Over the past months, numerous extreme weather conditions have shaken up the international freight forwarding industry – causing major delays for international cargo and tremendous difficulties for many Australian companies.
Just recently, stevedores in Sydney and other cities had to shut down due to extreme winds. In October, Germany faced one of its worst hurricanes, causing massive destruction across the whole country. The USA and Puerto Rico were hit by Hurricane Maria in September, also leaving major chaos in its wake. Adelaide and South Australia faced damaging winds and heavy rainfalls in August, causing flooding to several areas of the state. These are only a few to name, and with the Northern Hemisphere Winter at our doorstep, further disruptions can be expected. Even when these severe weather events do not occur in Australia, they still have a significant impact on international freight forwarding.
No matter if you are a CEO or an Operations Manager, you may wonder how your supply chain can be prepared for incidents like these? How to ensure the delivery of your customers’ goods, and what proactive measures can be utilised to secure the supply chain in the face of adverse weather events?
Read on to learn about proactive measures that you can take for your international freight forwarding tasks before, during and following severe weather conditions.
1) Know your market conditions and demand to keep cargo flowing
Understanding the demands and market conditions is fundamental for consistent supply chain and a successful business. This is particularly so for source locations prone to severe weather conditions. Identify the peaks and troughs of the demand for your specific goods throughout the year, and strategically stock up on product ahead of peak periods. Where possible, consider an alternative source location to ensure your products will safely leave the origin and reach its destination.
2) Have a Plan B
When importing goods various freight routes are available. For example, when shipping from Europe to Australia, the direct route is often the fastest and most costly option. However many Australian businesses are using a cheaper transshipment option, with goods transiting at one or more locations on its way to Australia. Cargo may even change ships. If goods are being transhipped, check with your freight forwarder which ports your freight will be stopping at, and whether any of these locations are prone to extreme seasonal weather conditions.
To avoid potential delays, select alternative routes or direct shipping for periods prone to adverse weather events. Check with your freight forwarder and utilise their experiences for particular locations. This is ideally done when planning your annual shipment schedule. Consistently grow your knowledge and refine your supply chain accordingly.
Just like you, your freight forwarding provider also needs to be flexible with their services. Are they able to move additional freight volumes or offer alternative routing at short notice? We recommend clarifying such issues early on, in order to be prepared before a major incident occurs.
For very urgent cargo at last minute, you might even need to switch to air freight as your mode of transportation, which again should be offered by a competent freight forwarder.
3) Keep up the information flow within your supply chain
To keep delays and fallouts to a minimum, communication needs to be streamlined across the entire supply chain. Every part of the supply chain needs to be informed about unexpected delays, transportation interruptions and other irregularities, allowing you the chance to stay in control and quickly respond.
Times like this can prove whether you are working with the right freight forwarding and service providers. You may have bet on the wrong horse by selecting the cheapest service, only to discover its inability to react to changeable scenarios. On the other hand, situations like this may show that you are working with the right freight forwarder – who has taken control of the situation, kept you informed, offered alternative routes and other measures to keep your freight moving along the supply chain flow. This will provide a clear indication of what to expect in other severe situations, and whether to strengthen the existing relationship with your freight forwarder or finding a new freight partner.
4) Increasing customer loyalty in times of severe weather conditions and delays
Even if you have prepared your business for any possible incident, delays are inevitable, and do not necessarily result in loss of your customers. Remember, if you are affected by adverse weather conditions and a slowing of your supply chain, chances are your competitors are similarly affected.
Consider an incident like this as an opportunity to prove to your customers your ability to perform under pressure and deliver great customer service.
- If you are aware of delays, proactively inform your customers and let them know what is being done to deliver their goods as soon as possible. Keep customers frequently informed about the location of their goods – no matter if you are a B2B or B2C company. We live in times where communication is key and information is accessible 24/7 through internet and mobile devices.
- Only communicate the expected date of arrival if you know for certain the goods will be delivered on that day. Otherwise, you risk confusing and upsetting your customers.
- You know your customer best. You should proactively answer any questions your customer may have at this point, demonstrating your expertise and developing trust.
- Offer similar goods in stock as an alternative. If a customer ordered numerous goods and only one product is missing, send out the other products without charging for shipping.
- Show empathy. Your customers may react angrily even though it is not your fault and you have done everything to prevent delays. Put yourself in your customer’s position. Delays may have caused them major inconveniences. Take an understanding approach and try developing solutions together with your customer. This again can build great trust and a long-lasting relationship.
- If you believe you are exceeding with measures to prevent delays due to severe weather conditions (or any other reasons), keep your customers informed about them (before or after incidents occur). Explain what has been done and how this will support your customers in the future.
5) Be prepared with a contingency plan for your freight forwarding tasks
Have your imports been affected by major weather events for the first time? Or do weather incidents frequently interfere with your supply chain? It may be time for a contingency plan. Summarise the above measures in one plan and discuss them with your team. This will prepare you for future disruptions. Having everybody on the same page and maintaining ongoing communication between all stakeholders and service providers in your supply chain is crucial for a reliable contingency plan.
Whilst you cannot foresee every severe weather condition or other impacts on your supply chain, you can still prepare your business and take measures to minimise disruptions. By following the above recommendations you can even turn an unexpected disaster into a positive customer experience.
For more than a century, BCR has continued to help small, medium and large businesses achieve an optimum logistics solution with warehousing and transportation, including air freight and sea freight services to and from the major ports including Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle (Perth).