placards

I recently had the experience of taking a rather in-depth course on the labeling, placarding, and transport of hazardous materials (US domestic ground/air/ocean). I’m officially certified to do these things now! I can tell you that it is really, really complicated. Once upon a time, at my previous job with a national LTL carrier, we had to do a sort of mini-course. It was not particularly in-depth because we had a great computer program that took all of the guesswork out of the process. It even warned us when we tried to load different materials that could not be co-mingled. I now have no such software and I actually have to know my stuff. Today’s post is about the customer issues I see most often.

  1. Not using proper hazmat shipping name. If you reference 49CFR §172.101, column 2, you will find the proper shipping names of every hazmat substance. The regular type descriptions are required, the italicized type is an optional addition.
  2. Not providing a real 24-hour emergency contact. The emergency contact and number are there in case the absolute worst happens. The person who answers must be available 24/7 and must be knowledgeable about how to deal with a critical situation. It cannot just be your warehouse manager who may or may not answer the phone at 3am. If you list Chemtrec or another service, you need to have an account with them or you will be fined.
  3. Not listing the number of packages on a pallet (explosives in particular). This can actually be a carrier-specific requirement, but be prepared to provide the net explosive mass and the number of packages if there are multiples on a pallet.
  4. Customer does not provide placards. The shipper/consignor is responsible for providing placards for the truck, NOT the carrier.

Don’t try to skate by on this stuff. The maximum civil fine for violating federal hazardous material transportation law is $75,000.00, whether you realized you were doing it or not. If someone is injured, sickened or killed as a result of negligence the maximum fine is $175,000.00. That’s just the fines. Wait until you get sued on top of that. Bottom line: train your employees and get your labeling right! Doing the full training was a real eye-opener, and if you deal with hazmat as a vendor or as a carrier, I strongly recommend you take a training course.

 

 

Hey Jennfier, thanks for asking! I went from working in an actual freight terminal for 12 years to working for a 3PL (third-party logistics) for the last 4 years. Honestly it has been dreamy, because I did everything from city dispatch, inbound and outbound operations, OSAD, payment entry, and supervising on the dock from time to time. Now it is all desk, and climate controlled. Although there are some drawbacks. And it depends on the level of customer service that you provide. This is from my own US domestic LTL experience, in no particular order.

Pros:

  • I can telecommute. 3 ft of snow in the driveway does not prevent me from getting stuff done (I guess that could be a pro or a con).
  • I do not have to worry about mechanical issues, towing, things freezing up.
  • No freight dust!
  • Better hours. Our office is typically open from 7am-5pm, M-F. No need to stay late for OB ops!
  • Access to multiple routing and cost options, rather than just standard or expedited within a single system. I can choose from maybe a dozen different carriers, depending on the lane. That flexibility keeps customers happy.
  • From my own experience (your mileage may vary) brokers are more flexible in making decisions about pricing, credits, etc. When I worked for a big national freight company we had to go through about 3 layers of authorization to make any concessions to a customer. Now we can just do what we need to do.

Cons:

  • I can’t make anyone do anything. Whether it is dispatch, OSAD or whatever, I can’t control what a carrier chooses to make a priority, unless I have an “in” with a manager. Usually I do not since I cover the whole US. The lack of control over the situation is the #1 frustration.
  • Depending on your level of service, you may still have to deal with OSAD and filing claims for your clients. Some brokers do, some do not. But it is through an additional channel so getting results takes longer.
  • Establishing trust with new clients can be difficult, especially if you are an asset-light broker. They need to know you will still be around to help them out next week, month, year and not just leave them high and dry if your company folds.
  • Sometimes you have to be concerned about non-compete clauses in your carrier contract. On occasion a customer might call (just for example) FedEx, and get a quote from them, but then call you to get a FedEx quote through your broker pricing. That does not fly. You may have to turn that shipment down.
  • Related to the above, some carrier employees resent 3PL’s because they are undercutting their pricing but that same carrier still has to do the physical work. This is a fact, can’t deny it. But that is between local sales and their own corporate sales. Not us. But sometimes they take it out on us.

Personally I have been very happy with the change because I just have fewer day-to-day hassles and I can concentrate on customer service. But there are trade-offs. I hope that helps. Feel free to ask me something else. 🙂

Back when the internet was still new-ish to some people, my somewhat paranoid aunt-in-law sent out an alarmist email noting that through the internet (Mapquest, Google and 411.org) people could find a map to exactly where you live and then presumably rob you and murder you. I never understood this concern because my hard copy phone book had all of this info and also a map of the city.

As a transportation professional I thought this was the greatest thing ever, because when picking up or delivering freight, especially in a residential area, it was much easier to track people down and made our team more efficient. Such was my response to the alarmist email, but I received no reply.

And now we have Google Street View. It’s not perfect. It shows my house as being about 3 houses down from my actual location. However! I and my current team have been able to either justify or challenge certain accessorial charges thanks to the service. Only yesterday morning one of my colleagues successfully challenged a residential delivery charge with a screen shot, from Google Street View, demonstrating that the delivery location in question was indeed in an industrial park.

Money saved. Thanks Google, and the internet in general. You rock.

On this blog there are some days when I might post a rant. Today is one of those days.

