RSL Podcast Episode 2-- 4 Tips to Strengthen Your 3PL Relationships

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Audio transcript [Edited for clarity]

Carolina: Welcome to episode two of our ecommerce and logistics podcast. I'm Carolina, I'll be your emcee for today. And today we are talking about the 4 tips to strengthen the relationship with your 3PL and how this really makes all the difference for a growing business.Joining me today is Sarah Smith and Jason Chan you may remember them from our previous podcast.And today we have a very special guest with us, Jessica Nicholson. She is the manager of client relations at RSL. Welcome, we are excited to have you. Do you mind telling everyone just a little bit about your role and what you do here at RSL.

Jessica: Yes. I wanted to I definitely share a little bit about my role at Rakuten Super Logistics. I manage our client relations team that works directly with our gold and platinum clients. So my team and I are definitely focused on building strong relationships with our clients and we work together with our clients to ensure they have the great communication and  detailed follow up and always have a solutions driven mindset.

Jason: You said gold and platinum clients. Is that a credit card? Do they get super points? Explain that real quick just in case they're not familiar with how we how we talk about our clients.

Jessica: Yes. So the gold and platinum clients would be our higher revenue clients. So when those clients have certain requests or inquiries they reach out to myself or my team and they have that one point of contact helping them to manage their business.

Jason: OK. You do big business with us. We will take care of you.

Carolina: Absolutely. So who better to have for a discussion talking about those relationships than Jessica. And now before we get started and talk about those four tips I really want to set the stage and talk about why it even matters to build a relationship. Why do you want to have a partnership with your 3PL?Do you have a little bit to add to that-- Sarah, Jason?

Sarah: Treating your 3PL as a partner is important to success. We're an extension of your business. So as you grow and you have more and more orders, you're not going to have the ease of sending those out on a consistent basis-- so your end users are the ones that will suffer. If you outsource with a 3PL, we're your partner in it. We're the ones who are on top of everything. You know we've been in the shipping business for almost 20 years. So with all of our experience we know what it takes to make those end users happy, which is the shorter shipping times and the lowest cost possible.

Carolina: So it really is more than just finding someone to send your business to and letting them deal with it. It's about really creating that strong foundation, making sure that they become an extension of your business and really help you grow the business as as you're growing and scaling.

Sarah: Right. One thing I would add that to that is that you still retain control over all of your shipping. So through our systems and through our client relations department you always have visibility. So it's not like you're just giving that up, it's just like another department.

Jason: Yeah. And you know I think it's so easy for people to just write off the industry as almost like a commodity that anyone can basically get a product off the shelf, put in a box, wrap it up, and ship it out. The difference is a company that really sees you as a partner, realizes that your reputation is on the line.So making sure that the right product is in the right box. Because you know, heaven forbid the client's expecting socks and instead they get plates. Well guess what. You're gonna end up blasted on social media immediately. That's obviously going to create a customer service email, call, etc., for you-- which costs you money, time, as well as re-shipment to get the right product down to your customer.So why not just get it done right. And you know when you choose a 3PL, make sure that they understand that it's not simply putting the product in the box-- it's getting the right product in the box and shipping out within a quick timeline because that's what consumers today are expecting.

Carolina: Absolutely. Alright, so let's go into our first tip-- Tip #1: define your company's goals and communicate them with your 3PL. Jessica- why is this so important?

Jessica: Well you always want to communicate with your 3PL what your financial goals are. So for example your 3PL can provide a shipping analysis to help you determine your best fulfillment facility location, as well as complete a thorough analysis of your current storage, maybe your labor, shipping,, and packing options. And typically after that analysis it will reveal numerous opportunities for increased efficiencies as well as cost savings. It's also imperative to tell your 3PL about meeting any special handling needs that you have for your products-- So how do you want that final presentation to look? For example-- marketing inserts, maybe tissue, or custom packaging could be some options.

Jason: So my new name today is the 3PL doctor and what I mean by that-- when you go to the doctor, if they ask what's going on at an annual checkup and you say everything's fine, the doctor is not going to prescribe anything or be giving me their advice.Because if you don't tell the doctor what's happening, there's no way they can try to help you or try to cure whatever ailment. And likewise in the 3PL world if you don't give us visibility into what's happening-- are you having a sale, perhaps you have a holiday and you need to ship double the products, you need to have space for that and be prepared for the extra volume, have the labor on hand-- the 3PL can't properly take care of your business and take care of you properly if they don't know.So basically the more information you share-- oversharing is very much a good thing in this business. You know if there are customer complaints happening or you're realizing in some test shipments you know X Y or Z, let the 3PL know.Again-- we're an extension to your brand, we want you to be happy and we can't work to correct any ailment unless we know what's happening-- perhaps something that might have happened with a past client of ours. So that open communication and just to be able to share what's going on with your business is invaluable information really to be a true partner, as opposed to just being a vendor for you.

Carolina: Makes sense. Alright, tip #2: understand expectations and follow through. What does this mean, Jessica?

Jessica: Most importantly you want to ensure that you've been provided a client manual that can communicate all the expectations and obligations between both parties. For example within the client manual you could discover that every shipment would need an ASN which is the advance shipment notice. And this is important because it provides detail about items in quantities the facility is supposed to be receiving. So make sure that you are holding your 3PL accountable, there is a set SLA that has been promised to you as a client.For example-- receiving. So we have an SLA for receiving that promises 48 hours for an existing client and 96 hours for a new client for receiving and putting away the product. So again most importantly making sure that you have access to those resources and that you're in the know of what is guaranteed, and you know what to expect from your 3PL.

