Many organizations outsource their third-party logistics needs to access the flexibility and scalability that an outside vendor can offer. If your shipping needs to be ramped up, instead of hiring extra staff or expanding your warehouse space, a 3PL vendor can often supply extra capacity on demand.
Additionally, outsourcing your 3PL can prove more cost-effective than keeping the function in house. You’ll also gain access to extensive expertise when you choose an experienced vendor, rather than having to train your staff.
That being said, as with any vendor relationship, it pays to be clear on what to expect from your 3PL provider. Armed with this information, you’ll know exactly how to negotiate for the service levels you need, allowing you to get maximum value out of your investment.
On the flip side, you should also know how to spot service that’s less than ideal. If you’re experiencing the following four scenarios with your 3PL vendor, you may want to sit down with your account representative—or, in the more extreme cases, look elsewhere for your 3PL needs. Let’s dive in.
#1: It Takes a Long Time to Get Answers
Every 3PL vendor strives to deliver top-level service to their clients. However, in the world of logistics, where you’re relying on many other service providers to execute a complicated chain of events, the occasional challenge is bound to happen. What matters is your 3PL vendor’s responsiveness to these issues.
When you make an inquiry, perhaps about a late delivery or a missed deadline, how long does it take for you to receive an answer? Or even an acknowledgment? Do you have to make repeated follow up calls or send several emails to get the information you need?
Look for This: A responsive 3PL vendor will make sure to contact you ASAP to acknowledge your inquiry, even if your rep doesn’t have all the answers yet. If a business day goes by and you’re still waiting for an acknowledgement, it might be worth a serious talk with your account representative.
#2: You Get Passed to a New Person Every Time You Call
Have you ever been trapped in one of those customer service nightmares, where you tell one representative your long, sad story, then you get passed to a new department and you have to start the entire story over again? It can be incredibly frustrating.
That’s why it’s important to choose a 3PL vendor who’s willing to dedicate a representative to your account. You don’t want to have to start fresh with a new person every time you have a request. You want to talk to someone who understands your business, recognizes the way you work and connects you with solutions without making you explain everything from scratch.
Let’s consider one more scenario in this arena: In some cases, you may have a dedicated 3PL account rep—but that person might quite understand how your company works.
- Have you asked for printed invoices, but they keep coming via email? Or vice versa?
- Have you repeatedly asked your 3PL to print PO numbers on your invoices, and they keep forgetting?
- Or maybe your account rep hasn’t taken the time to sit down with you to discuss issues like this, so you can set everything up right from the start.
Any of these instances alone might not make the case for changing vendors, but if you are experiencing a crush of issues like this, it might be time to consider someone new.
Look for This: Some 3PL vendors may offer you a dedicated business development manager from their sales department. Others may offer you a representative within an account management center. No matter what department they reside in, look for a 3PL who will offer you a single point of contact who handles your business on a day-to-day basis.
That way, if there’s ever an issue, you know exactly who to call, and you’ll get someone who’s familiar with your account from the start. If your rep takes the time and effort to truly get to know how your business works, that’s a company worth sticking with.
#3: You Have to Pick Up the Phone or Send an Email Every Time You Need Basic Information
Business moves at an increasingly fast pace. You can’t spend your day chasing down answers to basic questions like:
- Has my Tuesday delivery arrived at the warehouse, as the vendor promised?
- Did the shipment from that new vendor arrive in good condition? Or was there any damage to the goods?
- When will the freight that left California on Thursday arrive in Honolulu?
- How does February’s invoice for shipping services compare to January’s?
Efficient logistics is fueled by technology that keeps pace with the speed of business.
Does your 3PL offer you online access to your account information? When you can leverage an online portal to get detailed tracking information, photos of your incoming freight, invoices, shipping documents and more, you’ll get all the answers you need—when you need them. However, if you have to request this kind of information every time you have a query, you’ll get bogged down quickly.
Look for This: If you don’t already have access to an online portal, talk to your 3PL provider. They may have one that you’re not aware of. Once you log in, you’ll get access to things like monthly account information; details about your shipments, including photos of incoming freight and scans of accompanying documents; tracking data for your outgoing shipments, including sail dates, vessel numbers, ETAs and more.
It’s also possible you already have the online access you need, but you’re not yet versed in navigating it to get the information you need. Talk to your vendor. If you don’t get a satisfying answer, you may want to consider investigating a new provider.
#4: Your Business Has Changed and No One Seems to Notice
When you first signed on with your 3PL vendor, you likely sat down with a representative from the company and evaluated your business needs. By taking into account things like service needs and your anticipated volume, you and your 3PL likely set up an agreement to meet those needs.
However, as your company evolves, your needs change, too. Think back to when you first outsourced your 3PL: Are you doing significantly less volume? More volume? Are you expanding into services you might not have used before, like air freight?
More importantly, has anyone at your 3PL noticed?
The best 3PL vendors offer business reviews at regular intervals. Depending on the size of your needs, these may happen as often as quarterly, although yearly business reviews are common. During these meetings, your rep will discuss the state of your business by asking questions like:
- Are things the same as when we started?
- Have your needs grown? Have they shrunk?
- How well are we meeting your expectations?
- Are there new services or routes that might add efficiencies?
- Could we devise new solutions to better meet your bottom-line goals?
On the flip side, if you feel like you’re the one trying to pry solutions out of your 3PL vendor—or that your business has changed dramatically and no one seems to notice—it might be time to explore other options.
Look for This: Does your 3PL vendor make the time to sit down and discuss solutions—after they’ve won your business? Do they keep an eye on how things are going? Or do you feel like you’re on your own when it comes to meeting your logistics outcomes? Look for a 3PL vendor who feels like a business partner, one who’s invested and interested in your ongoing success.
Finding the Solution That Fits Your Business
Outsourcing your 3PL can offer you logistics expertise and capacity almost overnight, as well as flexibility for your changing needs. Plus, when you partner with an outstanding 3PL provider, you’ll get more than just a vendor. You’ll discover an advocate who works alongside you to achieve your logistics and business outcomes—as well as an adviser who can help you optimize your processes and lower your costs. If your 3PL is anything less, you might want to consider investigating a new provider.
Looking for more from your 3PL provider? We’d be happy to do a discovery call to explore how Approved can help you reach your business outcomes. Just reach out to us to schedule an appointment.