Is Your FTL Routing Guide on the Right Path?

Emerge Editorial

Much has changed in the trucking industry over the last decade. Whether one looks at advances in technologies like the deployment of Electronic Logging Devices or all the cool things that a TMS can do, there’s no denying that Full Truckload shipping continues to evolve at a rapid clip. While amazing progress has been made in the FTL space, it’s also fair to say that there are aspects of the industry where the mantra, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” still rings true.

One area of FTL shipping that hasn’t changed much is the Routing Guide. A mainstay for shippers and carriers for decades, this all-important document hasn’t morphed at the same pace as other facets of the FTL business. For reasons that include changing market conditions, advances in trucking software and increasingly sophisticated customers, Routing Guides need to reflect the realities of shipping in the twenty-first century.

In this blog, we’ll discuss the reasons why Routing Guides are often behind the times and provide tips on how shippers can revitalize a document that is essential to the operational execution of an FTL strategy.   

Yearly RFPs are a thing of the past. 

Originally, Routing Guides were linked to the once-per-year Request for Proposal (RFP) used by most shippers. Basically, a shipper would invite incumbent carriers and a handful of potential new providers to an RFP, and depending on the results, then send a Routing Guide to the winners. This not only limited a shipper’s access to FTL capacity, but the Routing Guide was too rigid to deal with ongoing changes to a shipper’s business model.

These days, shippers can utilize tools like the Emerge Freight Procurement Platform to conduct multiple RFPs per year to maximize access to carriers, while enhancing sensitivity to ever-changing market conditions. However, in order to make the most of the platform, shippers should also design Routing Guides that can be updated and disseminated quickly. Multiple RFPs per year, along with rapid deployment of up-to-date Routing Guides will quickly produce operational, service and cost benefits not previously experienced by shippers.

Transportation Management System technology has changed the game. 

If there’s one facet of the FTL industry that has made big gains over the years, a big nod must go to TMS software. In addition to original features like carrier contract management and load tendering, TMSs have consistently introduced innovations that include waterfall tendering, route optimization and load-specific milestone reporting.

Apart from internal enhancement to their software, TMS providers have also opened their platforms to third parties that provide services including live shipment tracking, links to third-party freight audit companies and of course, the housing of Routing Guides and Service Level Agreements. Given these enhancements to TMS software, shippers need to prepare digitally formatted Routing Guides so they can be embedded in these platforms.

FTL shippers are more demanding. 

Whereas shippers used to view the “Traffic Department” as a pure expense, enlightened companies now treat the logistics function as a source of competitive advantage. This change in mentality has compelled both shippers and consignees to be much more diligent when measuring tender acceptance vs. rejections, paper rates, carrier lead-time commitments, pickup and delivery appointment discipline and transportation invoice accuracy.

In such a customer-centric environment, Routing Guides need to reflect the fact that companies now treat logistics and transportation as an integral part of their overall Value Proposition. With that point in mind, any Routing Guide has to succinctly capture all customer requirements from the time a load is tendered until goods are shipped, the load is billed and payment is received.

Tips for publishing flexible and easy-to-deploy Routing Guides

Within the above framework, there are a number of techniques that shippers can use to craft Routing Guides that are flexible enough to disseminate quickly, but that contain the level of detail necessary for all parties to know what’s expected of them. In the end, an effective Routing Guide will take advantage of technological advances, while never losing sight of the “human element” that is so integral to moving FTL loads.

Use templates that are designed to support multiple RFPs per year.

Ideally, shippers will combine mini-bids within the Emerge Freight Procurement Platform with Routing Guides that reflect the migration away from yearly bids. Bearing in mind that mini-bids can be conducted for an entire FTL program, but also by region, seasonal peaks, special projects, etc., it’s important that corresponding Routing Guides accommodate mini-bid specifics.

Given the high adoption rates of mini-bids in the FTL market, a modular, “plug and play” approach to Routing Guide design is a good way to go. That implies being able to zero in on the internal and external requirements for a particular aspect of an FTL model without having to reinvent the wheel every time a new mini-bid is conducted. By taking this modular approach, shippers that quickly re-purpose a Routing Guide to fit the needs of a particular mini-bid will enjoy high success rates.

Format Routing Guides for use on different platforms and devices. 

Routing Guides work best when they’re in the hands of folks that use them, in the precise moment they’re needed. Nowadays, that means digitally formatting a Routing Guide for use on both TMS and other platforms like Emerge, but in a way that is accessible on a desktop, laptop, tablet and even a smartphone.

So, not only do Routing Guides need to take a more modular, plug-and-play approach, but they have to be published quickly and in a format that people can access from anywhere. Basically, if a mini-Rbid is for a three-month period, shippers can’t send a Routing Guide to the carrier as an email attachment a month after the fact.  Ideally, contemporary guides will be so easy to access that even a driver on their way to pick up a load can see delivery instructions on their smartphone right before the shipment is executed.

Get as much input as possible before publication. 

Even though today’s Routing Guides must be created and shared quickly, shippers still have to seek input from all parties involved in each FTL scenario. Be it for an entire FTL program or a segmented approach, it is essential that the authors of a Routing Guide understand the capabilities, needs and constraints of shipping/receiving locations, as well as the carriers themselves before a guide is published.

When this “don’t forget the humans” approach is taken, Routing Guides will have a high degree of accuracy the first time around and won’t require a lot of edits. Also, as time goes by, the modular approach to Routing Guide management permits folks to execute more quickly by building on existing knowledge, but also by being able to add more details as new and/or evolved scenarios arise.  

A picture is worth a thousand words. 

In this day and age, most people can’t read an entire tweet without getting distracted, so it’s a stretch to think that anyone is going to read a 50,000-word Routing Guide. To the extent possible, keep the word count low, opting for succinct instructions and bullet points as opposed to long-winded dissertations.

In support of prose-based instructions, be sure to include lots of images and photos, too. Whether it’s a picture of how a driver should approach a tricky entrance to a yard or an image of a properly itemized freight invoice, it’s a lot easier for the human mind to comprehend a visual representation of a process or activity than it is to read (and re-read) instructions.

Closing Comments

With so many innovations and changes in the Full Truckload industry over the last few decades, it only stands to reason that Routing Guides need to keep up with the times. In fact, when you think about it, there’s little benefit to an FTL program if the adoption of new technologies or innovations isn’t accompanied by Routing Guides that are succinct, flexible and easy to access.

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