Nearly everything consumers buy will have to pass through a Freight Agent at one point or another on its journey. The $1.5 trillion shipping industry is essential for business and everyday life. As such, it is important shippers choose the right freight agency to ensure their goods are handled properly without unexpected issues.
If you already know why you need a Freight Agent (not to be confused with a Freight Broker), how do you choose one? There are many factors to consider. Use this guide to help you secure the best Freight Agent to facilitate the shipment of your cargo.
#1 – Certification
What certification and licenses do you hold?
Freight Agents should be required to have the proper documents to demonstrate they’re legally allowed to perform their services. You can check with your regional authorities or ask potential Agents for copies of their certification. It’s imperative to make certain they’re qualified and authorized to perform services in your area .
Keep in mind that an Independent Freight Agent (independent contractor) and Freight Agent (employee) operate under the authority of a Freight Broker or brokerage. An Agent should be able to tell you about the licenses and FMSCA authority held by their brokerage.
#2 – Experience
How long have you been in business?
Experience is important as it means they’ll likely understand the process and know the intricacies of the industry. They’ll understand the laws and regulations of shipping various types of cargo. Even better, given their length of time in the industry, they may have strong industry connections that allow a seamless shipping process, making things easier for you.
Look for an Agent with at least a few years experience in the field. This will help make sure your goods won’t end up lost, damaged, undelivered, or affected by inexperience or lack of knowledge about the shipping process.
However, everyone needs someone to give them their first shot. If you have a good sense about a new Agent without much experience, ask about the experience they do have in transportation or related fields and why they want to get into freight.
#3 – Specialization
What methods of shipment and locations do you specialize in?
Shipping is a very complicated business. There are many different types of services provided depending on the cargo size, weight, value, destination, country/region/state, and more. Your Agent should specialize in the kind of services you need to ship your goods. This means they’ll have experience with this particular type of service and know the ins and outs of it.
That being said, if the Agent does not specialize in your niche or location, listen for their response. Do they have a network they can reach out to for support? Are they driven to learn about it? Have they shipped a similar type of good? Sometimes their lack of experience in your particular product doesn’t mean they aren’t the best fit for you.
#4 – References
Where can I view a list of references from previous customers?
Choose an Agent who is happy to provide references from past clients. Ask for contact details so you can speak to those references directly. These people will be able to tell you about their experiences with the Agent and whether or not they were satisfied with the service.
References allow you to gain insight into their professionalism, competency, reliability, and trustworthiness. You should also look at the Agent’s online customer reviews where possible to get a better idea of their level of customer service.
In addition, you can ask the Agent to share about how they overcame a past shipping issue to see how they solve problems.
#5 – Best Offer
What is your best offer for shipping my goods?
Shipping Agents have different shipping costs based on volume, weight, size, and country/region/state of origin. Ensure you ask for this information before signing contracts or agreements. Compare prices to understand what is available. You’ll get a complete picture of what each agency has to offer and gain insight into competitive pricing to avoid being overcharged.
The price, of course, should depend on the level of services offered as well as the quality of services expected. Cheaper prices may not provide the quality of service you require. Be prepared to choose a reasonable price for the services you expect.
#6 – Timeline
How soon can you begin shipping my goods?
Some services and destinations require more lead time than others. If the service you need cannot begin immediately, it may affect your schedule for moving or shipping your cargo. Ask your Agent how soon they can start shipping your goods to ensure they can meet any deadlines you have set.
#7 – Pre-Shipping Documentation
What documentation do I need to provide before shipping my goods?
There are many different documents both the shipper and the recipient need to facilitate a smooth delivery. Some documents may also need to come from a third party, such as an insurer. Make sure you know what document your Agent requires so you can provide them with it before they begin working on your shipment.
#8 – Cargo Insurance
What types of cargo insurance do you offer?
Several companies provide cargo insurance for goods being shipped. Each company has its requirements about what types of services or goods they will insure. Ask your Agent to discuss providers and define requirements before shipping. This insurance should be held by the freight brokerage under whose authority a Freight Agent is operating. The Freight Agent should be aware of the broker’s insurance.
#9 – After Delivery Expectations
What should I expect after my shipment has arrived at its destination?
Shipping does not end when your goods reach their final destination. Your Freight Agent should be able to provide you with information about what happens next. For instance, what communication can you expect to receive? If there is something an Agent has done or you in the past that was helpful or did not do what you wished they had, now is the time to ask.
#10 – Complaints
How do I go about filing a complaint if necessary?
Like all businesses, shipping agencies sometimes make errors or don’t meet customer expectations. If this happens during an international shipment, different bodies handle disputes depending on how you shipped your goods. Make sure you know how to resolve complaints in the event something does not go as expected. Inquire about how they handle disputes so you will be prepared for anything that might happen.
#11 – Difference
What makes you different?
Finally, be sure to ask for any additional information that might be relevant and helpful. Top Freight Agents should not hesitate to share what makes them stand out. It might be how easy it is to reach them, their work ethic or willingness to get the job done, and so forth. This question will help you make an informed decision about whether or not this Agent can provide the kind of shipping services that are best for you and your cargo.
Don’t attempt to go it alone as a shipper. When you’re ready to look for a Freight Agent, these 12 questions will help you find the best fit for your unique needs. Use this list to ensure you find an Agent who can serve you well for the years to come.
If you are currently looking for an experienced Freight Agent to move your goods, please get in touch with us, and we’ll discuss the intricacies of your shipping needs.