Nov 20, 2023
Produce Services & Logistics is an intermodal freight forwarder and Conduit customer since October 2023. After a challenging summer peak season, they found Conduit seeking a warehouse dock appointment system that would help them increase efficiency and improve customer service.
Conduit CEO Conrad Lilleness sat down with PS&L’s General Manager, Teresa Nelson, to discuss how Conduit has helped her streamline warehouse operations and enable business growth.
By adopting Conduit and enforcing pickup and delivery appointments, PS&L:
Cleared traffic jams from their yard and increased labor efficiency: “It was so congested we couldn't get trucks into doors to get working on them, because there was just so much traffic out there. [...] It just created a huge traffic jam in the yard which translated into the warehouse [...] where our guys are kind of left with nothing to do, waiting for those trucks to come in. Just using Conduit for what it's supposed to be: an appointment system, and sticking with that, has solved the traffic issue for sure.”
Eliminated phone calls and emails for scheduling appointments: When we think about the number of phone calls and emails we get throughout the day to schedule the appointments – that in itself sometimes can be a full time job. [...] And so now to have that through the Conduit system, that is almost a full time job that's now been opened up to look at other areas and focus on other things.”
Improved communication with customers via automated updates: “[Our customers] receive an email just the same as the carriers do when a new appointment is set up for them, so that they can track what product is coming in if they have a question on it. So we have full transparency. There is no question how long we're taking and why and they can see what product has been received in our facility and what hasn't.”
Conduit gives PS&L the data they need to cut unnecessary overtime and inform business growth. “It is very difficult, in any growing business, to know when is it time to add more people [or] add more space, before you add more customers, more business. Having the data in front of us [...] really gives us an idea where we know right now [...] we are at capacity with the crew that we have. So to add on more business, we need to add more people. But it saves us unnecessary overtime or adding an extra person, because some days it feels like we're busy, but overall it's not necessary. We can really gauge the work versus the working hours.”
It took only two days for PS&L to transition all dock scheduling to Conduit. “It took [...] like two days to get everything in there and get going. And we've just been using it. That's been our only appointment system since we started.“
Conduit quickly adjusted its product to meet PS&L’s unique needs as a freight forwarder: “The support has been great. [...] I don't feel like there is one feature that we've asked for so far that has not been implemented.”
Conrad: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your company?
Teresa: So I am the general manager at PS&L – I've been here for about 8 years. I started as the logistics manager running the trucks – we have our own trucks, so running the dispatch department. And within the last, I want to say, about 18 months I was promoted to general manager.
We are a freight forwarder, also known as a freight consolidator. So product comes in, we consolidate it into ocean containers, primarily shipping to Alaska and Hawaii. And then we also do cross-dock transloading. And then we have a fleet of our own trucks that we do international containers, local deliveries [with].
With those – it sounds like three different segments more or less – what are the core business challenges you're addressing with Conduit?
Our biggest thing is finding that balance – anytime you want to grow and add more business, sometimes it's hard to know what to put first: the cart or the horse. Being able to schedule correctly and really get a good feel for what our current team can handle helps us know “Do we need to adjust our personnel schedule? Our receiving schedule? Or do we need to add people to help?” And so being able to really see how many trucks we can realistically do in a day, and how long each truck takes, has been pretty big in helping us see where we're at with our capacity. [...]
We have a fairly small, what we call our yard, for trucks to wait [in]. And so the way that we had been doing our scheduling before, and kind of the way that we were receiving trucks was like we had appointments, but it was also kind of on a first-come-first-serve basis – just trying to get trucks out, because we physically run out of space to hold them.
So, having a more concrete system and [...] scheduling [that] carriers can see – they have an email to go back and reference with instructions not to show up early, and if you do, then you will most likely be turned away. That has helped. We can stick to that appointment time and when we turn trucks away because they're too early, we can know that it's not because of us. It's not because of our lack of space or whatever, it's because they're so early for their appointment.
And having the driver’s phone number in there, to be able to let them know when they can come back – that's huge. So just being able to gauge: when trucks are waiting, is that because of us, or is that because they were here well before their appointment or well after and had to be worked in?
How did it work before Conduit?
So we would put appointments in like our Microsoft Outlook shared calendar. And I would say maybe 60% of our trucks for the day were on that calendar. The rest were written in. So we would have some appointments in the calendar, but then we would transfer it to like a Microsoft Word document and then trucks that weren't, that are just like work-ins, they would get written in and so it was kind of done twice.
