If you ship items overseas, one of the most important business relationships you will have is with your freight forwarder. What do they do? Whether you call them freight forwarders, forwarding agents, or simply forwarders, these experienced professionals help organize shipments to get them from the producer to the customer. In most cases, they do not actually transport shipments, but rather put their clients in touch with companies that can.
Why are they necessary?
The primary responsibility of a freight forwarding company is to make sure that goods get to the carrier, the company that will be shipping the items overseas, on time and on budget. In many instances, these forwarders must hire other shipping companies to move these orders from factories or warehouses to the port, airfield, or point of departure. This can be an extremely complicated process and may involve several different modes of transportation including trains, planes, ships, and trucks.
What to ask
When searching for a freight forwarding company, it is important to make sure that they offer the services you need at competitive prices. With that in mind, we will review 6 basic questions you should always ask during the interview process.
1. Is the forwarder experienced and established enough to handle your global business?
As a general rule, the longer a forwarding agent has been plying his trade, the more contacts he/she will have made. Contacts are enormously important in the shipping industry because it gives you, the customer, more options based on the order and your budget. If, for example, some of your clients require rush or expedited shipping, you need a forwarding agent that has a lot of contacts and can get your shipment on the nearest plane or ship.
In other words, you should always look for an agent that has several carrier contracts. These shipping partners will afford you more options when something unexpected crops up, and it always does in the world of business. Being prepared for these inevitabilities will not only improve your efficiency but also your customer satisfaction numbers.
2. Can they safely transport your products?
Any company that ships fragile or perishable items must find a freight forwarder that offers special services. Let’s say, for example, that you’re shipping hamburger patties overseas. That meat must obviously be refrigerated for the entire journey, which means your shipping partners must have refrigerated trucks and cargo containers to move your product to its ultimate destination. Some smaller forwarding companies may not have access to this equipment, so you should always inquire before you agree to anything.
3. Do they have a large network of global agents?
When your shipment arrives at its destination, it may be necessary to deliver that order to the customer. This door-to-door service requires that your forwarder has contacts in that country and that they can get the order to where it needs to be on time.
4. Are they financially strong?
It is not at all uncommon for a forwarding agent to default on a loan or even be unable to pay their ocean carrier when the journey comes to an end, since they work in a business where cash flow is always an issue. Therefore, you must find out if the company is in fine financial fettle before you hire them as your shipping partner.
5. How is their customer service?
Even in this day and age, international shipping can be a risky game. Items are sometimes lost or damaged in transit and may arrive late. As the shipper, you should be able to get straight and expeditious answers about your shipment when you need them. If you have to wait on the line and cannot give your client an adequate explanation about where his order is, you will probably lose that client. And that’s one of the many reasons why customer service is critical in the shipping industry.
6. What is their document turnaround time?
Whenever you ship anything overseas, you need the proper documentation for it to make it through customs. Your freight forwarder or customs broker should complete these forms in short order.