Logistics and COVID-19: The Case for Change
3PL, Logistics as a Service, outsourced logistics
We are living and working in the midst of unprecedented upheaval that will change our communities, our families, and the way we do business forever. And our ability to adapt and thrive has never been more important. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely vanquished the phrase, “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” Especially in the logistics industry.
Now is exactly the time to embrace change, to have hard conversations with your team members, your customers, and your carrier partners; to take a long look at your processes; and to create and implement change that makes sense.
Listen, this worldwide pandemic hit hard and fast, and most of us didn’t have the luxury of a long run-up to disruption. In my opinion, those logistics providers and manufacturers and distributors with the best combination of tech know-how, agility, and curiosity have done the best job weathering the turmoil caused by COVID-19.
When disruption hits, most of us react with fear. And nowhere is fear of change more prevalent than in a company’s logistics practices.
We saw this firsthand.
In the early days of the pandemic, many essential companies implemented plans to keep employees safe, but continued the same antiquated shipping practices: drivers packed into small shipping offices, paperwork passed through too many hands, a lack of direction and facilities for the drivers who continued to work in spite of hazardous conditions.
And what happened when drivers pushed back and attempted to do business according to social distancing guidelines? Many of them faced backlash from shippers who had not yet implemented safety recommendations to protect the very people picking up and delivering their goods.
Case in point.
Supplier A and Supplier B are 40 miles apart and supply the same customer. The pandemic hits and both suppliers have to make decisions about how they are going to proceed. Supplier A gets curious, thinks about the shipping process, directs their drivers not to get out of their trucks, to call the shipping office upon arrival.
Supplier B, on the other hand, is driven by fear. Not knowing what to do, they do nothing, they make no changes. Without new instructions, Supplier B’s driver heads into the already packed shipping office to wait on paperwork.
Those companies who implemented a wide variety of solutions to keep drivers safe will be in a better position going forward than those who muddled along, wearily making changes as needed.
Band-Aid thinking vs. Real Change
I like to call this the difference between a band-aid and real change. Acting quickly, adapting to disruption, and being flexible allows companies to implement change while modifying as they learn what works. These companies are in a good position to create lasting change in their organizations while those companies who applied band aids as needed, will more than likely rip the band aids off and go back to business as usual as soon as they can.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the band-aid thinkers. But I do want to point out what we can learn from those companies who were curious instead of fearful and how that curiosity enhanced their decision-making.
Real Change in Logistics Practices
Companies who were looking to implement lasting change began by asking carriers what they needed to feel safe, what they saw at other facilities (both helpful and unhelpful). They wanted real feedback they could use to create better shipping processes. This is what we call “shipper of choice” thinking.
Motivated organizations took a look at drivers’ concerns, had honest conversations with providers, and were willing to revise and adapt their guidelines.
Here’s what two of those adaptations look like and the potential they hold for the future!
- Using electronic paperwork, signatures, BOLs instead of relying on paper copies. Moving to electronic paperwork, and especially Bills of Lading would be the sort of lasting change I’m talking about.
- Check in/Check out processes. Many shippers have implemented a call-ahead check in process. Why do drivers have to get out of their trucks and huddle together in crowded shipping offices? Mostly it’s the paperwork, but if the paperwork is handled electronically, this alleviates the need for drivers to converge on shipping offices. The move towards paper-free, electronic check in would save costs, save driver time, and eliminate safety concerns.
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing companies to rethink the way they do business, just as it’s forcing individuals and families to rethink their priorities and adjust their lifestyles.
What processes or services have you continued just because you’ve always done things that way? Now’s the time to take a good look at what’s working, what you’ve had to change, and how you can carry those changes on into the future.