The Evolving Role Of Expedited Logistics

Purolater President John Costanzo discusses how expedited shipping has gone from a luxury to an integral common practice for all matters of shipping, and what to know when choosing an expedited carrier.

When a shipment of parts failed to arrive on schedule at a Bowling Green, KY automotive plant last year, several hundred workers were sent home, and days of production were lost. Similarly, workers at a nearby Volkswagen plant were sent home due to a shortage of windshield wipers. In either instance, weather was the cause for the parts’ shortfalls, and the resulting lost production.

While the affected plant managers no doubt did everything they could to get the parts delivered, and get their assembly lines back up as quickly as possible, it’s a safe bet that if given the chance for a “do over,” they would opt for expedited services, and its on-time delivery guarantees.

Expedited service, long regarded as the “Rolls Royce” of logistics services has undergone a transformation in recent years. No longer is expedited seen as strictly an option for urgent or highly critical shipments. Instead, businesses are finding benefits from accelerated delivery, personalized customer service, and hassle-free experience. In doing so, businesses are able to use the added efficiency of expedited shipping to help offset its higher cost.

For many businesses, expedited service has become integral to providing a top rate “customer experience.” As customer demands have increased for faster, more flexible and more cost efficient delivery options, businesses are finding that expedited-level services are the perfect solution. The quality and speed of delivery, for example can reflect well – or poorly – with a customer’s attitude about the seller.

How a business addresses customers’ expectations for enhanced logistics services can be a competitive factor. For instance, the CEO of one of my company’s U.S.-based industrial segment clients recognized that a dedicated air service solution into Canada would allow it to compete head-to-head with companies physically located in Canada. The dedicated air service would allow the U.S. company to accept orders from Canadian customers until 8 p.m. and still qualify for overnight service. We were able to offer this service and the results have been tremendous. The company is now a leader in the Canadian electronic components sector, and Canada now accounts for more than 30 percent of its overall sales.

The point is, the company recognized the value of spending more on transportation by offering the dedicated air service, and it was rewarded with significant growth among Canadian businesses.

A growing number of industries – automotive, aerospace, technology and retail among others – are realizing that expedited services are a good fit for their non-expedited supply chains. For one thing, businesses can maintain lower inventory levels, since shipments are quickly transported to where they need to be, thereby reducing levels of goods sitting on warehouse shelves. Expedited service also provides special handling, security, personalized attention and dedicated customer service. 

The increased demand for expedited services has led to more and more carriers launching versions of “expedited service.” This is where a shipper really needs to be careful and do its homework. A business that tells you it can deliver your shipments to Ontario on the next flight out needs to demonstrate how that will happen. Can you speak to current clients who can vouch for the carrier’s reliability? Can you do a site visit and see firsthand a carrier’s assets, and how it processes an expedited shipment?

The worst possible scenario would be to entrust your valuable shipment to a logistics provider who claims to have capabilities it cannot provide. As one logistics manager said: â€śWe never just buy transportation. Service is paramount. The lowest rate does us no good if the carrier doesn’t deliver.”

When it comes to selecting an expedited logistics provider, trust and reliability must be at the top of the list. A business entrusts its most valuable or urgent shipments to its expeditor, and must be able to do so with full confidence that all promises will be kept. There is no tolerance for on the job training, and no room for mistakes. An expedited supply chain must be perfect the first time, and every time.

A few things to keep in mind when considering potential expedited carriers:

  • Collaboration. It’s essential to view an expedited logistics provider as a partner. You want to build a relationship so there is mutual understanding of your business objectives, priorities and needs. This information sharing can only happen through many, many direct conversations, and ongoing open lines of communication. A good logistics provider will use this information to create a unique solution to meet your specific needs.
  • Personalization. As you build your relationship, it’s important that the same individuals service your account the whole way through. The same individuals who prepare your original logistics solution should be the same people who oversee the pickup, transit and final mile delivery of your expedited shipments. 
  • Customer Service. Equally important is a high level of customer service. Remember, you are paying for premium service, so it is not unreasonable to expect premium service! Services should include a dedicated customer service representative with whom you have a personal relationship and direct contact information. Your customer service representative should be fully-aware of your shipment needs, provide you with regular updates, and know about – and resolve- any snafus or changes before they become problematic.
  • Scope of Service. A quick Internet search for “expedited logistics providers” will likely result in dozens of firms that claim to offer accelerated or premium service. But buyer beware! There are many different categories of expedited service, so it’s important to ensure your carrier has the services you need. 
  • Experience. When it comes to managing expedited logistics, there is no substitute for experience. An experienced provider will have an integral understanding of what’s needed to guarantee a seamless and hassle free delivery. Unless a provider has been through the process, and knows firsthand what to expect, any claims of “guaranteed service” should be met with skepticism.
  • Border Clearance/Customs Experience. Shipments that cross an international border require compliance with all applicable customs, security, and revenue mandates. Customs agents are very unforgiving when it comes to filing proper documentation. It is essential, if your shipment requires a border crossing – to have a qualified customs broker or logistics partner who can ensure complete compliance and a hassle free customs clearance process.
  • Value-Added Services: For many shippers, the benefits of expedited value are the premium levels of service that have become integral to the service, rather than the accelerated rates of delivery. Proof of delivery, tracking and tracing, and time-guaranteed delivery have become industry standards.  Following are a few additional value-added services that some – but not all – logistics providers may offer:
    • Security – Depending on a shipment’s contents, this may be the most important factor of all. Added security is integral to the expedited process because (a) fewer touches; (b) accelerated supply chains; and (c) extra personnel to monitor shipments. Certain shipments may be handled via a team-driver approach, through which two drivers ensure that a shipment is never left unattended. Or, a courier may be used to personally accompany a shipment traveling via air. 
    • White Glove - Shipments that require special care – usually items that are highly valuable, fragile, or perishable, or require assembly or installation – often require super-premium white glove treatment. White glove freight requires drivers with special training, who travel with specialized equipment, including furniture pads, pallet jacks, specialized tools, hand trucks, dollies, lift gates and temperature-controlled units. 

As the 2014-15 U.S. West Coast ports work slowdown demonstrated, even the most carefully planned logistics strategy can be waylaid by unforeseen circumstances. Smart businesses are realizing they can remove that degree of uncertainty through an expedited service solution. But when it comes to enlisting the right partner, a proven track record and reliability must win out every time.

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