And with that, just yeah, a lot of duplicates and trying to remember to go back and update that sign-in sheet – our “receiving log” is what we called it. A lot of times the driver or the warehouse guys would not go up and remember to sign trucks out. And so the data wasn't very accurate.
It sounds like there's maybe multiple [...] paper-based, spreadsheet-based processes Conduit consolidated. Would you mind outlining those specific ones and what the result is?
Just that – having some appointments in Microsoft Outlook that [were] transferred onto our daily receiving log. And then the trucks that we know regularly come in – we see pretty much the same trucks every week – somebody would have to go behind and write those in, so that we know they were coming, and then, as the day progressed, they were added to that sheet. And then we were behind the scenes calculating “How many trucks did we receive? How many did we know were coming in? How many are working – are being worked in? And how long did it take us to receive that truck?”
We had a lot of duplicate appointments. Somebody would have an appointment for one day and they would call to reschedule, but they wouldn't call it a “reschedule”, and so we would have the same appointment in [the schedule] multiple times. Being able to search [for] a PO in Conduit has pretty much eliminated that. We haven't seen duplicates.
And we set up a whole new email [address] for scheduling appointments that no longer is necessary. They can schedule it, carriers can schedule it directly online. And same with the phone calls – the phone calls have pretty much stopped, because the more that we can direct online so that you can see it on paper – “This is what you requested, and this is what was accepted.” That has been – that alone has been huge.
I think you were saying a little bit about the check-in experience, that through Conduit you're able to talk to drivers who left your facilities and tell them to come back when there is availability for them. How does that help?
And so, I said, we have very limited space here. And so at some point there just physically isn't anywhere for the trucks to be. And there's also that visual when you see trucks waiting out front in our yard, you kind of feel an obligation to get them in. You don't want them waiting.
But at the same time there's a reason that we scheduled them for a certain time, because there's other things that need to be done in the middle. And so it just gives us that opportunity to keep the yard clear, so we don't have people waiting in the street – which we have had [happen] – and our trucks can keep moving in and out. And then it's also just allowed us to take the time to do the other things that we need. As we're receiving it’s just as important that we're loading out. And so sticking to those appointments, having drivers leave and and come back at their appointment time, gives us the opportunity to stay on top of that.
What [business] problems were you seeing, and why did you choose to solve those problems versus others? Like, what made looking for Conduit, or solutions like it, a priority?
Well summer is our busiest time, like most places, and we felt like this summer in particular our customer service just wasn't what it needed to be, and what we're used to and what our customers are used to. And that was – we felt like we were over-scheduling ourselves and we had too many walk-ins. We weren't pushing at, asking for appointments. And our yard on our two busiest days of the week, our yard was a mess. There were literally trucks waiting in the street. It was so congested we couldn't get trucks into doors to get working on them, because there was just so much traffic out there. And then our own company trucks trying to get in and out – they were blocked.
It just created a huge traffic jam in the yard which translated into the warehouse. Waiting for trucks to get into a door slows us down, where our guys are kind of left with nothing to do, waiting for those trucks to come in. But then, also, being able to take the time in between the trucks to load that product out.
We did not have a good handle on it this summer and our main focus right now is making sure that we don't have another summer like that. And so far, I feel like we have – we've really gotten ahead of that problem. Just using Conduit for what it's supposed to be: an appointment system, and sticking with that, has solved the traffic issue for sure.
Can you walk us through the implementation and onboarding process?
It was pretty easy to get started. A lot of the information for hours and things like that were set up already – it was just a matter of tweaking just a little bit to make sure that they match exactly what we wanted.
But we really just had our scheduling ladies jump in, and we started with a fresh date. Everything got put into, putting that information into Conduit ourselves. We didn't start with the carriers putting it in themselves yet. And it was pretty seamless. I don't know that I have too much to add.
We took some appointments from our Outlook [calendar] and added them in [Conduit], but other than that we just kind of jumped into it, and it took, I don't know, maybe a full couple of days – like two days to get everything in there and get going. And we've just been using it. That's been our only appointment system since we started. We weren't duplicating – we weren't putting appointments in Outlook at the same time. We just went straight to Conduit.
Are there any specifics you can share on how you integrated Conduit into your workflows?
For us it was, as I said, a fairly simple process. It was just a matter of: we decided that we're not going to keep doing it the two different ways that we were doing it, duplicating all the information. And we sat down with – we have two women that do the scheduling, and made sure they knew how to put the information in. Worked with our warehouse team to make sure that they also knew how to check trucks in. And we just kind of forced the process.
