How To Be a Modern Digital Forwarder

Shippers are quickly learning that they need digital forwarders as transportation partners.

Shippers are quickly learning that they need digital forwarders as transportation partners. With the demands for faster and cheaper transportation placed on global logistics professionals these days, the old methods of doing business with forwarders won’t work anymore.

This means that when it comes to technology forwarders like you need to lead the way for your shipper customers. The systems you use to run your business and service your customers’ needs are what will differentiate you from your competitors. So, when a potential customer asks what makes you better than their current provider, you’ll be able to give them a great answer: We are a true digital forwarder!

A TMS Is Not Enough

At the same time, forwarders need to remember that simply having a TMS does not make you a “digital forwarder,” since there are a lot of things TMS systems don’t do very well or even at all. Forwarders can be limited by the weak functionality in specific areas of a TMS such as real-time tracking and ocean container booking. TMS data also remains siloed and unavailable to most parts of a shipper’s organization.

At the bare minimum, forwarders should have a TMS while also understanding that it’s not enough by itself. It’s just the first step of creating a complete solution. The most successful forwarders take advantage of data interoperability and build their own technology stack to connect the best solutions for their customers’ specific needs.

What Makes a Forwarder Modern?

To really be “digital,” a modern forwarder needs to provide its shipper customers with a comprehensive range of solutions that are easily accessible online. You probably use a TMS already — most forwarders do. There’s nothing special or modern about that.

This means you need to find technological tools that do more by filling in the gaps and offering your customers a complete, digital platform. Most importantly, you need to give shippers a reason to leave their current provider and work with you. That’s not easy, but it can be done.

Here are some additional ways you can serve shippers by using technology and convince them to choose you over the competition:

  • Presenting an easy to use portal for quoting and scheduling shipments (WITH booking confirmations)
  • Providing true online real-time track and trace for all modes, including ocean, air, and road
  • Giving instant contract conversions with the ability to add markups for tariffs and customer-specific rates
  • Acting as a one-stop, multi-modal freight facilitator
  • Using up-to-date reporting and data analytics to drive strategic decision making
  • Offering online payment opportunities
  • Eliminating inaccurate data, digitizing documentation, and speeding up data entry
  • Connecting to a client’s inventory management system for real-time updates via API

Are You Losing Business To Digital Competitors?

You likely are — even if you don’t know it yet. Shippers are beginning to demand an online user-friendly interface from their transportation partners. And, the industry is already seeing a migration of customers to digital forwarders. There has been nothing normal about 2020, but as things stabilize over the next 12 months, you may find some unpleasant surprises when you see what pre-COVID business you’ve maintained.

It’s About That Data

Shippers rely on their forwarding partners to be the lynchpin of their supply chain. A big part of this goes beyond the physical movement of their freight. When you are a digital forwarder, you become a vital hub for shipping data, which drives many other parts of a shipper’s business too. From purchasing to operations to customer service, they need you. Being digital means having the ability to freely move a shipper’s information back-and-forth between systems throughout the entire supply chain process.

Do This Now

Five years ago having a website and a TMS classified a forwarder as tech-enabled. That may have been advanced then, but those days are gone. Today, shippers expect forwarders to provide a seamless online experience that covers quoting, booking, real-time tracking, and more.

So, if you are a freight forwarder who wants to be a long-term logistics provider for your shipper clients, you need to think of yourself as a hub of data and information. To do that, you’ll need to integrate the best technology throughout every part of your operation. While a TMS makes a great foundation for your forwarding technology stack, it’s systems like that actually complete the picture and enable you to become a true digital forwarder.