THE TRANSPORTATION AND supply chain industry has continued to be in the spotlight for the last few years. Market disruptions, delays, capacity shortages, driver retention issues, increased cost, and the explosion of technology have all been focal points of discussion. The advancement of technology continues to provide promising solutions, but from a day-to-day operational perspective, we continue to talk to clients struggling to find viable solutions to solve their supply chain issues. Early in my career, I was told by one of my largest clients, “Once the product is on the truck; there is only one thing that matters, who is behind the wheel?” This statement has stuck with me throughout my career, and until autonomous driving vehicles hit the road, driver/carrier selection will always be a key factor in transporting goods.
As a 3PL, BM2 understands the importance of carrier relationships, and we work hard to continue to develop strong relationships with quality providers. The importance of developing and maintaining strong carrier relationships impacts every part of our client’s business. I would argue that carrier selection and relationship building are fundamental to any 3PL. How we do it at BM2 sets us apart from our competition. When focusing on the importance of carrier relationships we look at three areas: safety, utilization, and communication.
Carrier/driver vetting and selecting is a crucial part of safety. Vetting and selecting quality carriers with satisfactory safety scores, low accident reports, and good vehicle maintenance standards should be a focal point for all 3PLs and shippers. The impacts of not properly vetting carriers/drivers can impact everyone involved, as well as bystanders if an accident occurs.
Again, once the truck is loaded, the only person who can dictate if the cargo will arrive safely and on time is the truck driver. Developing and maintaining strong relationships with quality carriers that care about equipment maintenance, driver training, and overall safety scores is crucial in reducing delays, claims, or additional service issues. BM2 focuses on vetting new carriers through our inhouse quality assurance team, but more importantly, we focus on reutilizing carriers already in the BM2 network with a proven track record.
Carrier utilization is the metric we use to quantify our carrier relationships. The basic principle of this concept is to utilize the quality carriers in your network by reloading and maximizing the number of shipments they can haul. The explosion of technology, specifically digital booking, has created a “transactional” approach to relationship building within the transportation industry. I agree that technology, such as digital booking and carrier securement platforms, can enhance the relationship between a 3PL, shippers, and carriers by increasing the efficiency of operational task. On the flip side, I do believe the automation of some manual tasks takes away from the value of personal connection and relationships. Connecting with carriers gives us the unique opportunity to get to know the dispatchers and drivers we work with daily.
The importance of getting to know our carriers on both a professional and personal level continues to improve our carrier utilization rate at BM2. We want to know the ins and outs of their operations and grow together. What works for them and what doesn’t? What do the drivers like or dislike about the shipments they run? What areas do they run, and how often? How many more shipments can we haul together? This level of personal connection is how we continue to increase carrier utilization and build strong, longlasting relationships with our carriers. It is the core difference between selling “transactionally” to carriers and selling the relationship. The importance of carrier relationships and how they positively affect our carrier utilization percentage continues to drive down service issues, delays, and claims for all BM2 clients.
Lastly, I quickly want to discuss communication. The importance of communication with carriers and drivers is something I believe will not diminish in this industry, even with the advancement of technology. Proactive communication is key. Carriers that proactively communicate issues or delays are the carriers we want to continue to leverage and build relationships with here at BM2.
Overall, as a 3PL, we must be a solution provider to our clients. Quickly identifying, proactively communicating, and providing solutions to issues during the life cycle of any shipments is vital to our success. Yes, it might sound old school to the “digital brokerages,” but at BM2, communication is key. Therefore, we still verbally talk to our drivers over the phone during the milestones of each shipment. Yes, automatic updates and tracking are nice, which we provide as well, but in my experience the fastest way to provide a solution to most issues is to get the driver on the phone. BM2 values the carriers that communicate directly with us.
In conclusion, on a scale of 1-10, what is the importance of carrier relationships? My answer would most definitely be a 10. Sourcing, developing, and maintaining carrier relationships is a fundamental part of our success. Building relationships with carriers, getting to know them personally and professionally, and understanding their operations allows us to provide dynamic, single-sourced solutions to our shippers, receivers, and clients. Technology influences, market disruptions, capacity restraints, and increased costs have continued to change and disrupt the supply chain industry. I do believe that future advancements in technology will one day provide solutions to these disruptions, but as the market is today, I still recall what I was told by my client years ago “There is only one thing that matters, who is behind the wheel?” I believe this statement still holds true for most issues we are facing in the market today. For now, the solutions can be found by leveraging carrier relationships that value safety, utilization, and communication.