Manual route planning is time-consuming. It can be challenging enough for human planners to work with a few delivery vehicles and low order volumes. Add in complex routes, differing driver skill levels, and varying time window requests and manual planning can turn to in chaos. As such, it is essentially impossible to rapidly and accurately calculate routes and meet promised delivery times without an efficient route planner.
Many fleet operators rely on legacy technology for planning routes. These companies often deal with angry customers as a result of failing to meet promised delivery time windows. This is because legacy route planners tend to be slow in making calculations, and they have difficulty factoring in all of the different elements that impact delivery times. The result is inefficient routing and inaccurate time window estimates.
To stay competitive in the modern last mile, you need to optimize routes every single day to manage your fleet efficiently. This means rapidly factoring in real-time variables, priority stops, time constraints, and loading time, to name just a few elements that impact routing.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the usual bottlenecks affecting route planning and how an efficient route planner can save your company both time and money.
The Top Challenges in Route Planning
Manual route planning is inefficient and time-consuming even for small businesses. Route planning and optimization challenges may vary depending on the business's size, but the same fundamental challenges apply in most situations.
Factoring in Real-Time Variables
Even if you’ve found the shortest route for a given set of orders by hand, making changes to that route on the day of delivery often results in chaos and a loss of efficiency. Drivers suffer too, since their plans are being upended and they may have to worry about meeting ETAs.
Last-minute changes to route plans happen because of any number of reasons:
- When customers request changes in the delivery address or time
- When a driver can't come to work for the day or has to leave early for personal reasons
- If the consignee isn't available to receive their order
Without a rapid way to adjust routes in real time, these and other reasons can disrupt the entire fleet’s workflow for the day and can cause drivers to miss promised delivery windows. This, in turn, will cause customer satisfaction to drop, which will stress out the customer team who have to deal with the irate customers.
It's not only planners that experience difficulty. Drivers face challenges to overcome daily as using manually planned routes is always a struggle.
- Having to use various systems in their daily routines such as messaging apps, paper proof of delivery, or a stand-alone proof of delivery solutions and delivery lists
- Driving through routes that are far from optimal, which causes overlaps, backtracking, and delays
- Using a complex built-navigation interface or relying on both the driver assignment printout and their preferred navigational apps like Waze, Google Maps, or Apple Maps
Lack of Visibility on Drivers
Without modern delivery management technology, fleet managers or dispatchers have to message or call their drivers to know their actual location and then have to relay this information either directly to the customer or the customer service team.
Additionally, the customer team has to deal with irate customers who haven’t been provided with accurate expected times of arrival (ETAs). Ideally, your ETAs would update as your drivers go along—but if you lack visibility into driver workflows, this can be difficult or impossible.
For the same reasons we saw above with real-time planning, manual or legacy routing workflows can make it difficult to scale routing efforts up or down as needed. Since the routing process is so time consuming to begin with, there may be no way to keep up with demand if there’s a sudden spike in order volumes.
Knowing these bottlenecks can help you appreciate the value of having an efficient route planning solution, one that enables you to improve the operational efficiency of their delivery operations.
How an Efficient Route Planner Helps You Overcome Bottlenecks
An effective multi-stop, dynamic route planning software solution can find the shortest routes in a matter of minutes. It can handle route planning for fleet operations with large delivery volumes as well as multiple drivers handling multiple stops every day. How? We’re glad you asked...
Customization and Flexibility
The right solution allows users to identify and customize their delivery constraints and input them into the system as needed. Each business is unique, and they all have their own set of requirements and challenges. This might include routing to ensure certain priority drop-offs and delivery time frames while still providing the most efficient stops and routes. Or it might mean routing around an existing set of recurring stops if you’re working in a B2B context.
AI and Machine Learning
For a truly efficient route planner, you should seek out something that learns from previous deliveries. This is possible with solutions that offer AI and machine learning based functionality out of the box. When your routing solution learns from the outcomes of previous routes and deliveries, you can create better routes and more accurate ETAs. Again, this is a function of accounting for more variables than a human planner can really grapple with, from regional effects to different load and vehicle types to driver skill level and service time.
Of course, efficiency isn’t just about the routes that are being put out. It’s also a matter of how quickly those routes can be calculated and adjusted—especially in periods where order volumes might be fluctuating. To empower rapid route optimization, most businesses need a cloud-based solution that can scale computing power up or down as needed. This is something that legacy software, by definition, can’t provide.
Traditional route planning makes life harder for fleet managers, since they can't see where their drivers are. The right solution offers fleet managers complete visibility on their delivery teams, allowing them to locate them at any time. Having complete visibility on drivers on the road allows companies to manage their resources more effectively, cuts down on operating costs, and provides customers with accurate ETAs on the day of delivery.
With an efficient route planner, businesses can account for priority stops, time constraints, and other unique business needs while optimizing the delivery process as it happens. The result? Reduced fuel and labor costs, plus happier customers and drivers.