At American Central Transport (ACT), managers tell drivers the company isn’t forced dispatch. Until about a year ago, however, many drivers probably didn’t believe it.

Drivers are a suspicious lot, and that certainly contributes to turnover. In a recent survey of 920 drivers by CCJ sister publication Truckers News, more than 25 percent of drivers said a main reason for leaving their previous employer was that they were not treated honestly. That’s not to say these drivers truly were treated dishonestly, but often perception is reality.

Last year, ACT, a 340-truck carrier based in Liberty, Mo., began using a feature in its Innovative Enterprise Software (IES) system called Load Offer that allows a manager to use a load-planning screen to select up to three loads to send to a driver. Upon receiving the offered loads in his in-cab mobile communications system, the driver makes his selection. Bob Kretsinger soon noticed a change in drivers’ perceptions.

“We give them a choice when we can,” says Kretsinger, ACT’s executive vice president. “I think (Load Offer) has made some difference in turnover. Guys like it when they have a choice.”

As a result of using Load Offer, ACT drivers seldom call to go over loads with managers. If they do, management quickly can tell them why the loads were offered, and provide more details if requested.

Information technology enables a driver manager to quickly ascertain driver status, efficiency and many other metrics. But as a fleet grows, information can seem more important than the actual human behind the wheel.

To counter this trend, carriers such as ACT are making drivers feel like they’re a part of the planning process by using recent developments in fleet management software that integrate wireless technologies for real-time connectivity to the office. Other tools making a difference in retention give managers instant visibility into the life of a driver to help identify and solve potential problems before they develop into real ones.

Part of the process
Many organizational psychologists say that a feeling of involvement in decisions affecting one’s duties contributes heavily to job satisfaction.

One way management systems can give drivers a sense of empowerment is by letting the driver set his own planned time of availability or PTA. McLeod Software’s LoadMaster system allows drivers to set their PTA remotely. Instead of a driver manager using the driver’s expected time of arrival (ETA) to a customer to load or unload – which the system automatically calculates based on distance and speed – a driver manager uses the PTA.

The driver can adjust his PTA by pressing a macro in his in-cab communications device, which reflects his actual status. The LoadMaster system can color-code the PTA to alert a manager if the PTA is past due with no assignment made, says Matt Cacace, McLeod Software chief operations officer.

As discussed earlier, offering drivers a choice in loads is another way to make them feel like part of the process. But how much control and independence are you willing to give your drivers? By deciding beforehand what information the driver sees, you can help ensure his selection also is beneficial for the company.

ACT preplans loads to send drivers before they issue an “empty call” through mobile communications. A load offering shows drivers the origin, destination, pickup and delivery date and time, and the number of stops for each load, Kretsinger says. The driver also sees the loaded and unloaded miles for each load.

Owner-operators receive a minimum of two loads and a maximum of three per offering; company drivers get a choice when more than one load is available, Kretsinger says. Upon receiving a load offering, drivers have 10 minutes to respond. To make a selection, a driver pushes the corresponding number “1,” “2” or “3.” They also can press “X” to accept none of the above. Unselected loads return to the system as “available loads” to offer to another driver, Kretsinger says.

“Sometimes we have bottlenecks,” Kretsinger says. “But drivers are getting better at responding in a faster mode.” While the system causes occasional delays in getting loads assigned, it has saved time in other areas, such as the time spent taking phone calls from drivers.

“We still have drivers wanting to call and get more details about the loads, but for the most part it is saving time,” Kretsinger says.

Even without getting a choice of loads, integrating dispatch systems with mobile communications is a welcome convenience for drivers at Portland, Ore.-based Kool Pak. Before using onboard communications, drivers for the 80-truck refrigerated LTL carrier had to pull off the road to write down instructions from dispatchers while talking on a cell phone. Sending detailed load information electronically to drivers from the carrier’s Maddocks system has improved driver satisfaction significantly.

“We’re an LTL company, so we have a lot of pickup and delivery information,” says Wade Palmer, Kool Pak chief financial officer. “It was a very complex, time-consuming and frustrating experience.”

