Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Unlocking the Value of an Unsung Process

Managing freight delivery appointments

TMC has reengineered a supply chain process so that it reduces delivery time, improves load planning, raises service standards, and lightens shipper and carrier workloads by taking time-consuming tasks off their hands. The process has never been more important because it helps companies meet customers’ increasingly stringent supplier reliability programs. And perhaps most striking of all, you have probably never heard of it. Not because the process is trivial – hardly, given the above accomplishments – but partly because it’s not usually associated with big efficiency gains. The process is managing freight delivery appointments.

This might seem like a straightforward, relatively mundane activity, but look under the hood and you will find numerous moving parts and plenty of scope for error. When snafus do occur shipments get delayed or even lost, customers complain, and in some cases late shipments attract hefty fines.

These are among the reasons why TMC decided to reinvent delivery appointments management. We took this manual activity that was hamstrung by inaccurate data, broken communications, and manipulation that depressed on-time delivery rates, and shifted it into the world of automation and on-line information exchanges. We transformed a transactional process into a semi-automated aggregator. That was a decade ago – another reason why you might not have heard about it – and the process continues to deliver eye-popping gains today.

Why was the process ripe for improvement? First, any group activity that involves multiple, disparate parties synchronizing schedules is predisposed to breakdowns. A typical freight delivery includes shippers, receivers, dock personnel, transportation management systems, carriers, and customer service reps.

Moreover, delivery timetables are far from standard. The rules that govern when and where shipments should arrive are often changed by shippers and consignees. The rules also vary by transportation mode, the type of goods in transit, and the idiosyncrasies of each unloading dock. The IT systems involved operate at different levels of sophistication and efficiency. For example, about half the appointments handled by TMC on behalf of shipper clients are scheduled with consignees by telephone. Mom-and-pop retail outlets often require this kind of manual support. In contrast, most of the shippers use electronic data interchange to communicate relevant shipment information to TMC.

Some shippers choose to delegate the appointments task to carriers or to handle the activity in-house. Others outsource the function to TMC’s advanced appointments system. Here are some of the paybacks.

  • Data accuracy. TMC’s appointment management system takes order entry information straight from the shipper, an important plus because it is easier to maintain data consistency and execute rapidly when direct feeds are used.
  • Less process variability. Employing a single provider to manage all delivery appointments helps to ensure that there are uniform processes across the community of users.
  • Third-party neutrality. Adhering to requested arrival dates should always be a high priority for any appointments management system. But this can be a challenge for carriers when optimizing their networks according to their own strategic and tactical goals.
  • Centralized information. There is huge potential for consolidating appointments when a third party manages deliveries. Large consignees might receive hundreds of loads per week and be deluged with requests for delivery dates. If there are multiple vendors delivering to the same customer the provider can group the orders and present all the appointments in one request, which dramatically reduces the retailer’s administrative burden and streamlines the process.
  • Proactive communication. The appointments process is dynamic and it is often necessary to make changes on the fly. The provider is uniquely positioned to implement and communicate these changes and to suggest ways to improve the process.
  • Partnership leverage. The improvements in on-time delivery and service achieved help companies to take customer relationships to the next level.
  • Increased carrier satisfaction. The process relieves carriers of non-value added tasks such as waiting for faxed delivery confirmations or calling warehouses for appointments, freeing up resources for more productive work. Improved decision-making is another benefit, because more precise pick-up and delivery times reduce the risk of wasting time on unworkable appointments.

Currently TMC handles about 560,000 delivery appointments a year. The transportation arm of a Fortune 500 company recently decided to use the TMC appointment piece because, like many other suppliers, a major customer is tightening the on-time delivery screw. The company needs an appointments system that provides a precise measure of its delivery performance.

A well-run, centralized freight delivery appointments system that uses on-line technology to streamline the process delivers substantial supply chain benefits that most companies overlook. Maybe it’s time you uncovered one of the industry’2013-05-22 19:24:21’s best kept secrets.