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How to Deal with Extreme Weather Delays in Last Mile Logistics

Disruptions to the last mile delivery process are nothing new—logistics professionals have had to find ways to deal with last-minute headaches and snafus for as long as there have been deliveries to fulfill. But there is one area where potential supply chain and delivery disruptions seems to be getting more and more commonplace: extreme weather-related delays.

extreme weather delays in last mile logisticsYou only have to turn on the news to see hurricanes in unlikely places, record heat, record snowfalls, and other out-of-the-ordinary occurrences that, among other effects, have the potential to make deliveries difficult or impossible. So it's no wonder that the number of logistics professionals who listed extreme weather as a top concern this holiday season is more than double what it was in 2022 (36% vs 14%).

Luckily, the average delivery business has more tools than ever at its disposal when it comes to dealing with the unexpected. Customer communication and route optimization capabilities can make it easier to mitigate the damage from extreme weather events and can help get deliveries back on track after the fact.

Below, you’ll find a few important best practices for dealing with weather delays in an efficient way while ensuring minimal inconvenience to your customers. 

Utilize customized notifications to keep customers informed

Let’s see you’re a delivery organization in Seattle, and the whole city has just been hit with an ice-storm. The roads are iced-over, and the hilly terrain makes driving even more treacherous than it might otherwise have been. None of your drivers can even make it to the warehouse without risking life and limb—so you’ve got to cancel the day’s routes.

One of the first hurdles you need to overcome at this point is letting your customers know that their orders aren’t going to be delivered. This can present an obvious challenge: if you don’t have any way of automating the process, you’re stuck calling them up manually, which can be incredibly time-consuming and simply doesn’t scale.

Here, the best practice is to have configured notifications ahead of time for precisely this kind of event. When you’ve already got emails and texts configured that say some variation on “We’re sorry, but due to the inclement weather we won’t be able to deliver your order today,” you just have to choose the right audience and send out a notification blast. Not only does this save you time, it ensures that your customers are notified promptly of the delay, which they’ll appreciate (or at least prefer to the alternative). 

Make it easy for customers to reschedule

Of course, once your customers have learned that their deliveries aren’t going to show up because of the snowstorm, flooding, etc., they’ll all have the same question on their minds: when is the delivery going to arrive now? 

Studies have shown the rescheduling is often stressful for consumers (and no doubt your typical B2B clientele doesn’t love it either), so it’s important wherever there’s a disruption of this kind to get orders rescheduled with as little friction as possible. 

One way of making this happen is to include a rescheduling link in the notifications you send out alerting customers of the cancellation. If you have customer self-scheduling as part of your last mile logistics workflow, you can include a self-scheduling link and let your customers find a new time slot that works for them based on your existing capacity limitations. Conversely, you can include a number for them to call to reschedule.

For some types of deliveries, you can proactively reschedule for a time that fits in with your existing plans—just make sure you notify the customer as soon as possible and make it obvious what they need to do if the new proposed time doesn’t work for them. 

Prioritize real-time visibility

You might be getting the sense at this point that being proactive is the name of the game when it comes to dealing with extreme weather events—and you’d be spot on. The more effectively you can get out ahead of situations that are going to cause widespread disruptions to your operations and your customers, the better positioned you are to resolve the situation when the disruption (literally) blows over. 

Part of making this happen comes down to having a plan in place—specifically with regards to your communications with customers. But part of it is being able to keep tabs on unfolding situations and act on new information quickly. Sure, sometimes you have a few days' notice about an impending storm—but sometimes road conditions deteriorate in the middle of your delivery runs. 

When the latter situation arises, it’s important to be able to spot that something’s amiss as quickly as possible. This means ensuring real-time delivery visibility across the entire last mile. 

What does that look like in practice? Here a few elements to prioritize:

  • Centralize your data in a single intuitive view, e.g. a real-time delivery tracking dashboard
  • Make sure you can see every truck, route, and delivery from a single screen, including live ETA information
  • Configure alerts for late deliveries and other exceptions
  • Call out exceptions in their own dedicated tab or module
  • Ensure connectivity and open lines of communication with drivers and customers alike

Most of the time, this level of visibility will help you spot disruptions and respond to them more quickly than you otherwise might. In situations involving extreme weather, it’ll enable you to see the effect that weather patterns are having on your deliveries and act accordingly in a timely manner. 

Leverage fast, flexible route optimization

Like we noted above, after you’ve overcome the first hurdle in an extreme weather event by notifying your customers to the disruption, the next thing you’ve got to do is figure out when you’re actually to deliver all of those canceled orders. This can be a challenge when you’re already pressed for capacity—which is why having the right route optimization tools in place is so crucial. 

When your route optimization offers you speed and flexibility—i.e. the ability to generate routes from scratch in a matter of minutes and update them in seconds, all while maintaining route efficiency—you can much more easily handle the fallout from an event that cancels an entire day’s routes in a given area. 

In practice, this means that your route optimization needs to provide enough processing power that you can reroute as many trucks as you need without any sort of slowdown. It also needs to be built to enable you to make adjustments (e.g. having an option for rescheduling an entire route at a time), and to generally get the most out of your capacity by accounting for service time, driver skills, differences in vehicle capacity and driver speed, etc. 

Maximize your capacity utilization

The kind of route optimization we’re describing puts you in a position where you’re not running your trucks half empty—which means you can handle more orders with your existing fleet, even when some of those orders are rescheduled from the previous week’s snowstorm. 

But fulfilling orders during a capacity crunch isn’t all about cramming as many orders onto your own trucks as possible. Rather, when things are unpredictable, you want to make sure you’re set up to have a certain amount of flexibility in your fulfillment network. This way, you can scale up your deliveries to handle increases in volume without breaking a sweat. 

This can involve a lot of moving parts, the basic idea here is that your last mile delivery technology should enable you to easily integrate with 3PL partners, as well as one-off contract carriers and providers like OneRail who offer last mile as a service. When the barriers to leveraging these options are low enough, you can ensure that you’re utilizing capacity in the most cost-efficient way—all while ensuring that the right products get the right customers at the right time following weather delays. At the end of the day, that makes a huge difference in how well you can weather extreme storms. 

DispatchTrack offers the most powerful end-to-end suite of tools for last mile logistics operators. Dispatchers, drivers, customers and clients can access our app on any device to schedule, track, modify and verify your deliveries.

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