The Stories Customers Tell Us About Their Freight Forwarding Business

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Our staff are sometimes overloaded

Our staff are sometimes overloaded

“It’s our people,” Jeff, the Sales Manager, remarked in the management meeting. “It has to be our people. We've got more than half our work completed by people with little or no industry experience and we are outsourcing more and more of our data entry.”

“Jeff, back on your favourite topic again?” Rob, the Financial Controller, sat straight and glanced at the numbers on his ever-present tablet. He fixed Jeff with an intense stare. “We can’t afford to have everyone on staff have over ten years’ specialist industry experience. You've got to put that concern behind you and focus on better efficiencies with the team we have.”

Carol, the Operations manager, wasn’t going to be left out of a conversation about her area. “With our current staffing levels, we’re really struggling to meet due dates. Workload keeps increasing, we are specialising to maximise our efficiencies and we’re having to provide more service to keep clients happy. It’s only going to get worse. We can’t have a successful business if we get a reputation for consistently missing dates.”

The verbal jabs went on while Carol wondered what to say next. She knew that they couldn’t possibly take the time needed to train their inexperienced team given how overworked everyone already was. Everyone was busy. She twirled her pen. Tap, tap, tap. She said, “Jeff, you get the same reports I do. What do you make of the types of complaints and the trends?”

Jeff swivelled casually in the boardroom chair, considering the question. “To be fair,” he said, “I think we need some better processes in place. Put in some more checks and balances, too many mistakes are being made and we look like amateurs.”

“Jeff, I’m already not getting the productivity I need from Carol’s department,” Steve said. Carol winced a little at that. “If you add some more hard stops into the process, we’ll have to hire twice as many people, and our margins won’t let us do that. It’s why we hired less experienced people in the first place.” Steve sighed deeply. It had been a long time since Carol had seen him this distressed. “No,” he went on, “you have to find a way to go faster with the team you have without making any mistakes – and outsource more. We save a fortune when we use overseas data entry. Fix it, Carol, I don’t want any more calls from my friends saying their shipments are held up at the border.”

“I’d have to hire another couple of staff for the operations team,” Carol said.

Rob propped his trusty tablet up in front of him and sat at attention, as he always did when dealing with serious work matters.

“I sympathize with your predicament Carol, but we just cannot afford to hire more people. Costs are rising all around the business and if we don’t get them under control we won’t have a business at all. You need to find a way to be more productive with the people you have”

Steve paused for a moment, he knew the pressure on operations was increasing and could see that Carol’s strong work ethic was starting to take its toll. She looked tired and run down but there was nothing he could do.

Carol sighed, it was the answer she was expecting but not the one she had hoped for.

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The recurring nature of this issue is a symptom of a deeper issue


The forwarder's dilemma

Analysis of the Overloaded staff issue

In forwarding staffing is a constant issue. Throwing more bodies at it is a solution that has worked many times. However, more people equals more costs which when margins are falling becomes a non-viable solution. Many forwarders respond by adding in Temps, many specialise their people to make them faster and many do both.

Whichever way a forwarder chooses to go they still fundamentally work in an environment of surging workloads which will continue to create temporary but frequent overloads. It would be nice to simply have spare capacity to cope with every surge but people cost money and margins go down.

The ability to dynamically move capacity about to match loads is a highly desirable solution for forwarding, but not easy to achieve. Operators are almost always busy with any spare capacity usually hidden to the observer.

For Carol, seeing problems coming in advance rather than reacting to problems, i.e. when it is now late, would help. She needs the greater productivity that comes from improving how work flows through and between operators.

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