May 17, 2020

How to keep your fleet stress-free this Christmas

4 min
How to keep your fleet stress-free this Christmas
With news that online shoppers will typically spend two-and-a-half hours sorting out a delivery problem this Christmas, pressure is mounting for logisti...

With news that online shoppers will typically spend two-and-a-half hours sorting out a delivery problem this Christmas, pressure is mounting for logistics managers to ensure their fleets are distributing parcels in a timely and efficient manner this festive season. However, as workloads increase, it becomes more challenging for fleet managers to distribute their resources effectively, as well as keep morale high amongst drivers. With a little forward planning, along with utilising technologies and maintenance checks, managers can be sure that their delivery service will not only boost customer satisfaction, but significantly drive down costs and increase productivity.

Be proactive and forward plan

For many delivery networks, Christmas and New Year will be their busiest period. Last year, as much as 90 per cent of UK consumers switched to purchasing gifts online, and this year that number is expected to rise again. Whilst this may be a startling statistic for logistics managers at first, it should be embraced as an opportunity to grow and increase revenue. Therefore, robust contingency plans need to be put in place to decrease the chances of a parcel being delivered late or not at all, to prevent damage to both profits and reputation.

One of the key aspects to forward planning will involve knowing your customers well and anticipating their buying habits based on previous behaviour. By knowing this, logistics managers can pre-empt how many vehicles will be needed per region, allowing them to organise staffing requirements in advance so they don’t suffer a shortage. Similarly, it is vital to know your roads, routes and roadworks. Congestion costs businesses significant amounts of money every year, due to a loss in productivity, and therefore it pays to know which roads are undergoing maintenance work and which are most likely to suffer from traffic delays. 

During this busy period, many logistics business will employ temporary workers to cope with the increase in demand. Managers need to be resilient in undergoing additional licence checks for these seasonal hires, to ensure drivers have the necessary driving entitlement and a good record. As this can be a timely but essential task, it’s crucial that businesses plan in advance by ensuring that they have a dedicated team set up to deal with the extra workload.

Carry out preventative maintenance checks

Having just one vehicle out of action could have significant financial implications for a business. If a ‘back up’ van or car is not a viable option, enforcing preventative maintenance checks will reduce the chances of a vehicle breaking down unexpectedly. Preventative maintenance checks will identify potential problems before they occur and logistics managers can be more confident in knowing that their vehicles will keep performing safely and economically. Maintaining the operational standards of vehicles will also improve driver satisfaction, as it creates a more stress-free environment to work in. This in turn could lead to higher levels of productivity, which will only have a positive impact for logistics managers during the busy festive period.

Utilise telematics to enhance customer experience 

To cope with the extra demand at Christmas, more logistics businesses are turning to technology, and specifically telematics, to manage resources, save costs and positively impact the customer experience. By implementing a telematics system, logistics managers can quickly and easily locate each of their vehicles in real-time, allowing them to designate a delivery job to a driver closest to the address. This not only creates a more streamlined delivery schedule, which in turn makes delivery targets more achievable and reduces stress for managers and drivers, but it will also help drive down costs by making the fleet more fuel efficient. Furthermore, it could lead to improved customer satisfaction, as it increases the possibility of parcels and packages being delivered on time.

In addition to delivering on time, telematics can also be used to give concise delivery times to customers. Previously, firms would give customers a 24-hour delivery window – an act which caused ongoing customer frustration – but with telematics, they can give a concrete time based on accurate travel information. Similarly, logistics managers can proactively monitor their telematics software to see if a delivery is going to be late due to factors such as traffic, providing the opportunity for them to contact the customer quickly to inform them. This will help reduce possible irritation from customers, and will go some way in maintaining a positive relationship between both parties.

With 4.8 million delivery problems last year, and even more people expected to shop online this year, logistics managers have a tough task this festive season. However, with conscientious forward planning and utilising telematics, they should be able to drive that number down to ensure the logistics sector has a very, merry Christmas this year. 

Scott Chesworth is operations director at RAM Tracking.


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Jun 19, 2021

Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried

Rob Wright, Executive Director...
4 min
Logistics professionals need urgent solutions to a shortage in drivers caused by a perfect storm of Brexit, COVID-19 and compounding economic factors

While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks. 

A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so. 

What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.

"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"

That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.

But where has this skills shortage stemmed from? 

Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.

COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.

It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing. 

So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done? 

Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change. 

Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.

Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line. 

On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains. 

Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months. 

Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector

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