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Three technology essentials for supporting final mile drivers

Three technology essentials for supporting final mile drivers

Labor Day weekend is just around the corner, and with it comes another long weekend of increased online sales and road congestion. The holiday, which dates back to the late 19th century, is not only a tribute to the everyday American worker but a day to look closely at how we can turn appreciation into action by improving working conditions. And while many in the workforce enjoy a three-day weekend as a part of the commemoration, truckers remain in full work mode — including those dropping off your last minute online orders.  

Over the course of the past two and a half years and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers across all modes placed themselves at risk by standing on the frontlines to keep the economy moving forward. Some of these risks are obvious, like contact with multiple on-site personnel during pickups and delivery. Others like fewer open rest areas due to shutdowns and social distancing measures, or longer wait times for loading and unloading as a result of worker shortages add to risks in other ways. But while all drivers have had to adapt to increased demand, the final mile industry has seen some of the biggest spikes. 

As more and more households opted for or relied on home delivery of everything from groceries to toilet paper during the early days of the pandemic, customer demand and expectations around the service have evolved dramatically. And now that this evolution has begun, there’s no stopping it. In fact, according to a projection from Forrester Research Inc., United States ecommerce will continue its upward trajectory, reaching $1.6 trillion — almost 30% of all U.S. retail sales — by 2027.

In the early days of the pandemic, we all hailed truck drivers as the heroes they are, especially the final mile drivers who hand delivered orders directly to our doors. The attention shined a spotlight on how much we rely on them to keep the economy moving, but it also highlighted the challenges they face while on the road. Now, as the industry struggles with a driver shortage, this Labor Day feels like the perfect time to turn all that appreciation into action once again.

How can businesses improve conditions?

With capacity continuing to tighten and fewer drivers choosing to get behind the wheel, it’s more important than ever to provide them with the best possible working conditions this Labor Day and beyond. When workers feel safe, they feel appreciated. And when workers feel appreciated, more will want to enter the workforce. Fortunately, there are a variety of technologies available that not only help to increase driver performance and satisfaction, but also improve delivery speed and efficiency as reliance on final mile shipments increases around the world.

1. Automate route planning and order consolidation

With the dynamic change in online shopping customer requirements to service rural or remote areas, final mile carriers are under pressure to find ways they can optimize the number of stops their drivers are required to make, satisfying time windows while minimizing operating costs and meeting customer experience expectations.

However, relying on traditional manual processes for route planning and order consolidation can cause havoc for drivers. From wasted time in traffic and added route miles to inefficient utilization of truck space leading to multiple trips that could be completed in a single delivery, manual planning can result in inefficiencies and human errors, hindering smooth delivery operations and frustrating drivers. 

By automating the load optimization process, shippers and carriers can quickly uncover the most efficient routes, consolidation opportunities and carrier options available, reducing the number of trucks and road miles needed to move shipments to their destination to both save money and provide faster deliveries.

In this way, both drivers and the shipper benefit. Drivers from a logical delivery schedule that allows them to hit their stops fast and easy — no wasting delivery time crisscrossing across the city — which can improve performance and keep them happy and motivated. While the business benefits from cost savings and a reduction in late deliveries for improved customer satisfaction.

2. Improve communication with drivers

Even the most strategic, well-thought-out route plan can be impacted by changing conditions on the road. Between traffic congestion, construction, weather disruptions and special events, your drivers could experience delays at any turn. To keep these incidents from impacting a driver’s schedule you need to be able to instantly adapt and communicate any changes that may be necessary. 

Contending with issues and delays on the road might be part of the job for any driver, but they are certainly one of the most frustrating. And neglecting to communicate and plan around those delays also contribute to another major frustration — detention.  In one study that asked how trucking is different from a year ago, the most popular answer was detention-related. It found that nearly 36% of drivers have been experiencing longer wait times at loading docks compared to one year ago, with 60% reporting detention times of 2 hours or more. 

Among the most common causes of delays at loading docks is when the shipper or receiver changes or miscalculates the scheduled appointment time. In order to avoid this, shippers should look at software that provides accurate, real-time ETAs that go beyond standard point-in-time location, factoring in all the complex variables that can impact arrival times, like weather and traffic conditions. And since issues often arise when away from a computer, including a mobile solution that provides the same level of insights and communication capabilities is becoming increasingly important. 

By having access to accurate information on when a shipment will arrive at its destination, schedules can be adjusted and communicated well in advance. This provides receivers with the opportunity to adapt and prepare for quicker loading or unloading, and drivers with the peace of mind of knowing that the receiver will be ready and waiting.

3. Centralize supply chain data and management

With more demand placed on final mile delivery services, drivers are tasked with managing the delivery of a rising mountain of packages along their routes. To ensure that your technology aids their efforts as the orders pile up, you need to ensure that your solution can handle as many orders, routes, and stops as you can throw at it. And to do that, you need to be able to keep all that information in one place.

Delivery network data can come from many different data centers and channels such as fleets, external providers, or internal systems. However, no matter how much data you have available, if it is not organized there’s only so much you can do with it. Adding to this, many organizations have multiple departments such as procurement, operations, and customer services all involved in the flow of product from factory to your customers front door — each of which may be working from an entirely separate system. 

For those working to keep the drivers and the orders they’re carrying on track this siloing of data and management capabilities can create challenges in a number of areas from invoicing to exception management, leading to wasted energy in chasing down resolutions. For the drivers, this can mean frequent frustrations resulting from miscommunication and errors.

Centralized open data that is easily accessible to everyone helps in quickly avoiding any possible obstacles during each delivery, making a sudden vehicle breakdown or last-minute address change easily manageable. This creates the most accurate way to keep track of orders and vehicles during the delivery and the most efficient final mile delivery experience for everyone from the business and their customers, to the drivers completing the deliveries.

What’s next?

Truckers have long been the backbone of the American economy, and over the past few years many of us have come to rely on them not only to keep shelves stocked, but to personally deliver shipments directly to our doors. From videos of dancing drivers going viral to full news articles outlining how to show our appreciation, the world has shone a spotlight on how hard these often underappreciated drivers work. 

Now, with Labor Day just around the corner, it’s time to look beyond the gift baskets and thank you notes and turn that appreciation into action through technology that supports these essential works in their jobs.

For more information on how Shipwell can help you to create a better working environment for drivers while providing smoother deliveries for your customers, schedule a demo today.