce

In the trucking industry, no one can operate alone. Our companies are built on partnerships, and great partners are the secret sauce of success. So take the time to vet a trucking company thoroughly and gather data points from third-party sources. Your customers will be happier and more loyal because of it.

Travis J. Barnier is President of DrayMaster, Inc., an intermodal drayage rate software company based in Henderson, Nevada. He may be reached at 855-737-7018.

Image credits: Song_about_summer/, Dmitry Natashin/