Prasad Gollapalli | Trucker Tools
COVID-19 has ratcheted up the pressure on 3PLs and brokers to operate under unprecedented market challenges. It’s required a continuing evolution of technology capability as shippers demand ever faster responses and timelier, more accurate business intelligence. Demands for real-time information, services, and constant visibility are increasingly frequent and complex.
New, all-digital platforms have emerged and are driving a wedge between brokers and their traditional customers, the beneficial owner of the freight. At the same time, carriers are demanding powerful mobile tools to run their business, and an even more seamless, automated and convenient experience in how they work with brokers to find and book loads, move them efficiently, get paid, and plan future loads.
3PL Perspectives recently sat down with Prasad Gollapalli, Founder & CEO of Trucker Tools, to explore these issues and examine how brokers and 3PLs are managing during the pandemic as pushing the strategic technology envelope remains critical to compete and survive in the market—both now and in the future.
The brokerage industry is one that struggles with change, a factor made that much more challenging in the current pandemic. Yet technology won’t wait. Even in this environment, why is it important for brokers to still look ahead, and continue to build out and improve their technology capabilities? What’s most critical?
PG: Brokers are typically resistant to new technology or changing their processes. They’ve had experience with technology—but not always a good experience. It’s hard enough to “pull the trigger” on a technology decision in good times. It’s that much more challenging in difficult times.
COVID-19 has upended the market. March saw a surge in freight only to see those numbers drop-off in April and May. Brokers have been under constant pressure to manage volatility in capacity and volume. The freight mix changed; speedy delivery of essential goods became paramount. Freight flows also adjusted, some lanes literally went dark while others exploded, complicating the challenge of matching trucks with loads.
As brokers have had to adapt to working remotely, they’re also dealing with kids at home and other distractions, which makes them less productive. Some adapted better than others. Bottom line, in times like this, when we have these unprecedented economic conditions, and brokers are facing so many disruptions, it’s more important than ever to have a solid technology platform and to continue executing a cohesive technology strategy. It gives you a better chance of surviving.
Visibility solutions are cost-effective, faster to implement, and easier to deploy than ever before. With today’s technology, there is no reason a broker should be calling a carrier to book a load or check on freight.
If your team lacks effective technology, they’re left to calling carriers directly to see if they’re available and making check-calls to find the freight. It’s inefficient. Technology helps automate those manual tasks. And it should be able to scale with you. Brokers who can move more loads faster, at a lower cost, and with fewer people will get more loads to move and will be more profitable. The question is, can they afford not to improve and expand enabling technology in these times? Absolutely not!You have to move forward. Your business is at risk.
What decisions should brokers be making about which enabling technologies to adopt? What should the priorities be?
PG: First is sourcing capacity—matching available loads with available trucks. Today’s technologies provide intelligence and predictive tools that automate much of a brokers’ work to find the right truck, at the right time, for a load. And for the trucker, it does the same, automatically sorting and presenting—on their smartphone—the best loads in proximity to where they are, in real-time. And in many cases, the trucker can do one-click “book it now” acceptance to confirm and secure a load.
Secondly, and more important, is automated real-time visibility. More than ever, shippers want to know, with precision, where their shipments of essential goods are and when they will arrive. Warehouses are on lockdown, operating with skeleton staffs that are also adjusting to the implementation—and practice—of social distancing. So, knowing precisely when a load will arrive allows the shipper to better plan and prepare needed staff, and minimizes physical contact between drivers and employees.
Before COVID-19, several studies highlighted that real-time visibility was going to be the chief investment for shippers in 2020 and beyond. The pandemic has only reinforced that.
Yet, we still have brokers calling carriers asking where the freight is, or when they’ll be available. That’s not a sustainable practice. Technology has solved that with today’s mobile apps and cloud-based platforms. Visibility solutions are cost-effective, faster to implement, and easier to deploy than ever before. With today’s technology, there is no reason a broker should be calling a carrier to book a load or check on freight. It’s a costly waste of time.
Thirdly, eliminate paper processes and transmit invoices or delivery receipts from carriers electronically without manual touchpoints. Today, more than ever, carriers need to be paid promptly and on time. Snapping a photo of a delivery receipt and sending it digitally to the broker helps speed payment. That saves time, cuts costs, and builds trust with a carrier base that will stay with you.
How can brokers reduce variable cost, increase productivity and customer satisfaction, and set a sustainable course to continue efficiency gains?
PG: Two things drive profits. Margin per load and loads moved per day. It’s all about the cost to cover a load. Brokers that have adopted technology that mostly digitizes and automates the process of finding and booking trucks have a huge advantage over those still doing the process manually. No one wants to be making 20 calls to find a truck or book a load. Yet it still happens.
When you automate to lower the cost of covering a load—and tracking it—you free up time for the broker to do more. Say a manual booking might take 30 minutes. With automated, predictive digital freight matching tools, that process can be compressed to, say, five minutes. Now that broker can be far more productive.
Your costs are lower, too. You are moving more loads in less time. You have control. You can even consider giving shippers a better deal, perhaps shaving a couple of points off your margin, since now your loads per hour are much higher. So, the shipper gets a better deal, the carrier gets a little more, and your overall profit line goes up. Digital freight matching and automated visibility also improve the quality and responsiveness of your service, so the shipper is more likely to give you more loads.
In today’s market, if you can lower costs, keep your network of carriers busy, and give shippers reliable service when the market comes back, your carriers and shippers will be the first to benefit—and your business will surge.
For a broker, why is it a danger to hold off, “let the market settle out,” and wait? Why is it a death knell to “go slow” in making a technology choice, or to let a technology “mature” before you adopt it?
