Military Moving Industry Updates: PCS Q&A
by Lizann Lightfoot - August 19th, 2022
The below interview was originally published in 2021. For the most updated PCS moving company information, watch the video above or click this link.
Guests: International Association of Movers
Chuck was an Army brat whose dad served 20 years in the military and then retired, so Chuck eventually decided to become involved in the moving industry. IAM now represents over 2,000 moving companies around the world, and he has been with them for seven years, serving the past two years as the President of the Association.
Dan has been with IAM for three years, but spent 20 years in the Air Force and has since worked with the DoD managing moving and logistics for the personal property program.
What do you need to do before the movers arrive?
Washer, refrigerators, and any appliance with water need to be drained and dried out before moving. A front-load dryer needs to have the bolts on the inside, so it doesn’t get damaged in the move. Outdoor big furniture or playground sets need to be disassembled before the movers arrive–this is your responsibility! You can find more pre-packing tips in our previous webinar here.
Recently IAM formed a panel with the move industry. Tell us more about that.
A military spouse approached us with the idea of having a military spouse forum in conjunction with the industry to discuss the moving process. It’s the Military Relocation Advisory Panel (MRAP). We put that together to gain understanding and appreciation of military families going through the PCS process and to better understand what happens and why, help dispel myths on both sides, and foster confidence among military spouses in the moving industry. We can raise concerns to the DoD.
The idea came about because we have all these different panels and stakeholders, but there were no conversations happening between those receiving the service and those providing the process. This panel will help educate each other and help explain why things can or can’t happen a certain way, and see how we can help improve the process and experience for everyone. Right now, we have several spouses involved from the different branches, and if we eventually need to expand, we will put a call out for more involvement. But at the moment we are trying to keep it small.
We have only had one meeting so far, and I think it’s important that we develop a common language. We use a lot of acronyms in the DoD, and the moving companies don’t always know that. The same happens when the moving industry talks to military families. So we need to open up the dialog and better understand each other. We will probably have guests come in and out of meetings to improve participation and involvement.
During the pandemic, a lot changed with the Stop Move orders and the moving process. How have things changed since then?
The first thing we learned is that when we did draw down the number of moves, we got reports from the DoD and TRANSCOM that the satisfaction rates were at 96% or better. When you smooth out the demand, people can focus more on individual shipments, but when you stress the industry, it stresses out the customer as well. TRANSCOM and the services were careful not to jump back in full speed when the green light came on for moves, so we learned it does help to smooth out the demand a little bit.
We learned a lot about the use of technology in the move process. We had to do social distancing and virtual surveys. We started better utilizing the tools out there, so instead of someone physically coming to your house before the move, we used phone or other mobile devices to go around the room and show your house to the mover in your own time frame–late at night or before you go to work. This has been positive in advancing the use of technology and making it more streamlined for military customers to do a pre-move survey. It has been efficient, and there is even a video recording of the goods and condition of goods. And I think we are doing a better job on the communication side, which has been one of the things we needed to improve as an industry.
Your Transportation Service Provider (TSP) can tell you details about what they can and can’t pack due to air freight or shipping rules. Please respect the movers’ list of things not to pack!
On the customer side, make sure that you are getting to all the locations in your home, including the attic, garage, etc. Sometimes this doesn’t always happen, so the better job you do on the visual, the better outcome it will be for everyone. If you are not comfortable with the virtual tool for security reasons, it can’t be forced on you. The video cannot be shared, so talk to your TSP about any security concerns. These videos should be destroyed after your move.
Peak PCS season is coming this summer. What are some of the expectations military families should have this PCS season?
We are seeing that in the first few weeks of this year, we are 10,000 shipments over where we were last year (even before COVID began). We think some people are getting ahead of the curve avoiding peak season. We are seeing delays going to and from West Coast ports, which has been an ongoing problem. Trucking and rail have had delays as well, so it is now sometimes taking a week or more just to get containers onto the rail. There are labor problems associated with all these problems as well.
Our industry is going to have to deal with the challenge that there are very few movers who only do military moves. Many do commercial moves as well. There sure is a backlog in the national account arena of corporations moving their employees, or the individual shipper who wants to move on their own dime. So we do believe we will see a fight for capacity this summer. You may have an uphill battle getting the date you are looking for, because we are getting pulled in many directions.
