What if you ran your trucking company like a restaurant? What if you treated your drivers like customers? Sound like a strange comparison? Maybe, but I don’t find it strange at all. I spend every quiet minute of my day thinking about truck drivers. More specifically, I think a lot about driver retention and how we can help our clients reduce the costly and disruptive turnover that plagues the entire industry. We call it solving the driver problem.
Yesterday, I went to one of my favorite restaurants for lunch. As always, I was thinking about driver retention. You might think I’m a boring, one-dimensional guy, but that’s not true. I don’t drag other people into my obsession. I don’t constantly talk about driver retention. I just quietly think about it. So, there I was, sitting on the patio and thinking about driver retention. We had just ordered lunch and had every reason to expect a delightful experience. We’d been there many times and every time was great. Great service. Great atmosphere. Great food. And a great Bloody Mary. But, as fate would have it, today was going to be different.
The service was slow. The waiter was surly. Several tables around us had crying babies. And, one three-year-old continued to run screaming between the tables with reckless abandon. The parents were oblivious.
After more than 30 minutes, they finally brought out our food. Both our orders were wrong. One had to go back to the kitchen, forcing us to wait even longer. Eventually we ate and settled-up, leaving what most people would call a very nice tip. Despite an unpleasant experience, we weren’t angry. We shrugged it off.
When we got back in the car and started to drive away, we both started laughing about the experience. With very little conversation, we quickly agreed we’d go back in a heartbeat. We decided that it was probably just some sort of aberration. Maybe the planets weren’t aligned correctly. Maybe we were bad in a previous life and this was payback. Regardless, we were both willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
And that’s when it hit me. A lot of people would simply say I’m not going back there. Not us. We’ve had dozens of great meals there and one bad experience. Hopefully the next time we’ll have another great experience. And that’s what brings me to driver retention.
Driver turnover is often the result of “death by 1000 cuts.” In the normal course of business, bad things constantly happen to drivers. They suffer when the dispatcher makes a mistake. They suffer when they get delayed for hours trying to get unloaded. They suffer when traffic is congested or when the weather is bad. They suffer when the shop doesn’t fix their equipment.
Any single negative event could cause a driver to quit, but that’s not usually the case. Usually it’s the repeated negative events that add up over time. Then, when the driver finally reaches his or her boiling point, they throw their arms in the air and say, “I’m out of here.” In some ways that’s good news. You’re saying, “Really? That’s good news?” Yes, it is. If just one mistake caused the driver to quit, you’d have to watch every move you made. But if it’s a lot of negative events, you can do something about it.
It’s the same as our one bad restaurant experience. Over time, and several great meals, the restaurant had built up a lot of goodwill with us. So, when the bad experience happened, we were willing to forgive them. Think about all the interactions you have with your drivers. What if most, if not all of the interactions, are good? What if every day you greet them with a big friendly smile and ask them how they’re doing? What if every day you treat them with respect? What if every day you actually thank them for all the great work they do and show them some appreciation? Over time, through positive interactions, you too would build up a lot of goodwill.
Then, on some future day, you make a big mistake. We all do. How would the driver react? I would bet he or she won’t be happy, but after a moment or two you’d be forgiven just like we did with our favorite restaurant. He or she would give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, you’d have a long history of good interactions.
My takeaway is this: Make every interaction with your drivers a positive interaction. Eventually you’ll make a mistake. We all do. But if you build up goodwill over time, your drivers will be more likely to forgive you.
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