A large portion of modern logistics practices are based on concrete numbers—metrics, forecasts, and history. However, while innovators like Amazon and Elon Musk are working hard to automate a staggering chunk of the supply chain, the most crucial element is getting lost in the shuffle: respect.
No matter how high-tech your operations may be at the moment, there is still a human being behind the wheel. Even with upgrades and automation setting industry workflows apart from their predecessors, there's still a need to connect with your drivers to gain "preferred shipper" kudos.
What is a Preferred Shipper?
Even with the regimented systems of the larger 3PL providers, there is some autonomy on the part of the drivers and dispatchers. A preferred shipper is typically an informal designation, but it's one that's worth its weight in shipping gold.
The term refers to a client that is easy to work with and respectful of the driver’s time, two common issues that negatively impact both productivity and job satisfaction. If your driver needs to constantly play "phone tag" to determine where your warehouse crew is, for example, they may eventually drive away with your cargo, but a favorable opinion of your company won't be on board.
If in the future, that same driver or dispatcher is deciding on a pickup route, you may find your pickup comes later or further out from your preferred time than a competitor's pickup. That's likely because your rival has made an effort to determine what the driver needs to be at their best: even granular details down to how pallets are stacked and presented make a difference.
When it comes down to it, drivers care about the basics — thoughtful shippers make for faster, easier pickups. When a driver isn't kept waiting, and a 3PL doesn't need to be concerned about a barrage of questions or complaints, there's more time for additional work volume — and profit.
In other words, a preferred shipper is:
- A shipper that's prompt and courteous with their driver(s)
- A shipper that has a solid, positive reputation in the 3PL community
- A shipper that does their best to keep a driver happy with proactive, collaborative questions
- A shipper with fleshed-out understanding of 3PL capabilities and limitations
- And, perhaps most importantly, a shipper with reasonable expectations of both drivers and 3PLs in general
How Can I Become a Preferred Shipper?
The designation of "preferred shipper" may be informal, but that doesn't mean you can't stack the proverbial deck in your favor. You don't need to put a great deal of effort into amenities to make your warehouse a positive place for drivers. A few thoughtful additions will make a world of difference:
Create Convenient Parking
If a driver has to do vehicular gymnastics to get into and out of your loading docks, they're not going to have a favorable opinion of the stop. While some parking lot structures are static and pre-date the businesses that use them, there's still a lot you can do. For example, you can still instruct employees to park in outlying spots on pickup or delivery days to give your driver empty maneuvering space.
Strive For Short Unloading Wait Times
Have your equipment and manpower ready to go when the truck arrives. An extra 3 or 4 minutes to hunt down a hand truck may not feel like a lot to you, but imagine that delay multiplied by every stop the driver makes on a route. It adds up, and it makes overall efficiency an uphill battle for drivers.
Create a Break Room For Drivers
Even though it's their job, staying on the road for long stretches can be tough for even the most seasoned driver. If space allows, give them a place to sit and stretch out for a few while your warehouse team is loading or unloading. At the very least, point them to the nearest restroom, keep a basket of refreshments for them to grab on the go, and hand over your wifi password so they can check in with headquarters or catch up with email during the stop.
Be Truthful About Delays
Drivers understand that sometimes unforeseen things happen. Bad timing, an employee calling out sick — these are all things that can affect a warehouse team's expediency. If you're going to have a delay in loading or unloading or even a cancellation, let your driver know as soon as possible.
With a quick heads-up, they can reorganize their route, maximize their efficiency, and ultimately deliver better service to you.
What Should I Avoid?
An Inhospitable Pickup Environment
That means poorly-designed parking or even a complete lack of it, no covered area for keeping the weather at bay, and poor communication between drivers and warehouse staff. Additionally, make your bathrooms available to drivers and let them know they have access - they'll remember you favorably.
Disrespecting Your Driver's Time
When you make the drivers wait, lie or knowingly misrepresent availability for load-outs, and make excuses for lateness, you're not likely to climb the priority ranks for good service. Remember your drivers have a job to do as well - if you make their job as easy as possible, they will respond in kind.
Putting Too Much Emphasis on Punishment
When you wield penalties, fines, and reports like a weapon, it doesn't foster collaboration and communication with your drivers. If there is gross negligence, repeat issues or dangerous problems in the mix, definitely let their superiors know - but if there's a small, one-off problem, try to be understanding.
Why Should I Be Concerned?
Your driver, much like the individuals that are working in your warehouse, is an integral part of your success. They are an important moving part of your supply chain and one that can carry liability as easily as convenience. Consider a driver that's already behind, facing a delay of an hour at your warehouse: when they get back on the road, they'll be frustrated and potentially tired, and their driving skills may suffer for it. A happy, on-time, and well-rested driver, however, can safely navigate the road and get your shipment where it's going, on time or better.
Drivers, whether working for a company or as an owner/operator, also aren't earning while they're sitting still.
When you delay their route by failing to prepare for their arrival, you're asking them to essentially work off the clock because income isn't coming in.
If you keep them waiting too long, you could also be at risk for detention - an added charge that's easily avoidable with proper planning and consideration.
Kenco: Striving for Preferred Shipper Status
At Kenco, we are focused on taking steps to obtain — and maintain — preferred shipper status. Not only is it a perennial topic in our daily meetings, we genuinely care about making our collaborative experiences positive ones for all of our partners, including our service providers.
When we hear our drivers talking about taking lower-paying loads just to work with preferred shippers, we know we've made the right choice. As an integrated solution company, we offer both freight services and warehousing — that gives us a holistic point of view, and one in which the value of our drivers' efforts is highly valued, as it should be.
To Sum It Up
If you need guidance on lowering your freight costs beyond preferred shipper status efforts, we'd like to help: our guide, How to Reduce Freight Costs, will illuminate proven cost-savings measures for your supply chain. Not only will these tips help your business run more efficiently, but they also offer stability and better profits with every logistical mile and milestone.