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July 24 2006 11:14 AM

The great majority of problems that occur in the distribution cycle are directly related to human error, negligent omissions or just plain lack of knowledge and training. Mistakes and accidents in the distribution cycle can be caused by the lack of due diligence on the part of any player: shipper, carrier, intermediary, receiver, warehouse personnel. Most of these errors are avoidable, but it requires a conscious effort by corporate management to curtail them. Following are some suggestions on how parcel shippers and their distribution agents and customers can reduce losses by applying the principles of due diligence.
At Shipping Points
Create a �Corporate Procedures Manual� for training shipping personnel and replacements. Insist on accurate documentation of every order shipped. Inspect every package and retain all records showing the condition of goods from the production line to the tail gate of the pickup vehicle. These records are crucial to the recovery of loss and damage claims, to the defense of product liability suits and to the defense of third-party actions for personal injury, death or property damage that occurred in the course of the distribution of your goods.
Make sure your shipments are packaged sufficiently to withstand damage. If you are unsure, consult with your packaging supplier, a packaging engineer and/or your carrier. It would be a good practice to have your carriers acknowledge in writing that your packaging is adequate. This will help avoid declinations based on �insufficient packaging.� Also, check for errors in shipping documentation. Carelessness in typing addresses and ZIP Codes can double the cost of shipping a package and expose the package to increased damage and theft.
Audit express bills internally or outsource that function to professional auditors who specialize in parcel express services or both. Many of these firms are run by former parcel express carriers who know and understand the express parcel business as well as their billing practices and problems.
Look for extra charges that do not apply to your packages (residential surcharges, address correction, oversized packages, dimensional weight, delivery confirmation, hazardous material, COD, etc). Accessorial charges can more than double the normal package charge, and many of these charges are being erroneously added to shippers� bills. Transportation consultants can provide the expertise and electronic auditing systems that many small shippers lack. These consultants should be used regularly, particularly when the carrier attempts to �backbill� a customer for additional charges dating back several years beyond the statute of limitations.
Learn and apply the time limits and government regulations that govern the filing of claims, carriers� handling of claims, shippers� time limits on protesting charges, giving notice of loss and damage and filing law suits. Parcel carriers are also governed by these time limits but have been known to ignore them in hopes that an uninformed shipper will nevertheless pay invoices for expired back-billings. Missing time limits has probably resulted in claimants� losses of more money than they recover from carriers! Always insist that the carrier produce back-up documentation before paying bills for additional charges.
At Delivery Points
Carelessness in accepting deliveries from carriers is a major cause of declined loss and damage claims. Shippers must educate their customers on how to properly inspect packages and to note carefully damage and shortages on the carriers� delivery receipts. Writing �Subject to later inspection� is worthless. Just writing �damaged� without indicating the type, location and extent of damage can result in no recovery. Urge receivers to take instant or digital photographs of damaged goods and insist that drivers acknowledge the damage on the delivery receipt.
Advise your customers that they must retain the damaged goods, the packing materials and the exterior package until the carrier inspects or acknowledges responsibility. Failure to do so will generally result in an unrecoverable claim.