April 28, 2013

Are you paying attention to truck driver retention? Because you should be.

At our very first Driver Xperience Board meeting—an event that was open to all drivers attending the Mid-America Trucking Show—we were saddened to learn that very few professional drivers liked or took pride in the firms they hauled for. No doubt, these attitudes help explain why turnover at large carriers is often above 90%, and a rate of 75% or more at smaller carriers isn’t uncommon.

Are drivers hanging up your keys? Keep them on your team with a sound truck driver retention program.

With the estimated cost of recruiting a new driver averaging $5,000, not only is taking care of your drivers the right thing to do—it also makes sound business sense.
So, if you’re managing a trucking firm, look closely at what’s making your drivers unhappy and address those issues. (The caveat being: You can’t pay your drivers lip service, you must be willing to actually do something about it.)

And to help you along the way, we’ve pulled together a few useful tips and tools.


Let’s get started…

1) Driver recruitment – Let’s be honest from the start

Are you working with a recruiter? It’s critical that they aren’t filling your potential drivers’ heads full of what they want to hear, just to get them in the door. Rather, they need to be honest and up-front from the start.

That vein of honesty should continue on in your own interviews. Be crystal clear about your expectations regarding work hours, responsibilities, home time and pay.

In fact, this sentiment was shared by an X Nation driver, Keith Johnson“How about starting with just being honest. Unfortunately, a lot of those in this industry that take home a paycheck because of the miles we drive have a difficult time going any length of time without lying.”

That’s not always the case, of course: we’ve heard from plenty of drivers who feel their jobs reflect what’s been promised to them, and feel they’re being treated with respect. But it is an issue and it’s one we need to address.

So, the question then is—do you have any idea what drivers think of you and your business?

If drivers come on board under false pretenses, they’ll be disappointed when they don’t get what’s been promised. And remember, this is the social age. An unhappy driver’s vent, a la Facebook or Twitter, has the potential to reach farther and more quickly than ever before.

We encourage all carriers—from the large national firms to the small local companies—to monitor their social media mentions. Whether it’s an enterprise social media listening platform, like Sysomos or Radian6, or a free tool that captures fresh discussions, like Social Mention, you’d be wise to know what’s being said about your company and recruiting practices, so you can reinforce positive mentions and work on any internal issues that generate negative ones.

In the end, this all comes down to identifying driver perceptions of your brand and their personal experiences, so you can make the changes needed internally to attract—and keep—top quality talent.

2) Foster a company-wide culture of respect

Does your operations department respect your professional drivers?

Many drivers don’t believe so. Instead, they feel they’re working in an “us vs. them” environment, and they’re usually the ones holding the short end of the stick.

And you’d be wise to pay attention, as research bears this issue out.

A clear link has been established between the dispatcher’s role and truck driver retention.

Where trucking firms are able to foster strong relationships between dispatchers and drivers based on respect, professionalism and strong communication skills, work efficiency and job satisfaction improve.

Consider this story from Fleet Owner, Driver Retention: Learning from Success, by Wendy Leavitt. (It’s an old article, but still highly relevant today and well worth the read.)

In it, one carrier shares, “Even though we are a for-hire long-haul carrier, I am convinced we can reduce our driver turnover,” says Schmidt, “and let me tell you why. We had a 65-truck leased fleet working for us. His drivers did the same job as our drivers, they hauled the same freight, ran the same routes and used the same dispatch system, but their turnover rate was about half what ours was. So what did he do differently?

“He took care of his drivers like family, that’s what,” Schmidt continues. “So few fleets that use company drivers get what they expect in terms of driver loyalty and I think it is because there is too much of a disconnect between departments.”

So, consider the ways your company works with its drivers. Encourage your dispatchers and fleet managers to advocate on behalf of their drivers; empower them to help solve problems that will make their drivers’ jobs easier. This should absolutely be a critical element of your truck driver retention program.

Company-wide events that allow dispatchers to meet with drivers and their families also help build the kind of trust that only comes from personal connection. Consider a holiday party and summer BBQ. Simple, fun events that bring your employees together can go a long way toward building relationships that last.

3) Keep the lines of communication open

How often do you sit down and chat with your drivers?

They need to feel heard and validated, and it’s time well invested. Your drivers are the face of your company and they have lots of direct contact with your customers, so keeping the best drivers working for you is simply smart business.

Letting your drivers know you’re open to hearing their questions and concerns is an important element of your truck driver retention program.

So invite them to have open, honest conversations with you and actively listen to the obstacles they face on the job. Ask them to share their thoughts on potential solutions and invite them to partner with you on workplace satisfaction improvements.

Of course, sometimes drivers may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts freely. That’s where a tool like Survey Monkey can come in handy.

Send out regular questionnaires to survey driver job satisfaction. Considering some new incentive programs? Why don’t you give your drivers some ownership over their financial futures and ask what would benefit them most.

4) Show them you care

Do your drivers know how important they are to your business?

Your drivers work long days and they may be spending a lot of time away from their families. Their sacrifices help your business succeed, so let them know you recognize their contributions.

In conversations with our customers, we’ve heard about all sorts of driver incentives. Some pit drivers against one another in friendly performance-driven competitions and reward the winners with gift cards. Others turn the money saved in fuel costs, thanks to efficient driving, right back to truckers.

Of course, whatever your incentive programs might be, they need to be achievable. Driver, Stevenell J. Clark, shared with us that incentives and bonuses must be, “Attainable bonuses. This is a numbers game and it seems as though they are often skewed toward improbability.”

For OTR truckers, maintaining relationships with family and friends is a challenge. So, helping them stay in touch can help support a stable personal life, and that means a lot.

Think about giving your drivers smartphones or tablets that allow them to reach out via Skype, Google Hangout, Facebook and Twitter. Some of the devices we’re most excited about right now include the Samsung Galaxy S3Galaxy Note IIGalaxy Note 10.1 tablet, and the soon-to-hit-the-market Galaxy S4.

5) Respect your drivers’ time & help them make a living

Are drivers sitting and waiting for their next load or backhaul? Has their planner looked ahead and assigned a return load before they’ve finished offloading? Don’t expect your drivers to sit twiddling their thumbs, not getting paid—and be happy about it.

Another complaint we often hear is that drivers just want to be left alone to do their job. Unnecessary interruption and mountains of paperwork keep them from focusing on what they want to do—drive.

Technology can be a tremendous benefit to dispatchers and drivers on both of these points. For example, XRS FleetView features real-time asset location and tracking using Bing maps, so dispatchers can instantly locate fleet vehicles, determine available hours of service, analyze breadcrumb history, monitor for alerts and exceptions, view current traffic and more—keeping shippers informed, while allowing drivers to work distraction-free. Knowing the who, what, when and where of your drivers will also help dispatchers plan ahead and give your drivers the miles they need to earn a good living.

Technology is also making it easier to do things like relays and interchanges, so that even OTR drivers can get home more often than in the past. And EOBRs will reduce paperwork headaches for drivers, cutting down on their admin time and, therefore, making more room for behind-the-wheel time.

As Stevenell J. Clark said, “The two most important things to any driver are money and home time. Increase those primary facets and driver retention will follow suit.”

Make truck driver retention a priority

Truck driver retention programs are growing more important by the day. If you can succeed in creating a great working environment for your own drivers, word will spread—and you’ll have your pick of the best talent on the road.