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Achieving the impossible, on a regular basis

Achieving the impossible, on a regular basis

For those of us who have been in the transport industry for a long time, it can sometimes be difficult not to become cynical, at least from time to time.

Every freight journey, be it air, ocean rail or road, involves quite a few steps, and with each remains the opportunity for things to go wrong.

In this instance, we’re specifically looking at domestic transport within New Zealand.

Whilst at only 4 million people and the land mass of NZ roughly that of the UK or Japan, with the population spread fairly unevenly – about 50% within 4 hours by road from Auckland. The balance of the population are spread rather disparately with a few major cities and many small towns scattered far and wide, presenting a logistical challenge to provide cost effective and timely deliveries. Getting freight to out of the way places will inevitably require transfer between depots, between trucks, and with each there must be an allowance for the passage of time.

Any small delay due to traffic, documentation, weather, force majeure or simple inattention may come at a high price – sometimes critical, sometimes not. Typically, any single problem will add at least one day – sometime more.

Clients ask us to quote a rate (usually not a problem) then a transit time (ah – do we warn that it is subject to outside forces?). Perhaps we should indicate that to get something from A to B has a best case and a worst case scenario.

Unless they have been burnt previously, most people tend to believe what they are told, particularly if the source is credible. Most also tend to hear the bits that they want to hear, and to ignore those pessimistic bits that “may” occur. If we say “No Problem”, they believe us…

That being the case, providing a deadline should only ever be agreed to, subject to prefacing the arrangement with any delays that may arise. Unless we have been given a guarantee, we cannot offer a guarantee.

The onus then is on us to provide a transport solution that is compatible with the needs of the client. The expression, “horses for courses” comes to mind. Unless we’re putting a shipment on one of our own trucks, we are entrusting our credibility to others.

There are carriers who provide an express service between centres, with overnight delivery the norm. Obviously a service like this usually comes at a premium and is unlikely to include a rail component. These service providers work within tightly orchestrated timeframes, where deadlines are strictly adhered to, every day.

Where time is less of an issue, cheaper options can be considered, and will sometimes include rail.

In the event that we are asked to send something to a client, particularly one “off the beaten track”, we should always seek their get their advice as to which carrier they’d prefer us to use. Without exception, someone in Fairlie or Dannevirke will know which carriers pass by their door each day, and probably to the minute. They’ll know the company and probably the driver – both of whom will have a vested interest in making things happen. In the event there is a problem or delay, often the client and the carrier will sort it out themselves (because they know each other).

Having said that, ultimately the responsibility lies with us – the client relies on us to listen to their needs, and to tailor a solution accordingly.

Where a client has indicated a degree of urgency and is relying on us to factor this in, part of our service must be to follow the job through to fruition. Our credibility is on the line, and if a problem occurs it us up to us to be on the job, to pre-empt any issues, and at worst, to advise the client of any delays.

The very worst case scenario is for the client to notify us of a problem or of a missed deadline.

To summarize – no single carrier offers the BEST solution to EVERY destination – there may be a temptation to utilise a generic carrier for our own convenience, but occasionally we may need to remind ourselves that our mission is to what is best for our clients, not what is easiest for ourselves.

I would be pleased to offer any advice that may be required.

News added by: Don Malcolm 8 July 2014

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