3PLs Optimize Warehouse Staffing with Automation

by | Jun 15, 2020 | Logistics

Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) are being stretched to do more while keeping their margins in line, especially when it comes to staffing expenses. Why? The biggest cost for most 3PLs is human capital. Warehouse staff are necessary, but expensive. Making sure that they are busy and working efficiently is paramount to the business’ bottom line.

How can 3PLs optimize warehouse staffing? First, they need to know when orders are coming and when they are expected to ship. An automated data flow of accurate and timely information provides this valuable information. These expectations can then be matched to staffing schedules. Setting these schedules is more difficult than ever given the pandemic and its social distancing requirements. Staff may not feel well enough to work, have resigned or have limited their hours due to concerns about COVID-19. The result is that 3PLs are finding it even more important to have the data in place to accurately schedule and assign warehouse personnel.

Research study confirms timely data improves warehouse efficiency

In April 2020, SPS Commerce surveyed nearly 200 logistics providers. The research sought to better understand the impact of efficiently exchanging order data with customers. The responses addressed how 3PLs shared data with trading partners and how automation optimizes warehouse staffing and improves shipping accuracy and timeliness.

The study confirmed that 3PLs are clearly looking for ways to improve scheduling and automate manual tasks, especially today with a remote workforce and lean onsite crews.

In the survey, 48 percent of providers identified receiving complete and timely data from customers as an essential way to optimize staffing schedules. Forty-four percent of providers also stated that staffing was the most impacted aspect of their business when demand spiked or dropped. With better information on order volumes and shipment requirements, 3PLs can mitigate over-and under-scheduling of staff.

3PLs Optimize Warehouse Staffing with Automation

Efficient customer service departments require data automation

Employees represent a significant expense but are necessary for operations and customer service. As a service business, 3PLs need to keep their customers informed and be ready to answer questions or concerns. This support is part of the value a 3PL offers they to their customers.

Staffing customer service teams is an ongoing challenge for 3PLs. These representatives are often difficult to recruit and keep. In April 2020, Indeed.com listed more than 12,000 customer service openings in logistics, or 16 percent of total customer service openings in the United States.

With fewer hiring options, making a 3PL’s existing customer service team more effective is critical. Sixty-six percent of 3PLs identified reduced customer service inquiries as a direct result of automated data flow with customers. Smaller teams become more efficient as electronic communications replace phone calls and emails. 3PLs are also automating the sending of order status updates and shipping details to customers to remove many inquiries.

3PLs Optimize Warehouse Staffing with Automation

Optimize warehouse staffing in 2020

SPS asked 3PLs what was the one thing they would be doing in 2020 to address warehouse staffing shortages. The responses focused on two directions: increased hiring or better use of existing staff.

What are 3PLs doing in 2020 to address staffing shortages?

  • Hiring
  • Providing more training to end-users
  • Telecommuting
  • Hiring staff trainers

When hiring isn’t desirable or possible, 3PLs are choosing automation. They are optimizing warehouse staff through additional training, data access and online tools. Many 3PLs are automating communications to proactively notify customers of important events or deliveries. This practice eliminates a significant number of emails and phone calls to customer service. Automation optimizes warehouse staff and provides more time to troubleshoot, track down errant orders and provide personalized service when issues arise.

Today’s distributed workforce means that many of employees are working from home. Having online access to information has never been more important. A 3PL’s customer service team requires complete visibility to order statuses and deliveries from any location. This is the only way to keep customers informed and respond with accurate information to create a satisfactory customer experience.

Interested in seeing what else 3PLs will be tackling 2020? Download the free research study, Automation Priorities for Third-Party Logistics Providers.

Mark O'Leary