Carolina: So each party has a role. Each one has a set of responsibilities that they need to do in order for it to be a successful relationship. So making sure that each end of the relationship is doing their part, so that it all goes smoothly and according to plan.For example, we've mentioned before how sometimes clients who have always done their own fulfillment and have never worked with a 3PL have a certain idea of what it's gonna be like. And then once they do start working with someone that has now hundreds of other clients, they're in for a bit of a reality check that there's a reason why these processes are are in place and why we need them. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sarah: Yeah actually I think Jason touched on a really great point for the communicating your goals and promotions. Let's just take promotions for a second. So once you go through the first onboarding call, you become a client of ours-- you've established all of your goals with your 3PL, you don't just leave it there. As you do have these promotions, you know you're going to get spikes in your business. And if you don't communicate this on a consistent basis with your 3PL, that's where you can start having errors... and not just with inventory on your end, but also on possibly missing an SLA--because your communication is important to the 3PL, especially for staffing.If you don't communicate that your site is having a Black Friday deal and let's say you sell 15 times what you normally do in a day, if the 3PL isn't staffed properly, you're not going to get those SLA's and then again it goes back to the end users--so your client is going be upset that they haven't received their product in that two day shipping that they expected.

Jason: Bing bong. And I know you can't see me but this is time for a pop up ad or a speech bubble-- SLA means service level agreement. So basically when we say SLA, it's different service level agreements on which will say you know a certain amount of time your product will be out, your product will be received, etc.So when you're analyzing 3PLs, you're basically looking to see what are those time frames. The SLA is that the company is basically guaranteeing you service within that amount of time. Just to kind of wrap this up-- Who likes surprises? They're great for birthdays, horrible for business. And that's the short of it.Nobody wants surprises. So again go back to the first point. Keep the line of communication open. You know an open playbook here. Again we're not your competition. We're very much your partner. So the more you share with us what's happening the better you'll see us perform for you.

Carolina: And that goes perfectly into tip number three which we've already talked about--maintaining that ongoing communication, but not just when you have these surprises, but you want to be proactive and talk to your 3PL even when things are going well, when it's kind of easy to lose that communication.I know that, Jessica, your team has weekly calls with your clients and sometimes it's hard for clients to prioritize those calls if everything is going well. But the importance of really maintaining that communication is crucial.

Jessica: Absolutely. It's so important to proactively communicate with your 3PL. And to your point, even when things are moving along smoothly. Make sure that you know you're reaching out and discussing any upcoming changes or projections like Sarah had mentioned. You want to make sure that communication is up to speed about new products, promotions, maybe recalls, and again projections. It's definitely essential to talk about those projections with your 3PL because you want to make sure that you're communicating with the facility manager to prepare and deliver for your increased demands.Always staying ahead of the curve. So anytime you have any additional needs or questions make sure you're reaching out to your client services team for support and guidance.

Jason: Which country is your team based in? The United States? Oh that makes it easy. And do you have unlimited minutes for phone calls. Absolutely. You have unlimited data for email which means man we can communicate with you all day long in whatever form at any time.And that's really important because we have East Coast clients and West Coast clients and so it's 5:00a.m. on the West Coast and 8:00a.m. East Coast. So whichever coast you're on, we've got people that are able to handle your calls, your emails, etc. And we actually have a unified messaging system on which either of your teams are basically able to pass that message along and handle tickets as it happens. That's another thing to consider, because all support is not created equal.

Carolina: Tip #4-- this is our last one, take advantage of value-added services, partnerships, and referrals. What do we mean by that?

Jessica: So whether you're currently working with a 3PL or searching for your next 3PL, you want to be in the know on what services are available for you to support your growing business. Sometimes clients might come to us for one solution that could be let's say straight pick and pack and what they don't know is that we also offer things like a full service freight and multiple location network. So if they were to use the built in freight and add on additional warehouse locations, that could dramatically reduce transit times and shipping costs as well.An additional service that you should look for is client support and in some cases there's a one single point of contact for your client support, where weekly conference calls are available to discuss business needs and trends, as well as quarterly business reviews. And during this review you can discuss business projections, results, goals, and maybe any additional fulfillment facilities in the future.

Carolina: So it's not just taking care of the immediate pain that you might have. Really finding those additional value added services that are going to really help to skyrocket your business and get you where you want to be.

Jason: And not just skyrocket. Sometimes just a compliance issue. So think of like lot tracking, you know in case there's a recall. Make sure that you're able to handle it. Refrigeration, hazardous materials, the list goes on and on. But the short of it is- many 3PLs have a lot of more capabilities than the traditional pack and ship. So if you're looking for something special, be sure to bring it up.The last thing you talked about was the referrals we would love them. We are continuing to grow our warehouses and our footprint. Right now I've got some empty shelves and we'd love your referrals. We do a great job for the clients. And you know Jessica's team has really done a great job to make sure that clients are able to focus really on the sales and marketing their businesses, and they're able to outsource the fulfillment to us. And it's something that's just taken care of so easy.And so we'd love to go ahead and handle our next client, our next tens of clients, and hundreds of clients. So we appreciate that opportunity and as we've discussed here, it's all about our partnership with great communication to make sure that we're working hand-in-hand to take care of your product to your customer's satisfaction.

Carolina: Absolutely. So if all of those tips could be summarized into one, it's really that clear, consistent, ongoing communication no matter what..So that about brings us to the end of today's podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. Let us know what you thought! You can follow us on social media @rakutensl and let us know what you thought.Sign up for our newsletter so you can know about any of our upcoming podcasts and webinars and always be up to date.


Be sure to check out our podcast on new trends in eCommerce for 2019 as well!

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