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Digital Freight Brokers vs Human Freight Brokers

Digital Freight Brokers vs Human Freight Brokers

by Eric Masotti, Vice President of Logistics

We’ve seen the benefits of automation and digital transformation in all kinds of industries; there can be cost savings, greater ability to scale, enhanced safety, increased output, and more. It’s no surprise then that we’ve seen this desire in the industry for an Uber-style app for 3PL transportation solutions. But, are fully digital freight brokers really the way of the future?

It may sound easier and more efficient on the surface. What if you could just thumb-type your load requirements into an app and book a lane? We’ve seen some versions of such a logistics app come to market, but we’ve yet to see a fully automated solution that is commercially and financially viable. 

Will we get there? I’m not sure that we will—in fact, I have yet to be convinced that we should strive for 3PL transactions in which the human element is entirely removed. Taking human interaction, intelligence, and problem-solving out of 3PL in an effort to save time and money reminds me of that old saying, “Nickel’s holding up a dollar.” People are integral to the success of each and every transaction, across the supply chain. Here’s why.

Human freight brokers are an integral part of an intelligently automated supply chain.

We use technology for all kinds of tasks including email marketing, social media, customer relationship management, data analysis, analytics, and more. Digital solutions have a huge role to play in logistics and transportation services.

So does the care and attention we provide our customers, partners, and employees.

You can’t digitize or automate that. 

Some will argue that there is an opportunity to cut 3PL costs using digital freight brokers. After all, we use both a salesperson and an account manager to monitor the supply chain daily. Couldn’t you just take them away and have an algorithm keep an eye out? 

I don’t believe so. We lean into those interactions and want our team members having productive, informative conversations with clients daily until that load is successfully delivered. Logistics is a volatile business. Weather, accidents, political decisions, labor disputes, natural disasters, human error—anything can happen to complicate a route at any stage of the game. 

The trouble with full automation is that when any of these complex, unexpected issues arise, a human then needs to intervene. When that human hasn’t been involved in the process to that point, they have a lot of catching to do before they can even begin to put those creative problem-solving skills to work.

Uncertainty requires human involvement to communicate, evaluate, navigate—and transportation logistics is rife with uncertainty.

We believe that real, skilled, experienced people who love what they do and care about the outcome of each and every load are foundational to successful 3PL transactions. People are rooted firmly in the center of our logistics processes, not tacked on at the end to triage and troubleshoot after things have already gone sideways. 

Every shipment requires logistics reps to manage several internal factors, including:

  • Equipment type
  • How many miles the driver is going to drive
  • Weight restrictions
  • Loading and unloading methodologies
  • Pickup and delivery times
  • Drivers’ willingness to move product type or travel to destination

Each of these factors has at least 5-7 details to manage within them, which quickly adds up to hundreds of technicalities that could impact the success of a shipment. As if that isn’t enough, there are all of those external factors of weather, traffic, etc. that can impact the outcome, as well.  

Digital technology should facilitate freight broker roles, not replace them.

At Trailer Bridge, we want technology to empower our employees—not to replace them but to augment their performance and help them do their jobs better

The people who work on each transaction should have access to the most effective digital solutions, so they can quickly get the information they need to solve those inevitable challenges quickly. 

Expertise is essential and is actually preferred to specialization. We ensure our employees are involved in multiple stages of each transaction, not a single task. Specialization loses its perspective on the bigger picture and, instead, works silo to silo. Expertise still allows each employee to be involved in multiple aspects of the transaction to understand and impact the entire spectrum of operational and sales responsibilities.  

Human capital is what makes our business. As my colleague Indie Bollman, VP of Organizational Development, says in her column The Best Place to Work is the Best Place to do Business, “We tend to think of logistics in terms of the complexity of operations, and it’s true that facilities and supplies are an important part of the equation. But more importantly, you have people driving the success of every single transportation logistics transaction, every step of the way.” 

Technology still enables us to simplify complexities for our customers. It’s just not at the expense of the success of the transaction. Our teams are on top of the massive amount of information and data that needs to be considered, and they are aided by technology in making the best decisions for our customers. 

It takes people to drive success in 3PL. This is why we focus so intensely on creating the best company culture, on remaining an Inc. Best Workplace, on being the best place to work in Jacksonville. It’s no coincidence; our experienced, passionate people are the reason Trailer Bridge was named the #1 Ocean Carrier in the Logistics Management Quest for Quality awards. It’s a straight line from employee experience to customer experience.

There’s just no app for that.

About the Author

Eric Masotti, Vice President of Logistics, manages Trailer Bridge’s fast-growing domestic full-service logistics division and ongoing expansion. Since earning his BS in Business Administration from UNC Chapel Hill and his MBA from the University of Florida, Eric has logged more than 15 years of experience in logistics and freight.