Q&A: What’s Old is New Again
Andrea Obston interviews CLDA Board Member Jason Burns on what has stayed constant in the rapidly changing business of customized logistics
What’s Old is New Again
CLDA Board Member Jason Burns literally grew up with his family’s customized logistics and delivery business. In fact, the business was born ten months after he was, started by his father, Ronald V Burns, Sr. in 1984. The company - then called Quick Courier Services, Inc. - was originally founded to serve the delivery needs of the local financial services industry but later expanded it services to other industries such as healthcare, payroll processors, and law firms. With a fleet of only two cars, three drivers, and a great deal of hard work - today’s QCS Logistics – has become the largest minority owned and operated company within the state and the second largest courier service in the New Orleans Metro area. Today, Jason (the man who learned to drive on one of those vehicles, a Ford Ranger) is a partner in that business with the title of VP of Business Development.
We asked him about the things that have stayed constant in the rapidly changing business of customized logistics.
Much about this business has changed over the years. Can you talk about what hasn’t changed?
Fundamentally things haven’t change when it comes to drivers, dispatchers, management and customer service representatives. Technology has made it more efficient, but you can’t rely on that to do the whole job. It’s still, at heart, an industry that relies on the human mind. From a dispatching perspective, technology can give you one single answer to one single question, but it can’t see the big picture. To be successful, you still need people who see the whole puzzle not one piece.
The other thing that hasn’t changed is the need for institutional knowledge - of the local territory -of the local customers – of individual drivers’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s one thing to make a decision based on pick-up times and origins. But you need that institutional knowledge to say which customer needs a pick-up first. Which involves something that will spoil if it is late? Which pick up or delivery takes priority? What driver moves fast than another? What driver has experience or training for this type of delivery? In my opinion, technology will always have to defer to people because they are the ones who can answer all those questions and see the whole picture in real time.
You mentioned drivers as one factor that really hasn’t changed over the years. What did you mean by that?
I can remember back when I was the kid, I’d hear my parents talking about the challenges they had in this business. The number one thing they were talking about was the need to constantly bring in drivers. You always need more independent contractors at your disposal to handle the ebbs and flows of the business. You have to build in scalability. You can never have enough drivers. Keeping the right driver mix as it relates to work flow and volume has always been, and always will be, a challenge. You want the ability to call on more supply than you have demand for rather than the alternative. The day that demand for your services outpaces your supply of drivers is the day your client will be calling your competition.
I’m a football fan, so I like quotes from the NFL. I read one that said, “Your best ability is your availability. It’s not how fast you can throw the ball, it’s all about availability.” It doesn’t matter, in our business, how fast your drive if you’re not available. The best ability for us is your availability.
So the ongoing need for more and more drivers is unchanging. What else?
The ability to communicate in real time with the drivers hasn’t changed. That’s the key to getting things picked up and delivered when your customer needs them. Technology certainly has given us more tools to do that, but the need has not changed. Early on it was beepers and pay phones that had to do the job. Then the Motorola radios and then it became the ability to have two-way communications with walkie-talkies. It made the back and forth faster. Then, we got to cellular and now you see a lot people using the mobile applications software. Even with all that, the constant is the fundamental need to communicate instantly with your driver. You can’t run this business without being able to quickly relay and take information from your drivers.
When it comes to drivers the other thing that hasn’t changed is they can make or break your relationship with your customers. They are the face of the company to the customer. They do the pickup and delivery work. Your brand is your drivers. Within your customer base most clients know their drivers, especially with routed work.
Let’s talk about another constant, dispatchers. Why are they still so important?
They still play the most critical role inside the office because they are the quarterback. They are the information hub to everything that happens in the field. There are still the integrative element between the office and what flows out to field. They are the missing link between the driver and the customer
I think of them as the caretakers for our drivers’ success. They control the driver’s ability to do more runs. A good dispatcher knows how to leverage that power to get what they want; to get everything to everybody when it needs to get there. They are the navigators; the persuaders of drivers when only they can bail them out. There is a special art to being a great dispatcher that no technology can ever replace.
Dispatchers have to know their drivers. Our dispatcher’s often orients our drivers, to help to establish a rapport. They are building relationships with the women and men with whom they interact every day with our customers. The dispatcher is the gatekeeper and that hasn’t changed. It’s just as important today as it was years ago.
I’m surprised you included management as one of the factors that hasn’t changed. Isn’t everything for them different today than it was, say, five years ago?
How it’s done has changed, but the role management plays hasn’t. Today, we have a lot more tools at our disposal to better manage. Their role is more important now because one of the changes in the industry is the price squeeze. In many cases, our charges have had to stay the same, but our costs are up. So now management has to push efficiency which translates to profitability.
That’s always been the case. It’s the same role, but with different tools. It’s more important now as profitability is such a critical issue.
But the goal is still the same – to serve customers’ requests on time and to generate a profit for our company. It may be harder to achieve this than in the past, but it’s still what management has always been expected to deliver.
You also pinpointed customer service as a constant. It’s hard to believe CSRs are even needed when so much of the work comes in off the web.
Organizations still have a need for customer service reps. They are the front line with our customers. Our CSRs field the calls. They are the internal dispatchers of information. They field the sales calls, the calls for orders, the customer complaints and the “atta-boys”.
Even though customers can order on line, that’s not always the case. Even in the companies that are the most successful in getting customers to order online that will only be 60 to 70 percent of the jobs that come in. And most of us aren’t even approaching that. But, even if we get to that point, that leaves 30 to 40 percent of orders that are coming in on the phone and through your customer service people. Even today, many companies get the bulk of their orders on the phone.
In our business (and this has always been the case) they are the most knowledgeable people in the organization. They understand every customer’s unique requirements.
The value they bring is that they can and do respond to every customer with a customized solution. CSRs are the ones that allow us to do that. They are the information hub of what the nuances are for each customer. They have the experience to know what individual customers need. We’ll get a call that says, “Hi Robin. This is Liz. You know what I need.” No one else in the company can take that call.
Our CSRs are able to anticipate the customer’s need. They use technology to fulfill it, but it’s the human touch that makes the difference upfront. Technology has enabled these CSRs to get things done and have a moment with the customer to ask about their husband or their kid’s baseball game. Technology has also allowed us to involve fewer CSRs because the tools have taken some of the details off their plates. It’s reduced the need for as many CSRs, but not the need for CSRs.
Technology has allowed these CSRs to quickly get a full history on the account when customers call. They can instantly see everything about that account. It gives them the ability to look at customer’s profile and history. Technology helps that interaction to be more personal. It takes the thinking out of it. My old football coach used to say you had to get to the point where you just react when something happens. You shouldn’t have to think. When you’re thinking you’re moving slower. Technology handles the “thinking” here, giving the CSRs the ability to react immediately without having to think things through.
Has the nature of the business really changed that much?
Of course there have been massive changes in what we do, who we do it for and how we do it, but in reality the reason we’re doing it hasn’t changed. Our sector is all about providing a faster and more customizable service than other delivery options. In the past we did a lot of b to b deliveries now it’s b to c. The actual delivery is the same. The change is who we’re delivering it to.
Our association changed our name in 2011 to reflect the greater variety of what our members do. We were the Messenger and Courier Association, but our members are far more than couriers. We changed to the Customized Logistics and Delivery Association to reflect where the industry is today. But whatever you call it, what we provide is the ability to move things faster and in way that customizes what we do to meet our clients’ needs. The type of product we move may change, but the reason for using us hasn’t. Whether we’re delivering with a car, a box truck or a van, the reason for doing it is the same. Our customers still turn to use for faster, more flexible responses. That hasn’t’ changed at all.