We're working with our carriers now. I started with one carrier that comes in multiple times a week and had them start requesting appointments directly through the carrier link and that was pretty easy. Just giving them instructions on what information we wanted where and they would follow up with a quick email just to make sure they did it right.
And now we're freely giving out that link to everyone that emails to schedule with us, trying to get them, pushing them towards doing the appointments themselves. And now we have probably a handful or so, I think some are still a little scared of the change. But it seems like every day we have at least one more person that's used the link. I'm hoping by the summer, for sure, we can be 100% through the carrier link so we're not taking any phone calls or emails directly for appointments.
Any other obstacles or challenges for your team during implementation? And how did you get around them?
The program wasn't – there were a few areas that didn't quite fit exactly the way that we like our data to be outlined. One example: as a freight forwarder, we have multiple customers and some of those customers receive the same shippers. And so it's really important for us to know that “this shipper goes to customer A or customer B,” so having both pieces of that data in the scheduling system is important.
Same thing with temperature. We ship chill-, freeze-, and dry-product. And so, knowing ahead of time, how many freezer-chill appointments we have so we can have equipment prepared. And so, working with the way that it was structured before, how can we make that fit for us?
And then also just, mentioning those to the Conduit team, pretty much everything that we had as an immediate need you guys were either able to change for us or kinda give me some ideas on how we could make the program fit, the way that it was, for what we needed.
Yeah, it was fun collaborating with you in those early days – we’re still in the early days!
We are, but that really is – I don't want to say the sole reason – the main reason that we signed up with Conduit. There was one other program – price was comparable and it had a few features that we really liked that Conduit did not have. But the few features that they had that we did not like, and that did not work for us, there was no desire on their end to change that. They were very firm in their product and how it looked, which is great for them and their customers. It just wasn't working for us. And so the fact that from day one Conduit was open to understanding why we needed the changes that we needed and being open to make them fairly quickly – that changed the whole game for us.
What features do you find most valuable?
The workflow [view] for us is important – to see on one screen whether it's a work-in or an appointment, how early or late [carriers] were for their appointment, is important. On our busy loading days, to be able to keep track of what the priority is – is the truck waiting out front the priority? Or are they 3 hours early for their appointment and we have time to load something out? That is huge.
The report for my boss – being able to look through the reports and look at the average time a truck spends here, that was the data that he really wanted. How many trucks did we receive today? How many are work-ins versus appointments, and how long did it take us to unload them? So having the check-in, starting unload, and check out – having that data broken down gives us a really good idea of how long trucks are spending here, and do we need to do something better, or are we maybe a little shorthanded and we need to hire more people?
How has all of this changed the way your team operates, if at all?
We are enforcing appointments, which we were not before, and really looking at our schedule. We've adjusted our working hours a little bit. But having a realistic understanding of how many appointments we can have at each time, what temperatures – looking at all of that data and putting that and sticking with that.
As we grow, that's something that we really don't have a choice but to push to appointments and [hold] carriers accountable to that. That, for us, has been a very big shift. For a long time it was some appointments, but they were really just used as a heads up on what's coming in and not an actual strict appointment. And so that has – that's been a pretty big shift for us. Feeling like [it’s] okay to turn a truck away when they're 3 hours early and have them come back because we have other other work to do.
What would you say are the real tangible benefits of using Conduit?
[...] When we think about the number of phone calls and emails we get throughout the day to schedule the appointments – that in itself sometimes can be a full time job. Trying to catch up on ETAs, trying to find where trucks are, are they going to make it for the day? Was it a duplicate appointment, and that's why they haven't shown up? Trying to track all of that down takes a lot of time and focus away from other areas throughout the day.
And so now to have that through the Conduit system, that is almost a full time job that's now been opened up to look at other areas and focus on other things, which is what we needed. When you've been doing the same thing the same way for a long time, sometimes it's hard to realize that that's not the most efficient, the best way to do things. And so this has kind of brought us into the new age – today's date.
Earlier, you were talking about adjusting working hours. Can you talk to me a little bit more about that?
We're not quite busy enough to do like a second shift, but for many years we had all of our loaders and unloaders start at the same time and leave at the same time every day, whether we were busy or not, because we didn't really have a good gauge on “When are the trucks coming in? When are our busiest times? And when do we really need people the most?”
And so we've [been] looking over our receiving logs for the past few months. We noticed that the mornings are the busiest time, but then in the afternoons we're cutting ourselves short. We don't have that extra time to load product and get it put away.
