Navigating the Freight Booking Process

If your booking management feels unnecessarily long and arduous, that’s probably because it is. The freight booking process poses a challenge to shippers and forwarders alike, often requiring 10-20 emails from request to confirmation.

As a freight forwarder, it’s your job to knock down roadblocks that stand between you and potential customers. So, let’s talk about what booking looks like in today’s shipping market, the challenges surrounding it, and how forwarders can improve that process.

The current state of freight booking

Booking is a critical step in locking down orders and making sure the transit process runs smoothly from start to finish. However, it’s also hard to pull off efficiently, especially as your operation scales. That’s why it’s important to examine your current booking process to see how your team can level up your process and decrease the wait time for prospective customers.

Challenge #1: Securing a single booking is a multi-step process

Creating a booking is far from a simple task on either side– but especially from the shipper’s perspective.

To better understand your customers’ booking experience, let’s put ourselves in the shipper’s shoes. First, you’ll begin the process with a booking request, typically through phone, email, or a form on your forwarder’s website.

In this document, you’ll outline the details of the shipment, including:

  • Consignee
  • Mode
  • Pickup/destination
  • Cargo type
  • Cargo dimensions
  • Special requirements
  • Container (or loose cargo) size and quantity

Once your forwarder receives the request, they’ll talk to their carrier options to figure out whether or not they can accept the booking given available space and equipment. During this step, they may also find that the information they’ve received is insufficient to proceed with the booking. In that case, they’ll request additional details, and in turn, you’ll consult your stakeholders, resources, and records to dig up the information they need.

On top of the delays you’ll face from any hiccups that arise, you’ll also get used to waiting for a response from the other party after each message. Circumstances may change significantly during this in-between period, and the carrier may run out of space altogether for the time you planned to book. Therefore, it may be smart to hedge your bets by sending booking requests to multiple forwarders in the first place.

Challenge #2: Shippers have limited visibility into the status of booking requests

As a shipper, the time it takes to fill in a booking request can add up. On top of that, it’s easy to be frustrated by the lack of visibility into the forwarder’s progress once you send it. Especially with the volatility in the logistics industry, securing a shipment early on is often at the top of your priority list. Therefore, it’s crucial to be kept informed throughout the booking process, in case you need to resolve any issues or pivot your transport plans.

The problem is, most of the time, shippers have no insight into their forwarder’s availability until they receive a response to their request. That means you’ll need to call or email the forwarder to confirm they’ve received the message and ask for an update. This time spent making and answering phone calls can slow down the process even further.

Challenge #3: Keeping track of booking requests is difficult

In the midst of fielding countless bookings from current and prospective customers, it’s easy for one to get lost. Especially when requests are coming in from multiple sources, forwarders can quickly lose track of any inquiry that isn’t top of mind.

This can be frustrating to shippers who are left waiting for a response and may even face delays as a result. In turn, they may cancel the job to go with a provider who replies more promptly, or even completely end their relationship with a forwarder after enough negative booking encounters.

How to improve booking at your company

As a forwarder, it’s easy to focus on shipping issues solely from your point of view. By putting yourself in your shippers’ shoes, you can better understand their struggles and roadblocks. Fortunately, when it comes to booking, there are several changes forwarders can make to improve efficiency for both parties.

Provide your shippers with clear requirements

As we discussed earlier, the back and forth communication to gather all of the necessary information for a shipment can be frustrating and time-consuming. Fortunately, forwarders can help resolve this problem by providing clear-cut guidelines for creating a booking, depending on the shipment type.

You can provide specifications in the form of a downloadable template, a checklist, or an electronic form with required fields. If shippers are clear on what’s needed in order to process the booking, they’ll be able to find the required information ahead of time, reducing friction down the line.

Conduct bookings through an online portal

One of the simplest answers to improving any freight forwarding process is to shift it to digital, and booking is no exception. Adopting a software platform to manage your bookings can improve accuracy, consolidate data, and reduce the amount of time your customers spend creating jobs.

While researching and buying the right solution may incur additional costs at the start, it’ll pay off over time and help set you apart from the competition. In fact, according to a McKinsey report, only 6% of the largest ocean carriers and freight forwarders have end-to-end online booking capabilities.

When deciding on a software, look for one that will integrate directly into your existing technology. Typically, this will result in a better experience for both your customers and employees by allowing them to interface on a single platform. Additionally, with an integrated solution, you won’t need to worry about transferring information between platforms– a task that can both slow down your team and compromise your data integrity.

Leverage digital tools to manage other processes

Shifting your bookings to a digital platform will have the most significant and direct effect on efficiency. However, if you’re behind on optimizing other aspects of your operation, that’s also going to bleed into your booking process.

Keep in mind that undergoing a digital transformation can be tricky, and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your list of processes to improve, try to prioritize aspects that touch booking directly.

To start, getting a document management system can help you get a better handle on your booking requests, confirmations, and related shipment documents. By getting on top of your file organization, you can retrieve information more quickly, resulting in fewer delays throughout the process.

Managing quotes with a digital solution is another improvement that can make a big impact on your booking experience. Calculating rates and sending quotes can be pretty time-consuming. Therefore, using a tool to optimize them can cut a significant amount of time out of your bookings– especially at the start of the process, when it matters most to customers. In turn, you can more quickly secure new business and increase customer satisfaction overall.

Final thoughts

As a freight forwarder, perfecting your booking process is a key step in securing business, communicating with customers, and making sure your shipments go out without a hitch. By implementing key strategies and adopting the right technologies, you can improve customer satisfaction, save resources, and gain new business through your booking process.

Want to find out if your company’s tech is up to scratch? Check out our Tech Stack Scoring Guide to see where your tech stands, and how you can level up your digital solutions to compete in today’s landscape.