What’s your biggest transport challenge this year?  Driver retention? Winning new business? Or maybe doing more with less?

The findings of our recent UK customer survey point firmly at one of the biggest headaches.  Whether we’re talking about the distribution operation for a B2B or a B2C organisation, customer expectations are rising.

We can blame the alleged “Amazon effect”, or impatient millennials who don’t want to wait three days for the latest Smartphone or item of office IT equipment to arrive, but the feedback we are receiving is clear. A staggering 85.6% of UK respondents to our annual Paragon survey felt that the expectations of their customers had increased in the past 12 months.

How does that manifest itself? Well, customers want greater levels of visibility and accuracy, which includes the provision of faster and more regular deliveries, along with increased reporting and real-time communications.

When pressed about their specific planning pressures, customers told us they were under pressure to provide: “Extra information, greater clarity and improved service levels”, “precise delivery detail, hourly slots and live tracking”, “more detailed arrival times and more live accurate data” and “faster lead times with higher levels of communication”.

Wanting more for less (or at best the same) was another recurring message. One respondent underlining the scale of the challenge faced explained: “We are moving away from a four-day service to guaranteeing next-day delivery, but with the same or decreasing resource”.  Another customer reinforced the sentiment, explaining that they are increasingly having to contend with: “Increased volumes and drops, but with the cost [of our service] staying the same or maybe even less”.

The result of this universal increase in customer expectations is that logistics operations across the UK and beyond are left in the unenviable position of having to continually improve service levels without squeezing already tight margins. No mean feat.

How can transport operators address this challenge?

The first step is to ensure you are planning at a suitably granular level. The ability to route plan at an individual driver level allows your planner to consistently produce achievable delivery schedules, resulting in highly-accurate time windows for customer deliveries with lower mileage and operational costs.

What does “planning at an individual driver level” actually mean? Here are a few examples of the type of resource-level planning that route planning software should be able to take in its stride:

  • Driver #2 can only driver certain vehicle types
  • Driver #4 needs to finish at 2pm on Friday
  • Driver #7 has already driven 48 hours and must be given a shorter route to stay within the statutory limit

The next step is to put in place tools that will allow you to compare planned versus actual performance by showing what is actually happening at the time of route execution. Armed with this real-time information, your chances of creating a more accurate plan and therefore more accurate ETAs for your deliveries increase significantly. These are the types of operational benefit you will see from integrating route planning software with telematics:

Discrepancies from the plan can be identified and corrected. For example, the cause of perpetual delays at a specific customer site can be discussed during the driver debrief.  The plan can then be adjusted to either reflect the fact that the driver will always take longer at that site, or the delivery can be adjusted to a more convenient time when there are more staff available to help with the unloading.

Equally reasons for drivers digressing from the planned route can be discussed during the driver debrief and then the route plan adjusted, or driver behaviour corrected.

Unexpected issues on the day can be communicated to the customer. Was the driver delayed at the first location impacting all of the ETAs for the rest of the day? Have adverse weather conditions slowed down all traffic in a specific region reducing the number of drops that each driver can achieve today? The ability to proactively warn your customers is increased immeasurably if your planners or transport manager can view the impact of real-world events on the plan as the day unfolds.

More meaningful customer communication. One illustration of this is the ability of transport planners or customer service teams to receive alerts of any discrepancies caused by unexpected issues such as heavy traffic, vehicle breakdowns or delays at a previous delivery point. This allows them to take steps to mitigate any negative impact – whether contacting a customer to warn them about a change to an arrival time or making alternative delivery arrangements.

Automated email or SMS communications can also be set up to provide customers with updates regarding delivery status. These real-time alerts provide a reminder of any planned drops and keep them forewarned of any potential changes to avoid any unnecessary disruption. They can also lessen the burden on customer services – often reducing incoming enquiries and requests – freeing up the team to focus on more complex issues.

If you’re under pressure to improve customer service – and let’s face it, who isn’t – why not get in touch to find out how Paragon’s route planning software can help you deliver the service your customers are looking for.

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