Do What You Do Best and Automate the Rest

Over 20 years ago, sectors like the travel industry moved away from manual procedures and paper-based ticketing to digital processes. With margins tightening, airlines also realized that they could eliminate costs and streamline the booking process by enabling customers to book flights directly.

Today, no one thinks twice about using the airlines’ websites to evaluate schedules, compare rates, and book flights. This is a clear lesson for the cargo industry, but it also represents an opportunity to enhance business performance. Since customers are quite willing to do their own work, domain experts are relieved of mundane processes. With resources freed, business can focus on activities that increase revenue and customer stickiness.

In a highly competitive industry, freight forwarders are also looking for ways to be more efficient and support rapidly evolving customer requirements. Market leaders are thinking strategically about how they conduct business and are:

  • Determining which tasks could be standardized, streamlined, and automated
  • Refocusing customer- and carrier-facing resources on relationship building and problem solving to improve customer service
  • Introducing higher-value services to drive revenue and boost profitability

Here’s an example of one forwarder who was able to automate processes to free resources for value-added tasks. A Customs Brokerage was reaching a stage where additional automation was needed to maintain the highest caliber of customer service. Through automating shipment management and other compliance related tasks, they were able to take on more business, add new services, and improve productivity. As a result, they increased shipment volume by 25% and improved productivity by 15%.

“We have seen a 25% increase in volume since implementing Descartes’ technology,” said Gabriel Rodriguez from A Customs Brokerage.  The technology and automation offered by Descartes helped us not just increase the number of customers but gave us an opportunity to grow our range of service offerings. This has helped drive our business to a higher level of operational efficiency.”

Automation Opportunities for Forwarders

Leading forwarders use automation as an opportunity to improve productivity and accelerate business growth. The following chart highlights some prime opportunities for automation, common current practices, and the best practices of digital forwarders:

OpportunityCurrent PracticeBest Practices
Quoting Customers Quote customers via email or phone for every shipment Provide a self-service portal that can quote customers automatically for basic as well as complex multi-leg shipments
Carrier Connectivity Connect to each carrier or use carrier portals to book, track, and monitor shipments   Use network-based services that can quickly connect to a broad range of multimodal carriers  
Linking Internal Systems Use IT resources to connect and maintain links between internal platforms   Use integration-savvy applications to converge communications across backend systems  
Agent and Partner Communication   Rely on email or spreadsheets to communicate with agents and partners   Provide a platform to enable both low-tech and high-tech agents and partners to easily enter and receive information  
Customs Clearance Enter one-off declaration and security filing details or use government portals to connect to government agencies   Use systems that can automate routine or high-volume clearance work, transmit data to government agencies, and enable automated recordkeeping
Documentation   Prepare documents by populating desktop templates or require customers to provide their own documentation Collect data from customers via a web-based platform or offer methods for higher volume customers to transmit information automatically
Shipment Management Coordinate shipments by continuously updating internal systems with shipment status details Use a system that can view and manage all shipments at-a-glance via an integrated, exception-driven dashboard
Accounting Processes Use separate platforms for shipment management and accounting Use a solution that can automatically repurpose shipment data for billing and financial reconciliation
Customer Visibility Provide customers with access to a web-based portal that lists their shipment status Offer a customizable dashboard so customers can view and sort their shipments, connect with the forwarder, and share information
Reporting and Analysis   Use spreadsheet-based reporting to monitor customer patterns and internal performance trends   Use solutions that can offer a deeper level of insight into customer booking, quoting, and rating trends as well as internal performance  

Current practices pull resources away from accelerating business growth while automaton-enabled best practices free resources. With the time freed, forwarders can reallocate resources to revenue generating opportunities. According to the 6th Annual Forwarder/Broker Bench Mark Study, Top Performing forwarders and brokers were 72% more focused on investing in technology to address the changing market and the #1 investment area was Digital Customer Self-Service Experience. With automation forwarders can also turn their attention to streamlining processes and working on internal operations and with carriers to further reduce costs, improve agility and delivery reliability.

Descartes Is Here to Help

No matter the size of your freight forwarding operations, Descartes can help you on your digital transformation journey. From customer engagement to rate management, back office operations, customs filing and carrier and customer messaging, Descartes can help. Our deep understanding of freight forwarder and customs brokerage operations sets us apart. Whether your organization is large or small or only need to address a portion of your operations, Descartes solutions have the flexibility to meet your most pressing needs.

Learn more about Descartes Solutions


In the 6th Annual Forwarder and Broker Benchmark Study we examine trends like digital customer experience, ecommerce. and the impact of the pandemic on forwarders and brokers strategies, tactics and technology thinking and decisions.


Forwarders & Digitization

Read our series on how freight forwarders are succeeding through effective digitization 

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