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Sage Advice: Establishing good logistics communications manners


June 01, 2012

Recently, I was at my house in Vermont and noticed my security alarm monitor had a red light that prevented me from arming the system. No problem I thought. I’ll call the monitoring office and they’ll fix the problem. 

I dialed the toll free number, provided the password, and after some small talk I found out that the security person did not have the experience necessary to solve my problem. Instead, he gave me a non-toll free, long-distance phone number and told me to pick option 2, which would connect me to the technician on call.

Annoyed that I had to pay to call to get help, I was further aggravated when I got an answering machine: “No one is in the office…leave a message and a phone number and we will call you back as soon as possible.” There was no option 2 and no solution to my problem.

This was not the first time that I’ve called someone only to get an answering system or was referred to some office with an unattended reception area and instructions on how to reach someone—resulting only in dead ends, frustration, and the need to explain my problem all over again. When you’re a “customer” you should always have the opportunity to vent your frustration on someone and ultimately decide whether this situation is serious enough to consider a re-evaluation of the current relationship.

When you are a “supplier,” however, and you need the business from this particular firm, you often need to bite your tongue and put up with poor and occasionally derogatory communications or decide if it’s worth the price of complaining.

In logistics, there are several areas where communications can either help or hurt you. They include: new supplier inquiries; calls to carrier relationship management members; calls to the operation teams; and communications with warehouse operations personnel for pickup or delivery.

Getting prospective carrier calls quickly through to the company operator or unmanned receptionist is paramount. To do this, consider creating a link on your company website for prospective carriers to sign up and provide essential company information. Offering a pre-recorded message on how to access the web site can make it easy for carriers to introduce themselves to your team.

In addition, this line of communication minimizes the time spent by the receptionist and eliminates untimely interruptions to your staff during the business day. Live calls from prospective carriers are disruptive, frustrating, and often not handled in a positive, welcoming manner because it takes time to do it well. In addition, those calls that go to voicemail will likely take a low priority and may never get a response.

Handling important carrier operational calls in a timely manner is critical. It’s always preferable for the carrier to talk directly to his primary contact; and it should always be a requirement that voicemail messages are updated not only when the key contact person is not going to be at work that date, but when they’re attending meetings or off site.

Recognizing that operational calls should be returned in 15 minutes, companies need to offer the caller the option to select the next available team member rather than to force them to leave a message. 

Clearly, the most challenging element is warehouse pickup and delivery communications. More and more warehouse offices are unmanned, while dirty phones and coffee-stained lists of phone numbers greet drivers. Unanswered calls that go directly to voicemail are an unwelcome response to dispatchers and drivers alike. Options to resolve this challenge include: web access for dispatchers to your company’s website for loading and unloading information and trailer pools as well as the ability for drivers to sign in electronically with the BOL number to see if their shipments are ready for pick up. 

Systems are sophisticated enough these days to be able to call or page the warehouse attendant that people are waiting; and there is absolutely no reason not to have a process that enthusiastically greets drivers or dispatchers and provides them with the information to allow them to be productive—and even happy to come to your facility.

America is looking for responsiveness not avoidance. It’s time to get back to basics and good business manners.

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