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Customers: The good, the bad and the grumpy


Effective communication starts with establishing a set of facts and then developing a strategy on how to convey them to your target audience.

Here’s a fact the trucking industry has known for a long time: The truck driving profession is facing a demographic crisis, which is likely to result in a significant truck driver shortage.

This may be inconvenient to some; it may be overstated and easily solvable to others (more money), but whatever the underlying factors or potential solutions, it is happening.

And if you frequently read business and trade magazines like this one, you’ll notice our customers are finally starting to recognize this fact as well. After all, there’s no louder wake-up call than freight sitting on the docks and surcharge bills piling up.

The bottom line is attracting prospective drivers to serve customers’ ever-expanding transportation needs is becoming a huge challenge.

With freight demand increasing across North America and capacity tightening, buying power is swinging in truck drivers’ favour – giving them not only more choice between the companies they work for, but also which customers they want to serve.

Drivers are fed up with waiting around at a customer’s yard for hours, their precious allowable driving hours fading away. And with the introduction of mandatory electronic logging devices, where every second will be 100% accountable, how do you expect drivers to stay on the job if they continually watch their tractor-trailers turn into proverbial pumpkins when the clock runs out?

Limited capacity is the new normal, meaning those customers who can secure satisfied professional drivers for the long-term will win. And those whose polices repel drivers, well, good luck to them finding quality carriers going forward.

To qualify these sentiments, OTA decided to go straight to the source. As part of a six-month campaign called Operation Upgrade, we asked hundreds of truck drivers flat out how they are being treated at shipping and receiving facilities and what, in their minds, makes a good or bad customer. We wanted to use this information to educate shippers and receivers on the opportunities they have to introduce positive changes in the supply chain. Here are a few highlights:

There was a near-even split between the number of “good” or “preferred” customers and the not-so-good. Generally, shippers fared much better than receivers/consignees.

Providing an environment free of harassment and discrimination stood out as the top attribute of the “good” customers rated, while allowing drivers access to facilities/washrooms was the second highest attribute.

Truck drivers don’t ask for much, do they? Alternatively, “bad” shippers or receivers had the lowest scores in categories relating to detention times, the responsiveness of dockworkers, honouring appointment times and harassment issues.

Basically, the survey found that ‘good’ customers – or ‘Customers of Choice’ as we’ve dubbed them – scored highest in safety, waiting time and not harassing or discriminating against drivers based on race or religion. In report card terms, ‘bad’ companies received Fs in many of the same categories.

Truck driver treatment starts at the top; it’s a culture created by CEOs. As leaders, it’s more important than ever to create a driver-friendly environment, as both carriers and drivers have more choices today in deciding which customers they serve.

This isn’t an overly complicated task. As I mentioned, drivers aren’t a very demanding bunch. For starters, I think they’ll settle for being treated like human beings when they show up at a customer’s facility. Ask your customers to follow these three simple steps:

1. Walk around the shipping docks and listen to how your workers interact with real drivers. Do you like what you hear? Would you be satisfied with the same level of dignity and respect for your own employees?

2. Review your turnaround times. Are they reasonable in keeping the driver productive? Do you honour appointment times or consider policies to accommodate drivers if they arrive early or are forced to stay late?

3. Finally, ask yourself this simple question: If I spent hours on the road battling traffic, to safely deliver these valuable products to someone, is this how I would want to be treated?

OTA is in the process of creating a communication package containing the above information and tips via an electronic one-page info sheet and two videos – a white board ‘splain-mation’ as well as a profile on a young Sikh driver who brings attention to the issue of harassment and discrimination. Drivers and the carrier community will be encouraged to share this package with their customer base.

We hope this new chapter to Operation Upgrade will be effective in changing behaviours and attitudes toward drivers and bringing about the much-needed positive change for our driver community.

Any non-OTA member can request an electronic file of the Operation Upgrade package after Nov. 10 by contacting Marco.Beghetto@ontruck.org.

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Steve Laskowski is senior vice-president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Ontario Trucking Association. He has been involved in various files including environmental and cross-border matters, domestic and international taxation of trucking activities and intermodal relations.


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1 Comment » for Customers: The good, the bad and the grumpy
  1. rick thompson says:

    It’s to bad we had to have a shortage of drivers to implement a plan to treat this with respect and as a human being I have 38 years door to door have experienced more then my share. And seen more then my share. But come on not provide access to a bathroom. If I had to do it all over again. Well that would explain your shortage because – would not.

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