And so we have started the fleet a little bit earlier. We have some guys that stay a little bit later. And we were able to move two warehouse people to working four ten[-hour shifts] because they're just not needed – Mondays aren't a busier day, so we don't need everyone here at that time.
And so as more data gets put into Conduit, we can look more at the reporting and how our scheduling is going. We can adjust again from there. But so far we have cut down probably, between all of the guys, I would say 15 to 20 hours of overtime a week that was just unnecessary. […]
Most of our warehouse people, they don't want to be here just sitting around. If there is not stuff to do, they want to be out that door with their families, doing a million other things. And if there's work to do, great. They're all about it. But they don't want to just sit here, waiting for trucks. And so to be able to adjust that and give some of the guys that live a little bit further four days to deal with traffic [commuting] as opposed to coming in all five days, that's been great. They get a three-day weekend every week. But then they stay a little bit later and they feel like they've accomplished something when they leave because they’ve loaded out as much as they can.
But to cut down on all the unnecessary overtime for us as a company, obviously, that is huge, and we can put that money into other areas. Hourly pay increases, bonuses – things like that.
That's awesome. How do you think the value of Conduit compares to other investments or software as you've implemented?
I think it's still early for us to say for sure, but I see the value in speaking with you and the Conduit team. There has been so much investment already in looking forward. How are we going to use this product long term? And what can we do with it? What changes can be made? That, to me, I think, pays for itself.
We're in kind of an interesting business where a lot of the programs out there don't fit us 100%. Inventory programs, warehouse management programs, they just don't quite fit what we do. And so to have a company like Conduit that can adjust with us and help us – they can change to fit our needs, but they can also give us ideas on how we can change and then help [us] grow – how else can we build this program so that it does fit for us? I think that's gonna be major.
How would you describe the support you've received from our team?
The support has been great. If whatever I've asked for cannot be changed or added right away, I at least get a quick response saying that and why. If it's something that Conduit wants to look at, how can they change this so that it fits all the customers and not just us, totally understandable.
And I like that, that you guys are thinking about everybody that uses the program and how it can fit for everyone. We have gotten immediate responses on everything and I don't feel like there is one feature that we've asked for so far that has not been implemented.
Overall, how satisfied are you with Conduit?
We are – my whole team is happy with Conduit.
We kind of have a “papa grump” on the team that was not looking forward to doing something on a computer – [he’s] not the most computer-savvy person. He very unwillingly – but he admitted on Friday that it’s growing on him, and he actually really likes it!
And it's been really easy. It is – you update how many pallets you received and you hit a checkout button. It is a few keys and then you're done. And we really are happy with it – to have all the drivers’ phone numbers in there, so when you're ready for a door, or you want them to come in, you can text it, not walking out in the rain and the cold, or trying to remember whose truck is who – we like it. There have been no complaints.
Awesome. And what's the primary reason you would recommend Conduit to others?
It is honestly the willingness to change. As our business changes, as technology changes – I like that. You guys are also trying to see how you can change and be the most helpful for the customers. It gives me faith in the product that I know that we're not stuck with the same program that we've been using for twenty years.
How does Conduit help you evolve your business for the future?
Like I mentioned, it is very difficult, in any growing business, to know when is it time to add more people, add more space – whatever it is – before you add more customers, more business. Having the data in front of us – how many trucks are we receiving in a day, and how long does it take us – really gives us an idea where we know right now, literally, where we're at, we are at capacity with the crew that we have. So to add on more business, we need to add more people. But it saves us unnecessary overtime or adding an extra person, because some days it feels like we're busy, but overall it's not necessary. We can really gauge the work versus the working hours.
How do you see our products impacting your long-term goals?
We, like every business – we want to grow, we want to add more customers and add more business, and we want to know that when we do that we can handle it and there won't be any hiccups for the customers. That it's gonna be a seamless transition from whoever they were using before to us. And so we have the data at our fingertips to help us keep up on that. [...]
We have it set up now with one of our customers. They receive an email just the same as the carriers do when a new appointment is set up for them, so that they can track what product is coming in if they have a question on it. If a carrier has scheduled an appointment – which they have asked many times – they now have an answer to that. Because they're in the emails, they see when the carriers are late. They see how long the trucks are here because they get updates for when they're checked in and checked out. So we have full transparency. There is no question how long we're taking and why and they can see what product has been received in our facility and what hasn't.
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