I had one customer call me, and another email, at almost exactly the same time, indicating that they were closing soon and the carrier we had assigned had not been in to pick up the freight. In one case this was the second day in a row. I called that carrier’s customer service today – Friday – and they indicated that they would not be able to pick up for either customer because they were still backed up from a snow storm on Monday. Now, I live in Fargo, ND so I am pretty sensitive to the realities of weather. It can be brutal, and it is December. However, since those pickups were in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, and I live in Fargo, I can tell you that this was a big fat lie. There was no “snow storm” in Fargo on Monday. There was a very small amount of freezing rain, and that burned off pretty quickly. At the moment there is not enough snow to cover the grass in our yard. When I pointed this out to the customer service rep she doubled-down and said it was also windy. It is always windy in North Dakota. But it was actually LESS windy this week than it normally is. We had 2 days in a row of fog. That is really rare. It’s not even that cold. And yet she stuck to her story.

I have worked on the other side of things, on days when my own drivers were struggling to put put chains on their tires, when it was so cold trucks wouldn’t start, when everyone was sliding through intersections. I personally completed a full 360 spin on the ice on my way to work one day. When it is not safe to travel then nobody, professional or otherwise, should be on the road. But Monday was not one of these days. Not even a little. And even if there were a full-fledged blizzard they still should have been reasonably caught up in 4 days.

So my friends, if you are going to use the weather as an excuse for a pickup or delivery failure, at least make it plausible. I mean, really.

LTL shipping is really expensive! Are you getting the best deal you can?

Typically a sales rep will visit with you and ask about what products you ship, how often, how much. They will offer you a discount on their base rate. You’ll usually get a better discount if you ship more product. That is your first step for comparing different carriers. But, if you often use particular accessorials (extra services) you might be able to strike a deal with a carrier to reduce rates on a variety of services. For example:

  • Guaranteed on-time
  • Liftgate
  • Limited Access
  • Residential
  • Sort and Segregate

For instance, if a lot of your customers are residential, ask if you can knock 50% off of that charge as part of your contract. Even if you can’t get a lower cost on your base rate, discounts on accessorials can save you a  lot of money in the long run.

You can also deal with class exceptions. Depending on the type of product you move, or if you move all types of products, a carrier may grant you a class exception (EX) or an FAK (Freight of All Kinds). I have seen FAK used more often in government contracts, and EX in commercial moves. If you ship items that range anywhere from c70-150 the carrier might, just for example, give you a class exception of 85 across the board so you don’t have to concern yourself with all the math for every shipment. For the carrier it kind of evens out in the end, and it might make your job a little easier. Be careful with EX and FAK’s though and read your contract. Accepting a lower class/lower cost may reduce the carrier liability in cases of loss or damage.

If you are shipping primarily using a 3rd Party Logistics company (3PL) you will probably be dealing mostly with a discounted rate program, but it does not hurt to ask about accessorials. They may already have special rates in place with their partner carriers on some services.

If you do not use LTL very often then you have less to bargain with. If you only ship LTL on rare occasions make sure to get a rate quote prior to shipping. LTL carriers usually give a one-time discounted rate as an incentive to get you to ship more product with them. Always write your quote number on your BOL!

Everything is negotiable.

Today I’m answering a reader question:

How do you deal with LTL companies that are taking up to 6 months to obtain a POD from the consignee?

So, you called customer service, again and again, and they’ll “get it to you,” and then they don’t, and in the meantime you need to close out this invoice. Here’s the chain of command:

  1. Hassle your sales rep for that carrier. It is his/her job to take care of issues for you when customer service just isn’t doing the job. They often work at least partly on commission, so they need you to want to do business with them.
  2. If you do not have a regular rep then call the branch manager of the delivering terminal. If you are having a hard time finding the number, or you hold for a half hour before giving up, look up the number on Google or 411.org. Don’t settle for customer service, talk to the person in charge.
  3. LAST RESORT ONLY – file a claim. This is actually a jerk move and should only be used in extreme cases, but it will get the carrier’s attention. If they cannot produce a POD, they can’t prove that they actually delivered the freight. Caveat – the carrier won’t pay out claims unless the invoice has been paid, which leads us to…
  4. Make POD documentation a requirement for payment of invoices if this is a recurring problem. If you don’t give them money it will get their attention pretty quickly. And then you say “gosh, I’d love to give you money, but you see our accounting department requires us to have a POD in order to send payment. So you better get on that.”

I hope this was helpful. Feel free to comment or ask other questions!

In an earlier post I demonstrated an instance where a carrier had reweighed freight at a higher weight, but had not corrected to a lower class per density rules. For the last couple weeks I’ve had an opposite situation. Carriers have been reweighing items at a LOWER weight, and then correcting to a higher class. This is legit. In cases where you have a density item you should not over-estimate the weight.

The part that annoys me is that when the weight has been increased the carrier did not correct to a lower class. But when the weight was decreased they did correct to the higher class. I don’t usually call shenanigans on these things, as I used to work for an LTL carrier and I know that human beings are making these corrections. But as such, while humans make mistakes, it just seems a little fishy. I used to think customers who got very confrontational about overcharges and corrections were just being paranoid. I’m starting to feel it myself now that I am on the other side of it.