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Nothing is business as usual right now. As the market for non-essential products and services has declined, we’ve seen a boom in demand for materials like food, packaged goods and medical supplies. As a result, some of the world’s largest essential shippers are turning to technology to ensure their critical shipments make it to the shelves.

Despite isolated stockouts due to panic buying, the US supply chain has largely proven itself capable of meeting surging demand for food and beverage and consumer packaged goods (CPG) products. They do so at a cost, however. FourKites’ reports indicate that facilities had been struggling to efficiently process the surge in shipment volumes, resulting in long delays for truckers and other front-line workers at facilities in the US and Europe. Truck volumes and average dwell times at delivery facilities have been improving over the last several weeks, however, as tracked by FourKites’ live Network Congestion Map.

Here’s how some FourKites customers, including some of the world’s leading essential goods companies, are adjusting their operations for the new normal.

Putting Food on the Table

Even though the US supply chain has shown resilience throughout this crisis, it’s been exhibiting increased signs of strain in recent weeks. First in CPG, then in food and beverage, FourKites research showed shipments on the decline as plant shutdowns and other workforce disruptions forced manufacturers to slow production.

One FourKites customer, a major food distributor based primarily within the US, is a textbook example. Within days of COVID-19 reaching US shores, the distributor saw their average load count shoot up by nearly 3,000 additional shipments per week. Maintaining close tracking on these loads was critical to ensure that food made it to all destinations as planned.

As load volume increased in response to the crisis, however, it became exceedingly difficult for the company to keep detailed tabs on all its live loads. Everyone – the distributor’s staff, their carriers and even their drivers – was overwhelmed with managing the load volume.

Using FourKites, customer service was able to streamline their requests to dispatchers, ensuring that they gleaned as much information as possible on loads before reaching out to collect any missing data. Better visibility allows beleaguered staff members to research thousands of shipments at once and avoid double-charges and fines – all while improving working relationships with carriers by minimizing their manual queries and reaching out only when necessary. The food distributor credits better visibility with smoother daily track-and-trace operations, improved carrier response rates, reduction in fines and fees, and an overall happier and more effective workforce.

“Right now, everyone is swamped, so having visibility is really helpful,” said an analyst for the distributor. “Knowing when to chase people for information and when to wait because a building had to push deliveries back has been enormously valuable. Local dispatch doesn’t need me asking them for updates on shipments that are rolling down the road right now – and with FourKites, I have a grasp on which loads have been pushed. As suppliers, we need to know our deliveries have arrived where they are needed. I’ve been using FourKites to backfill the holes in our EDI delivery data wherever I can.”

Thinking Ahead, Not Looking Back

In order for business to survive a crisis, you can’t settle for reactive processes. You need to create opportunities for proactive customer service – and in some cases, self-service – as well. One of the best examples I’ve seen in these unprecedented times came from a FourKites customer in the medical manufacturing space.

As the COVID-19 virus began to spread across the United States, this major US-based manufacturer of personal protective equipment was getting inundated with order status requests from anxious clients. As customer service teams scrambled to address each new information request, they were forced to sacrifice time and resources needed for actually processing those shipments and managing delivery exceptions.

Having versatile supply chain technology can make all the difference when facing a challenge like theirs. To help take the pressure off of their customer service reps (CSRs), the company quickly set up a series of custom load designations for all goods specifically related to COVID relief. This allowed the company to isolate the shipments that were soliciting the vast majority of calls and made it easier for CSRs to get the exact information they needed for customers.

The true brilliance of the solution was in how it allowed the team to run custom status reports on ALL of their COVID-related shipments every two hours. This meant that CSRs could head off customer calls before they even occurred, feeding updates and load-specific information to anxious customers without anyone needing to pick up the phone.

Those in the customer service industry are hard pressed to do more with less in the best of times. Now, with many roles transitioned to remote and anxious customers calling in droves, it’s never been more important to empower CSRs to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. By educating users and providing them with the tools they need to solve problems on their own, the best support phone call is the one that never happens in the first place. By pivoting from a traditional, reactionary customer service model to one that was proactive and automated, this medical manufacturer was able to use supply chain visibility to both give their customers peace of mind and to help their shipments arrive to their final destinations more efficiently.

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Stay tuned for more COVID-19 customer success stories coming soon! For FourKites Customers, visit the Community to share your COVID-19 strategies, or reach out to your Customer Success Manager to learn more.

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