There's a critical obstacle that's holding most logistics companies back: their outdated email practices.
Logistic service providers (LSPs) rely on email to communicate with customers, often using distribution lists like brokers@ or a shared inbox in Outlook. While this makes it easy for customers to reach you, it’s a nightmare to manage such a high number of messages internally.
What's more, email takes more than 2 hours of every employee's time each day and can cost businesses nearly $6,000 per employee annually in unnecessary email and poor wording. For LSPs, this is particularly sensitive as efficiency can be tied directly to revenue—a missed message or a delayed response can result in incorrect shipments or failure to comply with regulations.
Below are five ways outdated email practices are costing LSPs time, customers, and ultimately, revenue.
1. High email volume is difficult to keep up with—and it's only increasing.
Teams are drowning in email. People are sending emails about emails. In a study of more than 2,000 workers across the US, 68 percent said the number of emails they've sent and received has risen over the last three years.
Missed messages & slow replies = Missed revenue
Logistics companies operate on time-critical schedules, so the first to respond to a quote often wins the business. That means an email sitting unreplied for hours in your employees' inboxes (or that gets overlooked entirely) is revenue that you just lost to a competitor.
Poor customer service = No repeat customers
Competition is fierce, and you pride yourself on service. Customers now have a higher bar for service: 33 percent of Americans say they'll consider switching companies after a single instance of poor service. With high email volume, you're more likely to make mistakes.
With high email volume, critical messages can easily get lost or buried. It’s also hard to know which messages need to be prioritized or determine which teammates are already working on a request. Both of those translate to lost revenue.
2. Email is a communication silo
With businesses becoming more global, 58 percent of consumers say a business needs to be available around the clock. If a customer in China requires a fulfillment warehouse in Los Angeles, they can contract those 3PL services directly. This increases profit for LSPs because they don't have to pay agent fees or commissions. But it brings a new challenge: how can you communicate with customers across time zones?
Serving customers 24/7 is a challenge. Some businesses have adjusted their team's schedules to stagger across multiple shifts. To make sure these expanded hours are worth the investment, however, each new shift needs access to the emails and context from the shift prior.
For instance, a freight forwarder can attract new overseas customers by extending their staffing around the clock. However, if each new shift doesn't have reliable, up-to-date information from the previous shift, workers have to spend the beginning of each shift catching up on the open cases in their inboxes. This means time (and revenue) is lost in each shift just in getting workers up to speed.
3. Email is a massive time drain for your team.
The average worker spends 28 percent of their work week on email—that’s more than 11 hours a week! For LSPs, many of these hours are spent manually sorting through clutter and triaging email requests to the correct department or teammate. Workers shouldn’t be spending valuable time routing messages or getting looped into long, never-ending message threads.
For example, if a warehouse manager who monitors outgoing shipments is distracted with emails throughout the day, they may not give the physical shipments enough attention. A shipment containing hazardous materials could be shipped without proper labeling, resulting in thousands of dollars in Department of Transportation fines. With the right tools in place, your team can spend time where it matters most—handling more shipments, not emails.
4. Email doesn't include context from your other critical tools.
Email is critical to customer communication for the logistics industry, but it's not the only tool providers depend on to get work done. Different pieces of information may be spread across various tools and systems, leading to complex workflows and excessive context switching. Email may be a consolidation point, but servicing a customer request may require context from additional tools such as:
3PL software: Most companies use core 3PL software for inventory management or order fulfillment, such as a Transportation Management System (TMS), Warehouse Management System (WMS), or an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System.
Customer data: Many companies also use CRM software or a homegrown customer database to manage customer data, history, orders, and more.
Amazon / eCommerce platform messaging: 3PL warehouses need to route messages from eCommerce marketplaces like Amazon to the correct location. If you attach the wrong information to a shipment, customer orders can be mixed up. At the very least, you'll end up copying information between messaging systems, wasting time and introducing the possibility of transcription errors.
Form submissions: Trucking companies have created online forms that make it easier to give quotes. But suppose employees still need to manually review the submissions forms and forward them to the correct department. In that case, you are losing most of that efficiency—and potentially responding too slowly to get the business you're quoting.
Embedded chat functions: Customers use a "Click to Chat" option on a vendor's website because it lets them speak with agents faster. You love it because your agents can speak with several customers at the same time. But this means your team is subject to context switching—moving back and forth between tools—and is more likely to get distracted and make errors when talking to your customers.
Instant communication channels: Instant messaging like SMS, phone, or messaging apps have changed how warehouse workers communicate. It doesn't require your employees to be in the same room and is faster than email. However, if those messages don't integrate into a central communications system, you lose all records of operations, and your employees cannot quickly and efficiently cross-reference information.
When your process-critical communications go through various systems and channels, you're left running around gathering and organizing the data and context you need.
5. Email lacks accountability & visibility
Distribution lists and group aliases are great for giving your entire team access to customer emails, but they lack accountability and visibility.
For example, a customer sends your warehouse a customs release and delivery order showing a pickup from their outside trucker. If you're using a distribution list or group alias, there's no way for your team to know who's responsible for replying. Two problems usually occur:
Your team sends more than one reply—maybe even with different answers
Or, no one replies because everyone thinks (or hopes) someone else has already replied
In both cases, the release never gets signed, the driver gets turned away, and the customer never uses your warehouse again.
Instead of depending on individual inboxes and distribution lists, logistics companies can benefit from shared inboxes. This will reduce the duplication of messages, provide visibility across the team into messages with customers, and give transparency for the entire team without piling up individual inboxes.
Optimizing your email is an opportunity to stand out
The inefficiencies of email can be especially costly for logistics companies. But by improving the way your business handles email, you can win more business, increase productivity, and boost overall customer satisfaction. It’s time for you to get more revenue out of email.
Written by Andersen Yu
Originally Published: 17 April 2020