In our last bog, we talked about the desirability of being an invisible 3PL – meaning that logistics service providers should operate so smoothly that their customers, and particularly their customers’ customers, barely notice them.
Shippers should think of their 3PLs like electricity; there’s no need to worry unless the lights go out. There is a lot of proactive logistics that has to happen behind the scenes to inspire that degree of confidence.
Let’s face it, in the complex, mercurial world of logistics, bad stuff is bound to happen. The key issue is how these unexpected events are handled.
3PLs need to be good at fixing problems as quickly as possible, and often without input from the shipper customer. No shipper wants to receive a call saying: “There was a wreck on the highway and we’ve missed the delivery window. What do you want us to do now?” Ideally, a recovery plan is already in motion before the 3PL even alerts the shipper. Even better, they will have found a work-around so perfect, it will hardly be necessary to alert the shipper at all.
Now that’s staying invisible.
Proactive logistics addresses immediate, as well as future, problems
Being proactive is not just about the operational, tactical challenges we meet every day on the highway, at the dock, and in the warehouse. For many shippers, a proactive 3PL is one that also provides insights into current logistics trends and best practices. In the area of transportation, for example, shippers want data and analysis about larger trends in rates and capacity across different modes, and they want their 3PLs to provide them with advice on what actions (if any) to take in response.
The same goes for legislation – a constantly moving target that has very real impact on a shipper’s business and operations. 3PLs should help shippers understand and mitigate a wide range of risks and keep a firm handle on trends.
Proactive logistics also means alerting customers to logistics best practices in their industry – something 3PLs are uniquely well-positioned to provide, as they are dealing with multiple shippers over a wide range of geographies and supply chains.
Quite simply, 3PLs can see much further down the road, in terms of macro-economic and infrastructural developments, than shippers can, and they should proactively offer up insights and strategies so customers can make the most of that knowledge.
Long-tenured 3PLs exhibit strong, proactive communications
Again and again, we see “poor customer service”, rather than pricing, as the reason given by a shipper who ditched their 3PL. Drill further down into that and we see that what “good customer service” looks like is simply proactive logistics – communication of crucial information and a mindset where the 3PL acts as an extension of the customer’s team, not a vendor hired to do a job.
A corporate transportation manager who just waited for a problem to play out instead of acting swiftly to address it wouldn’t expect to keep his job for very long. The same should be true for the staff at that shipper’s 3PL.
Invisible 3PLs should act like part of their customer’s family, working to understand their business, their goals, and their overall philosophy on serving the final customer. At all times, 3PLs should leverage the breadth and depth of their experience in order to offer their shipper customers valuable operational, tactical and strategic help.