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How to Prepare Your Shipping Department for the Unexpected

Oct 7, 2020 9:00:00 AM

COVID-19 shocked the shipping industry and left businesses wondering, “How might we be better prepared for a future crisis?” Here are 5 tips to get your logistics team ready for any crisis.

If your business has survived coronavirus, you’ve likely learned more than a few lessons along the way about shipping. But how many of those lessons did you learn the hard way?

That’s the nature of unexpected events, including widespread ones like our current pandemic and smaller-scale ones like accidents. Unlike the usual ebb and flow of doing business in an increasingly online age, crises like pandemics, weather events and other disasters aren’t marked on the calendar. They aren’t predictable like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This makes it impossible for even the smartest shipping experts to know when and how to plan for them. However, you can prepare for them.

But first, one important note: When it comes to shipping, crisis management is not the same as supply chain risk management. Supply chain risks, while unexpected, are typical situations that businesses know happen periodically. As a result, there’s usually a protocol in place to handle them and mitigate the damage.

Crisis management is preparing for rare, unexpected disruptions that your shipping department has probably never seen before. The COVID-19 pandemic is one such example.

In the early months, when the United States saw more than 60,000 new cases a day, the national supply chain was strained by shipping delays, unprecedented demand and a need to prioritize essential items over nonessential.

Whether or not you believe shippers have snapped back may depend on the current state of your business in the wake of this crisis. But the fact remains: It’s essential to be ready for the next time an event like this occurs.

Yes, it’s scary, but don’t panic. Make these five considerations part of your strategy to get your shipping department crisis-ready:

1. What is a shipping crisis?

First, think about a few unlikely, but not impossible, events that may constitute a shipping crisis for your business. Remember, a crisis is often something totally out of the norm, so this list will not and cannot be exhaustive.

A shipping crisis for you might result from a cybersecurity breach, an accident in the warehouse, in transit, or somewhere else along the logistics chain. It may involve a financial event such as critically low sales figures. And, of course, it may take the shape of our current crisis: A global pandemic.

Brainstorm about the events that would be most crippling to your supply chain and consider how they might play out in business terms.

2. Establish a dedicated crisis-response team

Here is one step any business can take today: Establish a dedicated team that will dedicate 100% of their attention to crisis mitigation if one arises. This will allow the rest of the team in your shipping department to handle business as usual — even if business feels far from typical. This team should identify and create protocols for a vast array of crises and actively review said protocols in the interest of staying prepared.

3. Upgrade technology

Technology eliminates human error, streamlines a shipping process, saves money through automation, increases productivity and creates data-driven solutions. When the next crisis occurs — whether it’s a global event or a small-scale catastrophe that only impacts your organization or market — businesses with top-notch cybersecurity and modern technology will be better equipped to weather the storm.

4. Have a communication plan for customers

An unexpected shipping crisis can frustrate even the most understanding consumer. If your standard two-day shipping will be impacted, your customers need to know.

Think of every confirmation email you received when you ordered a product online during COVID-19. Did all of them include a message about potential shipping delays and a plan for updating you during the fulfillment process? More importantly, did your business include language like this in confirmation emails? If not, now is the time to make a communication plan about the copy you’ll include in consumer messaging during a crisis and the communication plan for shipping updates.

5. Understand that the situation is stressful for everyone

A shipping crisis affects your business on a practical level, but it also will affect your team on a psychological level. Understand that everyone responds to crises differently. Blaming one team member or department will only slow down productivity and create further risks. Have a little empathy and check in on the people you work with. This will allow you to identify any necessary accommodations (such as a scheduling change due to virus exposure) and create a more positive company culture.

Are you concerned about your shipping costs? Do you wonder how technology might better prepare you for a crisis? Contact 71lbs to get answers to your scariest shipping questions and money-saving assistance on shipping, refunds, contracts, and more.

Topics: COVID-19, Crisis Management, Logistics Strategy

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