A freight forwarder can provide tremendous leverage in your business. By coordinating shipments from multiple suppliers over multiple modes of transportation, a good freight forwarder can streamline your logistics, freeing you up to focus on other important aspects of running your business.
Most freight forwarders will have their own onboarding process. They’ll walk you through a series of questions to establish procedures for a working relationship that meets your needs. The very best freight forwarders will make this process simple and easy—such that you likely won’t have many concerns or questions on a day-to-day basis.
However, as with any type of vendor you work with, it pays to be informed. It’s important to understand what you should expect of your freight forwarder. That way, if anything falls through the cracks, you can correct it early. Or, if your forwarder hits all the right notes, you can continue your relationship with confidence.
In this article, we’ll walk you through four best practices to help you get a smooth start with a new freight forwarder. In addition to ensuring that your forwarder covers all bases, this list can also be helpful if you’re interviewing a freight forwarder. Observe how they operate within each of these areas, and you’ll get a strong sense of how that forwarder works on a day-to-day basis.
#1: Confirm the Scope of Work When you first reach out to a freight forwarder, you’ll likely enter into conversation with a member of a sales or business development team. This team will work hand-in-hand with the freight forwarder’s operations team to come up with a proposal for the services you need.
Once you accept the proposal, the forwarder will likely generate a scope of work (SOW) or a contract that details all the services you’ve agreed on, along with the quoted pricing.
At this phase, it’s important for you, the client, to review the SOW in detail. Ask yourself:
- Are these the services I need for my business?
- Is there anything missing? Or is everything we initially discussed in here?
- Is there anything extra in here that I don’t want or need?
- Is the quoted price correct?
- Is there anything I want my forwarder to know that isn’t documented in this agreement?
Here’s why this is important: Often after you sign an agreement, your account will be migrated from the sales team over to the account management team. This SOW will act as a blueprint for how your account will operate, so that everyone else in the company, from the operations team receiving your items in the warehouse to the account manager who oversees the day-to-day activity, knows how to handle your account—exactly as originally agreed upon.
By doing a thorough review and making any corrections you need before the relationship actually starts, you can ensure that you’ll get exactly what you need from your relationship with your forwarder.
Although every forwarder’s SOW or contract will be different, there are three areas we suggest you pay special attention to.
Area #1: Receiving Procedures
When you started talking with your new forwarder, you likely discussed what are called receiving procedures. As you review your SOW, make sure that your freight forwarder has documented the way that you want them to receive your freight shipments.
For example, if your forwarder is receiving goods on your behalf, they should ask things like:
- When freight arrives at the warehouse, do you want to be notified?
- What kind of documentation do you want? Pictures? Receiving reports?
- If freight arrives damaged at the warehouse, do you want your forwarder to receive it? Refuse it?
The more questions your forwarder asks upfront—and the more answers you give—the more your forwarder can streamline your logistics processes. Otherwise, they’ll have to stop and ask questions at every phase, which can create delays in your supply chain.
Area #2: Loading Preferences
Once you confirm your receiving procedures, you’ll want to examine how your SOW documents the next step: loading your freight.
Your forwarder will likely ask you a number of questions in this area, such as:
- When they’re moving pallets of goods, can your freight forwarder double-stack your freight?
- Or, if they’re consolidating your freight for transit, can they break it down to pack it more efficiently? Although some customers welcome the possibility of saving space (and money!) by breaking down pallets, others want their goods to remain on the pallets they arrive on. Whatever your preference, your forwarder should document it.
If your forwarder is asking these kinds of questions—and documenting your answers— you can be confident that they’ll handle your freight the way you would want it done.
Area #3: Delivery Preferences
Finally, your forwarder should ask how you want to receive your freight at its final destination:
- Will you pick it up at the warehouse with your own trucks?
- Or would you like it delivered?
- If so, is there a time and date you’d like to receive your deliveries, one where you know you’ll have staff available to receive it?
- Will you need inside delivery or white glove service?
Check your SOW to make sure your answers are included in your agreement. By documenting these procedures from the start, you and your forwarder will put in place a set of standards that ensures a smooth working relationship.
This next area may be included in your SOW, or it may simply be something your forwarder inquires about. Either way, it’s absolutely critical to a good working relationship.
Area #4: Streamline Invoicing and Billing with Your Freight Forwarder
Any forwarder can send an invoice your way. However, the ones who are looking to form a long-term relationship with you will work closely with you to make the billing and invoicing process as smooth as possible.
In addition to confirming the right contact to receive invoices, a good freight forwarder will ask things like:
- What’s the best way for you to receive invoices? By mail? By email?
- Do you want specific reference numbers on your invoices, such as purchase order numbers or project numbers, so you can better track these costs in your system?
- Do you have an accounting system that you’d like us to enter your invoices into in order to make it easier for your team to pay and track these invoices?
If your forwarder hasn’t proactively asked these questions, you might want to consider raising these issues yourself. Are there things your forwarder could do that would make invoicing easier? Don’t be afraid to ask for them. They’ll likely be willing to accommodate you.
In order to make this request of your forwarder, you’ll find the next best practice especially helpful.
Area #5: Get Clear on Your Contacts—on Both Sides
As we mentioned earlier, after you sign a contract with a freight forwarder, your contact at the company may shift from a member of the business development team to someone on the account management team.
It all depends on how your forwarder works. However, no matter the procedures, the principle remains the same:
When you start with a new forwarder, make sure you know who your main contact will be on a day-to-day basis.
In other words: If you have a question or need some help, who should you reach out to? And what’s the best way to reach out? Phone? Email?
Your forwarder should also get this same information from you. If they have a question or need immediate feedback, who should they reach out to so they can keep your freight moving?
Communication is the key to success in most, if not all, business relationships. Make sure the lines are open with your forwarder—in both directions.
You may also find that your freight forwarder can get you the information you need without human intervention.
Area #6: Ask for Access to Their Online Portal
In the 21st century, making a phone call or sending an email every time you need a piece of information isn’t the most efficient way to do business. Ask your forwarder if they have an online portal where you can retrieve vital information about your account without having to go through your account manager.
Your forwarder may have a customer portal that offers you access to things like:
- Freight tracking information
- Photos of your freight in the condition it was received
- Packing lists
- And more
The information available will vary forwarder to forwarder. However, if your forwarder does have a customer portal, make sure you know how to access it so you can get up-to-the-minute information at your fingertips.
Establishing the Right Relationship with Your Forwarder
At the end of the day, a good freight forwarder should take responsibility for a smooth onboarding experience. If you’ve chosen the right provider, you may not have to ask a single one of these questions. Your forwarder may simply answer them all.
If that’s the case, you’ve likely found the kind of forwarder you can build a relationship with for years to come. However, if you find that your forwarder has skipped a few of these areas, use this checklist to proactively build the relationship you need to streamline your logistics and build the relationship that works for you.
If you’re considering hiring a freight forwarder, we’d be happy to show you how an experienced partner can streamline your logistics. It starts with a free consultation. We’ll discuss many of the touchpoints in this article. However, most importantly, we’ll discuss your unique needs so we can establish a successful relationship built for the long term.