PG: Technology changes too fast. In times like these, a broker cannot shut down—or even slow down—improving and upgrading their technological capabilities. If they go into a bunker and scale back, it will cost twice as much and take twice as long to catch up once they restart. They’ll be at a disadvantage when the economy recovers.
The shipper wants you to reduce the cost of moving their freight today. They want real-time, up-to-the-moment visibility across all the carriers your network utilizes. Consistently investing in the best enabling technologies allows you to do that. If you don’t, you’ll be scrambling. It’s a slippery slope. If you can’t cover loads as fast, and at less cost than your competitors because you lack the technology, the shipper will go someplace else. There is no place to hide. Gaps are magnified. It’s like going into battle without a gun.
What makes a good technology partner? What should brokers look for, not just in terms of feature and function, but relationships, skills, and vision? What are the pitfalls to avoid, and the watch-outs?
PG: Every technology vendor says their solution is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s more than just software. There should be a clear and transparent process for achieving goals, like reducing the broker’s cost. The vendor has to demonstrate a clear and credible commitment to helping the broker succeed—and show how they are going to do it. It’s making sure the client gets the value.
The second part is the technology roadmap. The mindset of many tech vendors is “we built it, here you go” and they’re done. That’s not good enough. You need a vendor who can grow and adapt with you, who can scale and work with you every step of the way. And if you need something that’s not on the roadmap, the vendor will find a way to add it and solve the problem.
In addition, it’s got to be a relationship built on progressive thinking, quick to adopt change, and flexible to accommodate the broker’s ongoing needs. Brokers should look to partner with tech vendors who are agile and constantly improving their solution, whether its features and functions of the software, or supporting other needs like training.
Capacity providers are often treated as a commodity, especially in a soft market. Yet, in any market shippers want reliability. Why is it important for brokers to treat carriers like valued partners, contribute to and support a positive, beneficial “carrier experience” that is just as important as the shipper experience?
PG: Carriers need our support. These are hard times and many carriers won’t survive. It is critical to understand what they are dealing with and help them keep going. Brokers who help their carriers stay afloat now will have their loyalty when things turn around and capacity gets tight. Even with all the emphasis on and benefit from today’s technologies, it is still a relationship business. People want to work with people they like. Carriers will stay with brokers who show they care and have their back. So, understanding the carrier’s challenges, being as easy to do business with as possible, and supporting carriers with technology tools that make them more productive—and don’t irritate them or waste their time—is key.
We hear constantly from drivers and fleets that they are bombarded with technology. Every 3PL and tech company has an app they want them to use. Why does this contribute to “app overload?” How do you overcome that?
PG: This problem has been around for a while. As a broker or 3PL, when you push an app on a carrier you have to ask yourself, “Am I further fragmenting that trucker’s time, or am I consolidating technology tools for them in ways that make them more efficient?” Too many times a broker or 3PL is saying “download my app,” which may only do one or two things. You can’t force carriers to isolate on just “your” app. They want and need multi-functional, multi-party apps that let them work the same way with many brokers, and not one-trick ponies. The reality is, they just won’t use them. And now you are back to manual check-calls and dialing for trucks.
What do truckers want in an app? What problems should it solve? What are the key features and functions? How do you get them on-board?
PG: Several things. Perhaps the most important is finding safe, reliable parking. They also want to see, in real-time, where that next best load is, and the one after that. Then they want to see the cheapest fuel locations, scales, truck washes, Walmart’s to buy supplies, where they can eat, and what the most optimal route is to get them from Point A to Point B.
They want to be able to find all available loads in one place and book those directly across many brokers. They want to be able to use the same platform to provide visibility across all their brokers without toggling to another app. And they want privacy controls, so when they’re not moving a load, or have to take a break, they can turn off tracking.
Lastly, they want to get paid as quickly as possible, so tools that allow them to scan and send documents digitally support faster payment. That’s particularly important now. Limit the paper they handle. Reduce the hassle factor, cut out non-value-added downtime. Ultimately, drivers will embrace an app that makes them more efficient, helps them to plan ahead to find loads and reloads, and makes their interactions with brokers as fast and painless as possible. That helps both the broker and carrier stay in business. Without carriers, the shipper’s freight sits.
Why is accurate, real-time, end-to-end freight visibility even more important under COVID-19? How do you make it easy for drivers to comply?
PG: Drivers don’t want “Big Brother” looking over their shoulder all the time. But they do understand that when they have a load the shipper wants to see where it is. They get that. What they hate is technology that tracks them all the time. So, provide a solution where they have control, they can set it, so they’re tracked only when they have a load.
It also should eliminate manual check-calls. The second most irritating thing for truckers is brokers calling at all hours of the day asking, “Where’s my load?” With GPS-enabled smartphones, all that can be automated. The trucker just needs to enable that on the app. When you’re trusted, and you make tracking simple and non-invasive for the driver to implement, you’ll be successful in gaining their compliance, trust and confidence.
Lastly, what are three pieces of advice you’d give brokers and 3PLs today?
PG: Don’t let the current situation overwhelm you. As an industry we are still in a state of shock and not sure when we’ll see a return to normal, if at all. Stay focused on the business, keeping employees safe and engaged, and being consistent with customers. The tough times will pass. Continuing to invest in and improve your technology resources will set your business up to thrive and grow when the market turns.
Don’t stand still—be innovative and thoughtful, and ask questions. Look for every way to reduce the cost of covering a load. Use technology wisely to drive better productivity and customer satisfaction, separate yourself from the pack, and most importantly, build and sustain good relationships with your carriers. Shippers depend on you and will even more when freight volumes tick back up. And they will.
We can help. We at Trucker Tools are here for you and are ready to do whatever we can to support you and your carriers in these challenging times.
Image Credits: PESHKOVA/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM, IRINA SHI/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM