That makes this an important read for brokers, because that makes this either the single biggest mistake you’re making or the single biggest reason someone would stop doing business with another broker and work with you instead.
The first big mistake brokers make is being unclear with instructions. So many business problems start with expectations that are either unclear or too high. At that point, you haven’t even selected a carrier yet and your shipment is in trouble. Make sure your rate con is clear, and that your customer understands it. If you’ve been doing business with a customer for a while or you know that they are a particularly savvy shipper, maybe that’s not a concern, but don’t make assumptions about what they know. Beyond the obvious factors like time, equipment type, and your quote, check to see if there are any little details about the locations or freight your driver should know and be ready to address. The bottom line is this: if you, the driver, the shipper, and the receiver don’t all have the same idea of what’s going to happen, someone is going to be upset.
The classic take on managing expectations is “underpromise and overdeliver.” That works great in a lot of businesses, but most of the time in freight, that’s not an option either. Delivering a load early can cause as many problems as delivering it late, quoting too high will cost you sales, and brokering a deal for multiple parties means that everyone has to agree on the exact details. Underpromising to the customer may be overpromising to the carrier, and vice versa. There’s just no way around it – you need good information, communicated clearly. Everyone you’re working with needs to have the exact same expectations, and everyone needs to deliver on them. Last week on The Broker Bros podcast, we told you about the importance of referrals in order to grow your business, and Forbes links managing expectations directly to referrals. Delivering what you promise is an important step in growing your business and making more money.
Most freight brokers aren’t setting out to deceive their customers, but there’s more to honest communication than just not lying. Failing to be open with your customer is a problem at the best of times, but can become really destructive when something else goes wrong and it’s time to address it. A late shipment is probably the most common example. You need to be transparent with your customer, and make sure that you’re getting them all the information they need. Sometimes, it would be a lot easier to tell your customer everything is fine and then work it out so hopefully they never have a problem. For that matter, that might sound better to your customer if they don’t think about it too much. You don’t want to call your customer and tell them a shipment might be late any more than they want to get that call. The problem is, as hard as it is to tell a customer their shipment isn’t going to arrive on time, that conversation gets a lot harder if the problem can’t be fixed and they end up calling you wanting to know where their shipment is.
Now, this is where your expectation management starts to pay off. If you have had conversations with your customer about the risks in freight, and your customer understands, then you’re playing the hero. You’re the one calling them and saying “there has been a problem, and I’m on it.” If they don’t understand your role or they weren’t aware of a risk with this shipment, instead they’re just going to see you as the person who messed up their freight – especially if they had to call you to tell you about the problem. You have to be prepared to have hard conversations. It’s the difference between a tough incident demonstrating how important you are to your customer, or demonstrating that they need someone else.
Timing is Critical
This has already been touched on, but it’s worth emphasizing. When you tell your customer something is a huge part of their experience. As discussed above, you really can’t afford to tell them after they already know, but a good rule of thumb is that sooner is better. The more warning they have, the more time they have to adjust their plans, communicate to their own stakeholders, or make any other adjustments that they need to. There’s nothing wrong with making an effort to confirm or correct any issues that come up, but once you realize there’s an issue that has a good chance of affecting your customer, it’s time to talk to them.
This is another point that comes back to expectation management, as well. After all, the best time to tell a customer something they need to know is before it ever happens. A conversation ahead of time about what to expect from you when something goes wrong is a great way to get ahead of potential problems, and a great chance to demonstrate why they need you. You can demonstrate that you have expertise that comes into play when something goes wrong. They don’t get blindsided with the problems; they get a heads up from you that you’re doing everything you can based on the backup plans you’ve already discussed.
Listen to Them
So far, we’ve talked about one way communication – you to them. Those are where the most common mistakes come up, but failing to really listen to your customers is a huge one. Maybe the single biggest thing you can offer your customer is that, as a freight broker, or especially as an independent agent, you know their business and you manage the relationship with them. You can really become part of what makes their business work and be almost as much a part of their company as an employee. To do that though, you have to listen. Make sure that you understand their business better than they can get anywhere else, and that they see that become an advantage to them. If you’re a relatively small agency or you only manage a few accounts, this might come naturally, but you can refer to our CRM blog post if you have a lot of customers or just need help staying organized. Don’t be afraid to brush up on your soft skills, either, like this Active Listening Practice from UC Berkeley.
The bottom line is, you and your customer have your business relationship because you have knowledge and information they need, and you provide it in the way that best suits their business out of their other options. That is not something you can do unless you’re communicating clearly, honestly, and timely, and then listening to their feedback.