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Honing in on best practices: Freight forwarders share keys to success

By John W. McCurry on May 2, 2013

Concise communication, measurable quality control processes and development of critical technology are among the best practices deployed by airfreight forwarders. Sometimes, it’s a simple as having the right equipment.

Clear, verbal communication is a key component of Lima, Pa.-based Pilot Freight Services. Email won’t cut it for critical communication.

“Our best practice boils down to how we communicate, mostly internally,” Richard Phillips, Pilot’s CEO, says. “We have really pressed that in the last year or so. No. 1, we stay off email, especially for critical communication and pick up the phone as much as we can. That goes for internal as well as external for carriers and vendors. We get much better results and less is loss in translation when we pick up the phone.”

Building on that foundation, whenever a shipment is involved, there is always a team of Pilot personnel involved, and they are always communicating. There is no room for assumptions. Phillips says Pilot’s teams emphasize communication both when a situation goes well and when problems arise with a shipment.

“With respect to our customers, we communicate to the extent that the customer wants to communicate with us,” Phillips says. “You have to find a way to discern how much communication they want and in what form so that the communication from us to them is welcome and timely and useful.”

UPS, which has an extensive network on its forwarding side including service centers, regional ground and air hubs and international gateways, has developed in-house optimization tools that it uses to create forwarding scenarios on a regional basis.

“With so many moving parts and especially with all the changes in the market the last few years, we developed a process that allows us to take a look at routing guides and recalibrate if necessary so we can re-optimize our forwarding network,” Vito Losurdo, vice president, global airfreight for UPS Supply Chain Solutions, says.

Losurdo says UPS is able to model these regional outbound airfreight routings to ensure the company achieves optimal costs. An example of these would be the utilization of an alternative European gateway two or three times a week if it makes sense from a capacity and pricing standpoint.

“When we do this, we often look at the freight characteristics of what we move on a lane, the air capacity out there and we come up with scenarios,” Losurdo says.

UPS typically looks at these scenarios when there are changes in the market such as carriers cutting out or shifting capacity to alternate cities. These changes are more effective in Europe and the U.S. than in Asia because the geography is relatively compact, Losurdo says.

Another asset Losurdo cites is UPS’ global control tower at its Atlanta headquarters for its Temperature True service for temperature-sensitive shipments. Regional control towers are located in Brussels and Singapore.

“We make sure proper temperature transportation and handling happens around the clock and around the globe,” Losurdo says.

Responsibilities of personnel in the control tower include proactive tracking and tracing.

“There is human intervention that goes on through the life cycle of the shipment,” Losurdo says. “Our team is looking at certain monitoring activities throughout the shipment. We look for risks that are out there.”

For example, a shipment heading to Europe through the U.S. might face certain weather situations. Losurdo says the control tower team will hone in and watch the shipment closer and if needed, notify the customer. He describes the room, which seats about 30 people, as resembling a fish tank. Three LCD screens on the rooms help monitor world events.

“In general, the control tower has been able to mitigate excursions that were potentially gong to occur because of proactive monitoring,” Losurdo says. “We have been able to avoid the loss that would result from an excursion.”

Benno Forster, senior vice president and head of U.S. airfreight for Panalpina, says the company’s best practices include freight consolidation at gateways and sourcing of airfreight at certain locations. Combining shipments and building pallets at gateway airports such as John F. Kennedy International Airport is among the company’s top strategies.


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