Freight management service providers who have yet to fully embrace digital transformation and the importance of real-time container visibility, essentially have three choices: buy a solution, build one… or die. It’s that simple.
Customers not only expect to know where their shipments are at all times, they demand it. And if you can’t answer questions like “where’s my container” and “when will it arrive” at any given moment, then customers will have no qualms about moving on to one of your competitors who can provide that level of visibility and insight.
Without container visibility, supply chain stakeholders cannot see what’s happening with each step of the journey or accurately track the location and condition of shipments. If they can’t see, they can’t predict what could go wrong. If they can’t predict, they can’t adapt as quickly or as easily when disruption strikes — and disruption is always lurking nearby. As a result of those inabilities, customer satisfaction will tank and lead to an exodus.
Meanwhile, freight forwarders, brokers, and service logistics providers who are leveraging container visibility technologies are building deeper customer relationships that are driving business growth for all parties. Let’s explore why that is by taking a closer look at real-time shipment visibility and tracking, some of the challenges of getting that tracking visibility, why it is so important to focus on customer satisfaction, and the role container visibility plays in providing enhanced customer experiences that lead to better retention rates.
Defining Supply Chain Visibility & Real-Time Tracking of Shipments
Real-time container visibility solutions consist of tools and software platforms that provide customers with up-to-the-moment updates on the location and status of the products they have ordered. As Fourkites explains, “... having accurate, reliable data on the location of inbound shipments allows companies, such as retailers, manufacturers and others to act swiftly and decisively in the face of disruptions, rather than having to guess at the best course of action.” That data is collected by dedicated GPS and telematics hardware located on each container, then cleansed, standardized across all shipping lines, and available to all stakeholders through a single source of truth.
Challenges In Getting Real-Time Shipment Tracking
As you know, the goal of any freight management service provider is to move customers’ freight, provide visibility into what is moving and where, do it on time and in full, and at the most competitive rate while minimizing costs to the customer. Doing all that consistently is what will build stronger relationships with BCOs, retailers, and manufacturers and retain them as customers. As one might imagine, there are a plethora of challenges that impede the ability to harness real-time container tracking visibility. Here are a few of the most significant:
- Too many disparate systems: Freight forwarders, logistics service providers and brokers each have their own WMS, TMS, and other proprietary systems that create silos and make sharing of data-driven insights difficult.
- Denial or fear of technology: The seven words of a dying supply chain--”We Have Always Done It This Way”--have some stakeholders clinging to their old-school “manage by phone calls/emails/spreadsheet ways.” They either do not understand the benefits of technology, or they can’t afford the investment to buy or build their own solution--or both.
- Lack of data infrastructure and trust in data: Just because a freight forwarder or LSP can collect data, how can they be sure that data is usable, complete and standardized across all major carriers, to ensure apples-to-apples comparisons?
Need for High Customer Satisfaction/Service
”There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by taking their business elsewhere.” Those words are as true today as they were when first uttered by Walmart founder Sam Walton decades ago. That is why customer service is so important in logistics. As Zipline Logistics points out, customer service “acts as the bedrock of long-term mutually beneficial partnerships, these partnerships are critical to your long-term supply chain success.”
Author R.L. Adams, writing for Entrepreneur, further explains: “It says a lot about a company and what they value when they care deeply about their customers. “It’s something that you rarely find in business these days, but it paves the way for powerful partnerships.”
Some of the benefits of quality customer service are transportation savings, improved operational metrics, including OTIF, peace of mind for all stakeholders and, of course, happy customers. To attract, maintain, and grow customer bases, it is critical to keep them informed and provide the best service possible, which includes container visibility.
Challenges of Visibility & Keeping Customers
Today’s BCOs, retailers, and manufacturers may believe a number of misconceptions about container visibility and real-time tracking, some of which are:
- Container tracking data is inaccessible and messy.
- Manual data input is just a part of the job--just accept it.
- Ocean carrier data is a black box, no one is doing it correctly.
- Integrating data into my existing systems requires too many resources.
- We’re a small company with no resources to ingest the data and too much code work is needed
- Container data provided only to “big” customers as EDI messages.
- A majority of customers should be using shipment tracking websites.
- Data cannot standardized across partners, carriers, forwarders, etc.
- Data is incomplete, inconsistent, and not ready for production use.
Yet despite all of that, the demand for in-transit visibility and container tracking has never been higher. After all, if Amazon can tell them where their shipment of the latest iPhone is and when it will arrive at their door, why can’t a freight forwarder or LSP provide container visibility and insight into cargo that is far more valuable than a smartphone?
Customers also believe, rightfully so, they should not have to:
- Manually track their containers and spend time jumping from site to site.
- Deal with gaps in their data that don’t show where their container is in transit.
- Settle for non-flexible solutions for their data requirements.
- Make educated guesses about where containers are.
- Pay for a service from which they don’t get value.
- Face having the same issues day after day.
But with an intermediary such as a freight forwarder or 3PL/4PL providing proactive updates around each shipment, customers can at least have actionable information at their fingertips to communicate with stakeholders. We are talking about insights they can use, once a container is at port, to do something about proactively managing turnaround times and aligning drayage services, and perhaps even think about warehouse storage, if needed, to reduce detention. Those forwarders/3PLs who can offer more real-time tracking can be more proactive in those areas and more.
Value of Real-time Shipment Visibility & Customer Retention
With container visibility and real-time tracking, freight forwarders, brokers and LSPs can:
- Eliminate error-prone manual data entry associated with containers, terminals, rail transportation, drayage services, and US Customs. It’s not uncommon for manual collection of data to take up 40% of the Operational team’s time, while the analytics team spends 70% of its time standardizing that data.
- Leverage real-time container tracking, now made easier. Predict your containers’ ETAs through the supply chain for better customer service and lean inventory planning.
- Receive real-time alerts on container movement and risk based on multiple factors like vessel tracking, operational changes, container events, port risks, and more.
- Easily build track-and-trace solutions for customers to self-service.
- Identify potential detention and demurrage fees.
- Inject visibility into all supply chain partners’ ERP, TMS, WMS, or other systems.
- Generate daily or hourly reports on container status updates.
- Activate analytics pipeline for supply chain planning or carrier selection.
- Identify trends in lane, partner or facility performance and make improvements.
- Make informed decisions about disruptions when and where they occur.
- Know in advance when a shipment is in danger of falling behind schedule.
VIZION API Technology Can Help Your Keep Customers
Here’s the deal: Freight forwarders, brokers, and LSPs who cannot offer real-time container visibility and shipment tracking, you are going to lose customers and your business will die. Customers have made it clear that they will not accept anything less than having access to accurate, real-time and predictive data and insights regarding their container shipments.
You could build a visibility solution, but that is a time-consuming and resource-draining proposition that requires expertise that falls beyond the scope of your teams. The best choice is to tap into the power of digital transformation and automated container visibility with a solution built by an expert in real-time tracking technologies. Learn how you can build loyalty with your customers and gain a competitive advantage when it comes to actionable exception management by incorporating VIZION's container tracking data into your systems. VIZION’s standard-setting API platform is proven with leading freight forwarders, manufacturers and ports all over the world. We provide modern APIs for tracking 97% of ocean shipments globally. To learn more about VIZION and our services, visit our online support center or arrange a consultation with a VIZION expert today.