Detention: Three Ways Carriers Can Minimize Wait Times

Emerge Editorial

It may usually be the shipper that pays the final invoice, but as a carrier, detention and unnecessary wait times can disrupt operations throughout the driver’s shift, with impacts far beyond the shipper where detention occurs. And contrary to what a lot of shipping docks may think, detention is definitely not a source of free profit for any trucking company. The cost of detention is far greater than what can be recovered through a few hours’ worth of detention fees.

This is because detention costs extend far beyond just paying for a driver’s time and include harder-to-quantify costs such as the underutilization of equipment and the opportunities missed to move other loads. Perhaps worse yet, it’s actually the driver who gets penalized the most since they’re unable to be out on the road covering miles, which is how they’re paid.

Shipper Accountability for Wait Times

Carriers understand the basics of detention and wait times, with $50 to $100 per hour being typical rates once the two hours “free” most carriers offer runs. Knowing the market rate for what other carriers charge is important, so if you’re a carrier who’s undercharging, you should probably rethink your rates.

Being compensated fairly is important because detention is often the result of something that carriers and drivers cannot control. There can be any number of problems that increase wait times, including production delays, short-staffing on the dock, or simply because there is too much freight that needs to go out at the same time.

But, as we’ve explained, regardless of the cause, it’s always the carriers and their drivers who pay the real price. Fortunately, there are still things trucking companies can do to minimize wait times.

How Carriers Can Minimize Wait Times and Avoid Detention

Like many things, the best way to avoid unnecessary wait times and delays is through better planning and communication. Obviously, showing up on time is non-negotiable when it comes to minimizing wait times. Ideally, shippers will offer the chance to book appointments, and arriving on time is a must to ensure a smooth pick-up. A missed appointment has just as much impact on a shipper’s schedule and productivity as extra wait-time at the dock does for a carrier.

Here are three ways carriers can help reduce the time they spend waiting at shippers’ docks.

1 Know That Shippers Have Limitations

The first thing carriers should do is understand how the shipper operates. They’re all dealing with certain constraints, too. For example, they only have so much dock space, dock doors, and people to load trucks.

Taking time to understand the shipper’s perspective presents an opportunity to set your company apart. For example, offering to drop a trailer, so a load can be preloaded for a drop and hook or in the yard if the shipper has a yard jockey and there’s space to alleviate pressure on the shipping dock. These options provide more flexibility and can benefit both parties.

Moving freight efficiently takes teamwork, so the more you understand what the shipper needs, the more you can help (while also helping yourself.) And, you’ll receive that consideration back when shippers see you’re vested in helping them deal with their challenges and understand their needs. In other words, taking an adversarial approach on an issue like wait time is counter-productive. This is not to say any carrier should allow itself to be taken advantage of, but when you have a chance to help a valuable customer—do it.

2 Become a Carrier of Choice

For years, shippers have heard that they must jump through hoops to be seen as a shipper of choice. The reality is it’s more of a buyer’s market right now in freight than it’s been in a while. The result is shippers have more options, so relationship building has become more important for carriers. But, shippers still appreciate, and take care of, the carriers who they need and like.

When carriers have high-value or high-potential shippers in their sights, there are several layers of relationships carriers need to manage. One of the biggest is understanding who is choosing who gets assigned a load. It goes without saying that carriers need to ensure deliveries go well so that positive feedback gets back to the decision maker.

Another critical relationship is between the dispatcher and dock, and smart carriers take steps to win over logistics teams at all levels. There is a lot that gets resolved between dispatchers and shipping clerks most logistics managers and above have no idea about.  So, don’t underestimate it. Ensure dispatchers are empowered to help and be flexible to deal with any situation that comes up. Doing so can help avoid a lot of waiting time. The payoff to becoming a carrier of choice will not just include more loads but also the potential for preferential loading and treatment.

3 Prepare Your Drivers

It should go without saying that equipment and drivers’ professionalism also matter.

As we’ve already said, drivers pay a high price regarding wait times and detention. And with many carriers still struggling to find enough qualified drivers, their importance in this discussion is all the more critical. In a way, a focus on minimizing wait times is a focus on driver retention, too.

As every carrier knows, driver time spent waiting is time used against their Hour of Service allotment. So, any unnecessary time spent at the dock has a lasting impact. It’s good to ensure, through proper training, that drivers are prepared and onboard with doing what’s needed to maintain a strong relationship with every shipping dock they interact with.

Detention may not usually be your fault, but it’s still your problem as a carrier. It’s essential to protect your company’s interests by doing what you can, within reason, to mitigate unnecessary time spent waiting. 

And, by taking steps to help yourself with these types of solutions and approaches, you’ll strengthen your relationship with key shipper partners and be better for it in the long run.

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