Using a broker to book freight and coordinate delivery isn’t what it used to be. In many cases, the phone has been replaced by load boards, email and online tracking. Technology brings an added level of efficiency to the process, which is absolutely needed. But it has also led to frustration among shippers, who cite miscommunication and lack of real-time feedback as downsides of this more “efficient” process. That is why the live phone conversation remains an essential tool in freight brokerage. It brings a level of clarity and immediacy that aids in solving freight problems correctly and swiftly.
For this article, we are focused simply on the back and forth that takes place during the process of booking freight. For instance, email has replaced the phone call for many of the shippers and carriers that brokers must deal with to book freight.
Why are people moving toward email and away from the phone? It’s partly a generational thing. We see it with teenagers who text people who are literally in the same house.
We’ve also heard proponents of email say it doesn’t monopolize time the way a phone call does. They believe emails aid in multi-tasking – having multiple email threads out there awaiting a response.
But is email really faster?
The other day I counted 6 email exchanges to book a load that could have been handled through one phone call. From start to finish, that email exchange took over 3 hours to get all the answers we needed to book a tanker truck load. One detailed phone call would have taken 4 minutes.
5 Advantages to the Phone in Freight Booking
What you want, ideally, is a combination of live phone interaction with supporting emails when you book freight. But we must remember that the phone solves problems in ways that email can’t. Let’s look at 5 advantages of the phone when booking freight:
An experienced broker will first try to understand what the shipper (or carrier) is trying to accomplish. For instance, a shipper who says “I want it there by Thursday” may not necessarily mean it MUST arrive on Thursday. A conscientious broker may know that waiting a day could result in a perfect backhaul for a particular carrier and a $250 savings on the load. That kind of back and forth is what happens on the phone and, oftentimes, results in a solution that is different from the initial request.
Frankly, using a broker to solve problems is less of an advantage with some large brokers, whose staffs consist of young, enthusiastic, but ultimately inexperienced, people. Those “freight specialists,” as they are often called, are more likely to book the load as requested and miss opportunities to suggest a better alternative. In these cases, little probing will take place on a phone call and email might suffice.
With certain loads, like bulk loads, it’s all about the details, and these details may not be clear in email exchanges. A shipper may want to deliver to a factory at 5 pm, but a broker familiar with that location knows the location shuts down at 4:30 and adjusts accordingly. Had that hypothetical load been booked as requested, it would have created a very disgruntled customer, who needed the supply for the next morning’s production run, and an irate carrier, whose driver got stuck waiting for a next-day delivery.
With email, decisions are made AFTER the customer sends an email accepting the proposed solution and AFTER the broker receives this email and reaches out to the carrier for a final confirm. The problem is that, during this back and forth, other things are going on that can distract attention away from that one load. As a result, the process gets delayed. Not so with a phone confirmation. It’s hard to beat the phone’s two-way immediacy.
Ability to probe for additional needs
Phone calls allow experienced brokers to solve problems that are not even on the table. Just last week we were finishing up a booking for a carrier partner. We asked what else was happening and he mentioned 2 trucks that were down in New Jersey and about to return to home base empty. We were able to cover those loads and create a much more profitable run for the carrier. It’s not rocket science; it’s just talking. But sometimes that’s all it takes.
You remember relationships? Human-to-human connections are really all that matter in life. And business is part of life. Emails tend to be “all business.” With the phone, you hear someone’s voice, you note their inflections. It’s just more personal, and it leads to closer relationships and the development of trust.
Booking Freight: Don’t Throw the Phone Out Just Yet
We need to create a more efficient freight market and there are many exciting technologies out there that are helping to match supply and demand – some with just the touch of a button on a smart phone.
But technology doesn’t necessarily replace the phone when it comes to solving complex freight problems, particularly with sensitive freight like liquid chemicals. For these challenges, its helps when two thinking humans can talk, even for 2 minutes, to get clear on objectives, to examine alternatives, and to ultimately agree on a solution.