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Expert Q&A Blog: Avoiding Unwanted Freight Invoice Surprises

SMC³ recently talked with Niki Bolton, chief strategic operations officer and senior truck auditor at American Truck & Rail Audits, Inc. about how shippers can proactively reduce accessorial charges and invoice surprises. Bolton will serve as an expert panelist during a live seminar on reducing invoice surprises as part of SMC³’s LTL Online Education course, LTL203: LTL Freight Pricing, starting July 20.

Niki Bolton serves as the chief strategic operations officer and senior truck auditor at American Truck & Rail Audits, Inc. (AMTR). She has been with AMTR for 15 years and has experience in many areas, including data entry, transportation truck auditing, and truck team audits manager. Bolton has recently taken on a broader scope of projects for the company, while still auditing freight invoices and filing overcharge claims with carriers on behalf of her shipper clients. 

To do this well, she had to learn a lot about the history of the freight transportation industry from both the carrier and shipper perspectives. Bolton has also led projects at AMTR including contract negotiations, the scholarship selection committee, new auditor training, expert witness work, and KPI reporting.

Because the transportation and trucking industries are ever-changing, she frequently attends conferences and pursues continuous education to stay informed on best practices and supply chain trends. Read on to learn more about reducing invoice surprises that benefit both carriers and shippers and lead to more beneficial relationships.

What are the most common reasons transportation stakeholders receive an accessorial charge on their invoice?

Over the last few years, accessorial charges have been increasing in both price and occurrence.

Any service/action outside of a standard pick-up and drop-off invokes one or multiple accessorial charges to be billed. This could range from a fee for making an appointment for delivery, special delivery services (inside/liftgate/residential delivery, freeze protection, etc.) to fees for unusually shaped or large-sized freight.

Something more recent that warrants attention is the addition of AI-supported software being utilized by carriers for billing additional accessorial charges. This software recognizes key invoice data that identifies the opportunity for billing additional accessorial services/charges. For example, the software can identify a shipper or consignee’s address as a residence and then automatically a residential delivery fee.

What can transportation stakeholders do proactively on the front end to reduce invoice surprises on the back end?

For starters, shippers should be very cognizant of the information they are or are not including on their bills of lading (BOL). Ambiguous notes can lead to added erroneous accessorial charges. Documenting all information will increase a shipment’s ability to move seamlessly from origin to destination without confusion or delays.

Shippers should also review all information pre-printed on the bills of lading. Depending on the bill of lading version being used, notes listed on the front and/or back of the document may incorporate other sources (NMFC, statutes, tariffs) and limitations that will be applicable to the shipment and may impact invoicing charges.

Shippers should also be well-versed in a carrier’s rules tariff. This is where the accessorial charges and rules for their application can be found. Rules and charges have been added to carriers’ rules tariffs over the years as the transportation/trucking industry expectations and services continue to grow and change. In addition, some charges that existed in the past for a specific reason—such as capacity load charges for LTL carriers which existed to ensure carriers get paid a minimum amount of revenue for a trailer—have Increased to add revenue beyond that minimum.

What kind of information do you recommend shippers include so that the BOL remains accurate throughout the handling and delivery process?

At a minimum, shippers should note that per CFR 49 Subtitle B Chapter III Subchapter B Part 373.100 requires the minimum information to be included on a bill of lading as:

  • Name of consignor and consignee
  • Origin and destination points
  • Number of packages
  • Description of freight
  • Weight, volume, or measurement of freight (if applicable to rating of the freight)

Of course, these are noted as the minimums. Because the bill of lading is the contract of carriage of goods, accurate and detailed information should be a best practice.

Shippers should be aware of what extra information they are listing on their bills of lading, and what they are not listing. Adding extra comments may cause ambiguity for carrier billing clerks. For instance, not noting that the consignee requires an appointment or liftgate, the initial delivery attempt may not be successful, therefore, causing a delay and extra accessorial charges such as redelivery. On the other hand, adding a note such as “shipper will pay for liftgate delivery services if required” may be seen as an automatic request for a liftgate and thus the fee would be applied erroneously.

What role does SMC³’s LTL Online Education program play in better helping supply chain professionals prepare for situations like this and bolster their overall LTL knowledge?

I took the SMC3 CLTL courses after being in the industry for many years. It enriched my knowledge on the history of the trucking industry, my understanding of areas of the industry that I am not exposed to in my present role and increased my understanding from various other perspective such as carrier, shipper, NMFC, and relevant agencies.

I highly recommend this course for anyone who is involved to any significant degree in the LTL industry.  There are not a lot of options available for obtaining LTL knowledge; however, this program offers a wealth of experience and relevant knowledge. Finally, it provides exposure to industry experts in a conversational forum.

Bolton holds various certifications, including Certified Less-Than-Truckload (CLTL, 2021), Notary Public (AR), and Certified Trucker Against Trafficking.

She is also an active member of many transportation/trucking-related organizations including the National Industrial Transportation League (highway and rail committees), the Transportation & Logistics Council (member), Women in Trucking (content advisory council), and All Truckers Together Against Child Abuse.

Sign up for LTL203: LTL Freight Pricing today and start the path to accelerating your career and advancing your industry knowledge!

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Categories: 3PL, API, Carrier Relations, Data, Education, Freight, Logistics, Logistics Service Providers, LTL, Product, Supply Chain, Technology, Transportation, Truckload, Uncategorized