With driver turnover at 80 percent, management at CSX Intermodal knew by early 2004 that it needed a wireless data solution for drivers. The company, a subsidiary of railroad giant CSX Corp., operates local drayage within 100 to 150 miles of terminals in 15 cities. In late 2003, CSX Intermodal had implemented a new dispatch system that – to be of maximum value – required drivers to call in up to 12 times for each delivery to update their shipment status and availability for additional pickups/deliveries.

The call volume from drivers increased to the point where they were on hold for as much as 40 minutes, says John Dugan, technical director of intermodal applications for CSX Technology, a transportation business unit of CSX Corp. To link its 450 independent contractors to its dispatch system wirelessly, CSX Intermodal used a mobile software application from Air2Web that operates on RIM Blackberry devices. Drivers can buy the Blackberry devices themselves for less than $50 and sign up with any network they choose. Air2Web provides a standard communication protocol between CSX’s software system and the driver’s wireless application.

After signing in to the application on the Blackberry device, drivers are offered a load. If they accept, the system sends back detailed information about the delivery and prompts them to enter their shipment updates along the way. The company has since reduced turnover by 30 percent, and management believes improved communications with drivers is the principal reason.

“We didn’t want to eliminate human contact; people like to work for people,” says Peter Craig, CSX Intermodal’s director of field operations. “We wanted to eliminate calls where there is no real value added.”

Looking out for drivers
Another way fleets can use management systems to help improve driver satisfaction is to simplify the communication of problems – excessive detention, for example – that drivers encounter during the day and using the information to fix the problem or, often, compensate the driver for it.

Freymiller Inc., a 200-truck carrier based in Oklahoma City, monitors detention by using the Detention Module from McLeod Software. Upon arriving at a customer, Freymiller drivers push an “arrive at” macro in their in-cab terminal. If the driver exceeds two hours of detention, the McLeod system automatically sends a warning e-mail or fax to the customer. The customer service representative, operations manager and Dennis Freymiller, the company’s vice president, also receive an e-mail notification. Once charges begin, the system notifies customers every hour of the charges accrued. The system automatically posts the charges to billing and to payroll.

“It has helped getting us in and out quicker,” Freymiller says. “I’m sure it has helped with retention because there are some companies that aren’t charging detention.”

Real-time information gives carriers the ability to stay on top of daily events in a driver’s life, to solve problems proactively before a driver has to call in to complain or, worse, quits. Drivers may overlook occasional problems, but they quickly become dissatisfied when they encounter the same problems over and over without resolution.

Every Friday, driver managers at Carmel, Ind.-based Hoosier Tradewinds receive an exception report via e-mail that lists drivers with performance metrics that hint of possible dissatisfaction. The 108-truck carrier designed an exception reporting tool called COP to monitor the data throughout its dispatch system, says Ben Becker, Hoosier Tradewinds chief information officer.

COP looks at driver settlements to see if a driver’s pay or miles are trending down over a period of three weeks. The names listed in the report also contain a hyperlink to a Web-based intranet application Becker developed called the Driver Portal. Managers can visit the portal for detailed information about each driver, such as his gross settlements, loaded miles, deadhead, net revenue per mile and average weekly miles. It also contains driver notes that people enter each time they speak with a driver.

To spot trends, the Driver Portal uses graphs to compare each driver to monthly fleet averages. Management is planning to give drivers online access to the data so they can track their own performance and compare it to the fleet.

“If they get the ‘grass-is-greener’ syndrome, they will have some objective information to compare,” Becker says. “Too much information is not a bad thing.”

Becker also designed a tool for operations personnel called the Weekly Planner to forecast a driver’s profitability for the week. Using “what if” scenarios, managers can see the impact of adding an extra load to bring the driver up to par. “We know beforehand how things are going to play out,” Becker says.

Using information technology to reward desirable behavior is another way carriers can improve driver satisfaction and their own bottom lines. Graham Trucking, a Seattle-based drayage carrier, is developing a weekly report from the carrier’s Profit Tools software to show the top and bottom performers in categories such as safety, productivity, fuel efficiency and customer service, says President Robert Graham. The information is used by management to identify and reward the top performers.

