CH Robinson Breaks Down Barrier to Automation in Logistics

CH Robinson is breaking down barriers to automation in logistics. Picture: Getty Images
CH Robinson's latest industry-leading innovation automates the kinds of transactions many shippers still conduct by email, levelling the playing field

CH Robinson has been shaping logistics for more than 100 years, breaking down barriers at every turn to meet the needs of its customers, contract carriers and suppliers.

The latest example of this is an industry-leading innovation that automates the kinds of transactions many shippers still conduct by email, levelling the playing field for those which are less digitally connected and allowing them to enjoy enhanced speed-to-market and reduced costs. 

Using AI, CH Robinson’s groundbreaking tool classifies incoming email, reads it and replicates the steps a person would take to fulfil a customer’s request.

Gen AI removes barrier to automation

Despite the immense digital transformation which has been taking place in recent years, many shippers still choose to send an email asking for a price quote – rather than logging into a digital platform. 

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As a global logistics powerhouse, CH Robinson receives more than 11,000 emails every business day from customers and carriers requesting pricing on truckload freight.

Explaining the company’s technological breakthrough, Mark Albrecht, VP for AI at CH Robinson, says: “Our customers can get instant price quotes through our Navisphere platform or any of the 35 largest TMS or ERP systems we’re integrated with. 

“But for someone like a busy warehouse manager with unexpected spot freight or freight in a new lane, an email can just feel easier. Email works the same for everybody – it doesn’t ask for your password; there are no fields to fill in.

“Before generative AI, replying to that email request defied automation. Customers had to wait for a human just to pass along a quote from our Dynamic Pricing Engine. Now, our new technology reads the email and supplies the quote in an average 2 minutes 13 seconds.

“CH Robinson is doing this at scale, leaving our people more time to help those same customers with more complex requests.”         

Customers benefitting from automated quotes

With CH Robinson’s technology able to respond to 2,000 customer quote requests per day, this opens the door to automating other transactions shippers and carriers choose to carry out via email.

CH Robinson truckload customers are already benefitting from automated email quotes

The large language model (LLM) the tool uses can be trained to identify an email about a load tender, a pick-up appointment or a shipment tracking update.  

For spot quotes, CH Robinson has already trained the model to differentiate between a quote request for truckload, less-than-truckload (LTL), intermodal or air freight. So far, more than 2,200 CH Robinson truckload customers are getting the benefits of automated email quotes. The faster a shipper gets a price quote and secures a carrier to pick up their freight, the less likely they’ll need to pay a premium. 

“After automating so many other types of customer transactions, you could call email the last mile,” adds Arun Rajan, COO at CH Robinson.

“We’d been exploring how to automate email requests for a couple of years through natural language processing and machine learning, but it would’ve been insanely hard and expensive. Then Gen AI arrived and we developed this automation technology so fast because we already had training data ready to go. 

“The good news for our customers is that they still get what they need using email, while our supply chain experts are freed up to do work that’s higher value for them: our customers and our company’s growth.”

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