Shipping logistics may not be the most exciting part of a business owner's life, but without being able to ship products in a timely and cost-effective manner, no business can hope to survive for long.
In order to ensure customer satisfaction, it's critically necessary to understand the basics of third-party logistics (3PL) and to devise a shipping system that makes sense for your business over the long term.
When creating a shipping logistics plan, utilize these five tips for developing a cost-effective strategy that benefits both your business and your customers:
1. Explore All Your Shipping Options
Major carriers, such as UPS, USPS and FedEx, employ knowledgeable representatives across the country that you should turn to for expert advice on the best shipping options for your business. During this process, you can select a 3PL partner who best demonstrates an understanding of your specific shipping needs and solutions. A strong logistics company can offer the benefits of an extensive cross-country network, as well as the use of state-of-the-art software and other technology that keeps shipping costs to a minimum.
As part of your search, "don't skimp out on a cheaper courier to save on costs unless it definitely works for your business model," advises Mark Bunce at Techstars. "Late or damaged deliveries will induce negative reviews and tarnish your brand before it's even managed to establish itself."
2. Commit to Improved Shipping Accuracy and Better Packaging
A logistics partner is only as good as the shipping data you provide them. As part of your cost-saving measures, commit to thoroughly updating customer information in your database, validating addresses on record and correcting "bad" or outdated addresses wherever they're found. If you find yourself falling behind, set aside some time (weekly or monthly) to review your customer database and make sure all information is up to date. This way, your packages won't be delivered to the wrong address, thus increasing shipping costs and risking the loss of customers.
Paying closer attention to packaging, by using smaller boxes and less bubble wrap whenever you can, will also generate valuable savings. The wrong size of a package can incur excessive fees and increase the likelihood of damage occurring during the delivery process. A little consideration up front can pay off in the long run.
3. Automate Shipping-related Tasks Wherever Possible
You can achieve significant time- and cost-savings by automating your shipping process. New technologies greatly simplify tasks such as commercial invoice generation, while other applications can be seamlessly integrated into your business system and customer website to further enhance efficiency.
Whether you're a solopreneur or you have 20 employees, automating shipping whenever possible will save you valuable time that you can devote to other important tasks. Virtually all of your prospective 3PL partners use automated systems, which can be easily adapted to small business shipping needs.
4. Monitor Carrier Performance
After you choose the right logistics partner, monitor your chosen carrier to ensure they're delivering a consistent performance. Jason Fell at Entrepreneur suggests asking your provider to keep a scorecard, tracking such service factors as pickup and delivery, response to customer inquiries and access to online tracking data.
"Work with your carrier to identify and resolve lapses or failures in service or cost performance," Fell adds. Communicating with your carrier and proactively addressing the areas where you fall short will go a long way toward keeping your customers satisfied.
5. Provide Customers with Up-to-the-minute Tracking Information.
Clear communication with your customers is an important part of an efficient shipping logistics plan. Armed with information from your 3PL partner, be sure you can offer customers real-time shipping and delivery information.
Customers that are eager to follow every step of the delivery process will value the ongoing status updates, and will appreciate not having to constantly call and ask, "Where's my order?" Anticipating what your customers want will significantly increase the quality of your customers' overall experience.