When we evaluate fleets for the annual Best Fleets to Drive For program, we look across a range of performance criteria, identifying the companies having the most success with their drivers. The evaluation process is difficult, requiring data to be collected from all departments. We also conduct surveys from drivers. Those fleets that make the cut demonstrate that they've got a strong team and the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively. Fleets that are named the best to drive have really figured out the recipe for success.
One area that stood out was operational strategy: what fleets do through their daily operations to make life better for drivers.
There have been many stories over the past year about fleets changing or increasing their driver pay, but what fleets do to keep drivers moving and productive can be just as important. Those daily experiences can often have more impact on a driver's overall satisfaction level than any specific detail of a pay package. This year's Best Fleets have focused their attention in a couple of areas that help with this substantially.
Minimizing Maintenance Downtime
Reliable equipment that runs smoothly has long been a key for success for fleets participating in Best Fleets. This year is no different. The vast majority have taken advantage of technology to manage Preventive Maintenance (PM) scheduling and have processes in place to ensure drivers get routed into a shop with minimal headaches.
A new scoring metric that emerged this year is how long it actually takes for the PMs to be completed. Some of the Best Fleets are changing the game for when they schedule their PMs, resulting in less down time. Why take your truck out of service for part of the day when you could have it worked on when it’s already scheduled to be off the road? That’s what some fleets are doing, and it’s working. Fleets that have switched to scheduling PMs when a driver is off duty have been able to cut down on their downtime drastically. An appreciable number of this year's finalists make a point of scheduling PMs for weekends or overnights, when the driver is already off duty. A nice experience for the driver, but also more efficient for the company as well since the freight moves more smoothly with less disruption.
For independent contractor fleets, equipment uptime takes a slightly different route. While fleets have to be careful what services they offer, they are typically providing free inspections for contractor vehicles, discounted labor at company shops, and most have arranged substantial parts discounts for contractors as well. Put together, these options can dramatically improve the efficiency and lower the cost of routine maintenance for contractor vehicles.
Minimizing Shipper Delays
Fleets have always paid drivers for excess waiting time, but what constitutes “excess” time has been changing over the past few years. As fleets find more ways to improve the overall experience for drivers, and remove the problem areas that lead to frustration, the average wait time before receiving detention pay has decreased significantly. Instead of having to wait three-to-four hours before detention pay kicks in, the standard now appears to be two hours — 55 percent of this year's finalists pay drivers at that point. Even better? Another 38 percent of the finalists pay sooner than that, with 22 percent paying out after 90 minutes. Adding to that, another 11 percent start to pay detention after an hour. A few even start the clock as soon as the driver enters the yard, effectively paying for all pickup and delivery time. The final seven percent are the fleets where detention pay starts after 3 or more hours, or the fleets that only pay if they recoup from the customer. Given the shift in this area, those fleets are definitely at a disadvantage.
Use of trailer pools is increasing, with more fleets using dropped trailers to speed up the loading/unloading process for drivers. This continues to be a popular option for drivers, allowing them to get in and out quickly rather than waiting around.
With more freight than drivers, the majority of this year's finalists have also taken the opportunity to improve the driver experience at shipping points, relying on feedback from drivers to do so. More fleets are using customer scorecards to track metrics such as ease of access, use of washrooms and other facilities, general treatment, and speed of loading/unloading. Several have adopted Amazon-style rate-this-load surveys through their mobile apps, giving drivers an opportunity to provide quick feedback while it's still top of mind after delivery.
Of course, collecting feedback is only half the battle — doing something with it is what counts. Most fleets using scorecards or surveys have formal processes in place to share that feedback with customers and some have regular meetings setup to review the results and discuss opportunities for improvement.
It's worth noting that many of these proactive customer management tools are just as common in contractor fleets as they in fleets using company drivers. In fact, 82 percent of contractor-only fleets this year have some kind of customer scorecard or post-delivery survey to collect feedback on the experience. While many don't pay contractors for their waiting time, the majority are collecting feedback on ways to improve the process.
Put together, these efforts can make a big difference in the overall experience for drivers. If they can have PMs completed without losing productive time, get paid for everything except minor delays at the customer site, have the opportunity to provide feedback on those customers, and see that feedback translate into changes and improvements through the company's follow-up efforts, then the driver's job can get a whole lot better.
Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a leading provider of online driver training for the trucking industry, and co-creator of Best Fleets to Drive For, an annual evaluation of the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry produced in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association.