Put in your requested dates as soon as you get your orders. The sooner you get your dates requested, the sooner you get into the shipment queue. This also affects shipping a vehicle overseas, especially going to Asia. Many of those ports are so backed up that ships cannot unload when they arrive. This is particularly an issue at L.A./ Long Beach.
Remember you can set up your move before you have a final address. You can always put in a guesstimated address or the name of the city or military base. Put in your request now, and update the address later.
Many people choose to do a PPM or DITY move each year. What are red flags they should watch out for if hiring their own service for help with a PPM?
You have to do your due diligence. There are tools to help you with this: the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is part of the Department of Transportation, and they license all movers that are doing interstate moves. You can go to their site and enter the name of a company to pull up their profile and check if they are licensed or insured.
We have a publicly available directory at IAM to check if a company is validated. Remember, anyone can set up a website, and there can be fake credentials on a website. You can check the Better Business Bureau to get a rating on a company. IAM can also be a resource to check if someone is a reputable company. There are lots of red flags that may show criminals out there looking to take advantage of people.
People come to us on the DoD side sometimes and ask us about particular companies. Sometimes these criminal movers try to mirror the name of a legitimate company very closely, which can be very confusing. Very few reputable companies ask for a deposit. Those are brokers who essentially put your money in their pockets, and then find someone else affordable to do your move.
IAM is currently building a website called IAMtrusted which will have a ton of different requirements for moving companies to get listed. Then customers will have a convenient list of trusted companies. We may be working with PCSgrades to develop this site and approve the moving companies.
Who is accountable for the quality and training of workers on a military move?
Each Transportation Service Provider (TSP) has to be responsible for their own employees, guaranteeing their training, their background checks, and their COVID checks. The DoD established health guidelines for screenings, legal background checks back to seven years, etc. But a company that is cutting corners doesn’t deserve to be in the program.
Sometimes during peak season, there are drivers who are owner-operated, who are basically contracted to the larger organizations. They may try to go to a local agency to pick up help before they go to pick up your shipment. It is their responsibility to ensure they are doing background checks and working with reputable individuals, but that is how some people fall through the cracks.
If you are concerned with someone in your home, you can always reach out to your Move Coordinator, your local Transportation Office, and the TSP. If you aren’t comfortable with someone’s health or behavior, you are now more empowered to ask someone to be removed from your home and be provided with a replacement. Someone at your site should be the crew chief, so if you can’t get hold of a quality insurance individual, talk to the crew chief and ask them to sit in the truck until the situation can be cleared up.
Talk to us about the new seven-day window pickup spread. How did that rule change this year?
This is a hot topic for the industry, TRANSCOM, and the customers. There is a concern that there may be different definitions. From the industry side, this means that the date that shows up in your DPS is the first day of the seven-day spread. If you enter June 1st as your date, they have from June 1-7 to pick up your shipment. The packing dates can occur before the window, but the pickup of the shipment should occur in that seven-day window.
The TSP has to go to their local agent and verify that someone has availability for packing and pickup between June 1-7. Then they may choose a date of June 3rd. There is the possibility for pushback on the customer side, but this request can’t always be granted. This is a change from the way the industry is used to handling dates, but there are some positives for the customer, because they have a better idea of when their shipment will be picked up.
The people doing the move counseling may not all have the same understanding of the new spread date rule, so we need to be clear about the way we communicate with customers.
It doesn’t mean they have seven days to schedule the move. It means that the requested pickup date in DPS must be within seven days of the actual scheduled pickup date. The TSP usually has to contact you within three days to verify the pickup date. So you should know your date in advance. You should not be waiting a whole week for your pickup. The seven-day window is established well in advance.
DPS has not made any updates or changes to indicate this new seven-day window. The start date of the seven-day spread is in the preferred pickup date window.
The problem is that the “Preferred Date” is not the middle of the seven-day window, it is the start of the window. So we start on the preferred date and look for a provider that can pick it up starting on that date or seven days later.
Also, consider that Saturday and Sunday are not days that count in that agreement. There is a lot of negotiation that went on between military families and TSPs to make this happen, so it would be good to discuss this before the fact and work on a seven-day window. It’s best to have your transportation scheduled first, so you can coordinate other things around that date.