“For me personally, the most important thing is to not reward bad behavior,” Graham says.

Some carriers believe that watching out for drivers’ interest goes beyond their actions on the road. In any industry that involves central management and many remote workers, it’s easy for the rank-and-file to feel disconnected. And few industries have as many remote workers as trucking. Drivers often appreciate efforts to reach out personally.

“At times they are isolated,” says Kool Pak’s Palmer. “The more we can communicate with them in a positive manner, the better.”

To help make a personal connection, Kool Pak uses a calendar feature in its TruckMate software from Maddocks Systems to file personal events such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries. The system places reminder “pop-ups” in advance of the event to prompt managers to call drivers to wish them a happy birthday or to remind them about a wife’s birthday or their wedding anniversary.

TruckMate also lets users create driver-specific profiles for the type of region, freight or loads a driver can be assigned, as well as ideal home-time windows. The system can alert managers to key events and driver preferences during day-to-day operations, says Neal Cranna, marketing manager for Maddocks Systems.

Whether you use information technology to get closer to drivers, both personally and professionally, or to give drivers a greater sense of empowerment, don’t underestimate its power. You can use technology to increase drivers’ job satisfaction. But you also can drive them away by relying on technology drivers perceive as serving your needs or those of your customers without considering them. Look for win-win propositions.

Visualizing the workday
Schneider’s team leaders gain insight on drivers’ lives

When Mike Hinz became the director of operations of Schneider National Bulk Carriers in 2003, his first project was to find out what drivers and their managers needed to perform their jobs better. The consensus was clear: Better visibility into drivers’ situations.

Schneider National Bulk Carriers structures its management into groups of 40 drivers with a team leader responsible for managing the safety, service and productivity of each driver. Up until last June, the typical start-of-day process took a team leader between two and three hours to go through his software system and ascertain the status of each driver. Drivers often were frustrated when managers weren’t aware of their situation when they called.

In 2004, Hinz and other managers found what they were seeking when TMW Systems gave a sneak peek of Visual Dispatch Plus (VDP), a calendar-based dispatch and load planning module. TMW officially released VDP last November for use with its TMWSuite enterprise software. Using VDP as the foundation, TMW developed a customized application for Schneider called the Situational Awareness Tool (SAT), which the carrier rolled out last June.

With the SAT, the start-of-day process for team leaders to ascertain all critical elements of driver status now takes only 30 minutes. This frees up time for performance management and other important everyday responsibilities. The SAT helps managers determine a driver’s workday to anticipate problems because managers now can visualize what they have asked a driver to do yesterday, today and into the future, Hinz says.

Schneider’s SAT screen is divided down the middle. The right side presents drivers’ work in a Gantt bar chart that illustrates progress over an established period of time. A timeline is displayed across the top, with horizontal bars that represent loads extending across the timeline for the duration each load should take to complete – from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., for example. Each bar is color-coded according to its status: blue for dispatched but not yet started; green for “all systems go” with the load under way; and white when a load is completed.

A red color anywhere in the bar denotes an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Users can click on the bar to bring up detailed information about the load.

For management’s perspective, having the visual tool “humanizes the time a driver spends over the road,” Hinz says. “You can’t get that by looking at a number.”

The left-hand side of the screen contains all the elements of drivers’ safety and service metrics, laid out in spreadsheet format. A row is highlighted in red if any metrics are below standard, calling the matter to management’s attention – for example, if based on the driver’s position pollings he/she is mathematically unlikely to make on-time pickup or delivery. This allows the team to review the situation quickly and look for options, Hinz says. Other critical information provided immediately are the driver’s available hours to run, weekly miles driven and future calendar events, like time at home and training requirements.

“I strongly believe that (SAT) will allow us to anticipate things before they become problems. The driver, justifiably so, expects us to know what’s going on,” Hinz says. “This will allow us to see his current status and anticipate how we can help without having the driver call up and have an ugly conversation with a team leader who wasn’t aware that the driver was having a problem. Now we can be proactive and situationally aware before the call.”