Driving engagement: 5 ways fleets use tech to get more from drivers

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Updated Jun 28, 2019
Photo courtesy of Schneider.Photo courtesy of Schneider.

A formula that predicts which drivers will quit would be useful, but the signs of an early departure may already be obvious. A driver gets an unsatisfactory paycheck, for example, and starts thinking of greener pastures.

Identifying these and other signs of turnover could help fleets take preventive actions, but is retention really the end goal?

Mike Hammond believes the term “driver retention” has a connotation that fleets tolerate their drivers.

Hammond is vice president of driver development for Epes Transport System, a truckload carrier with 1,400 power units based in Greensboro, N.C. If he were a driver, Hammond says that being retained would not be one of his career aspirations. “I want a leader to lead me,” he says.

Retention should be renamed “people development,” he argues, which changes the focus to getting drivers — or any employee for that matter — engaged in their work. Someone who is engaged is motivated to go above and beyond what the job requires and also exerts positive influence on their peers.

Increasingly, fleet executives and managers are finding ways to use technology to increase driver engagement, as these 5 strategies show.

1. Knowledge sharing

Every time a company loses a tenured driver, the institutional knowledge the driver has gained by working for the company walks out the door.

Drivers that use Liquid Trucking’s DeliveRecon app share their knowledge of shipping and receiving locations for the benefit of the fleet.Drivers that use Liquid Trucking’s DeliveRecon app share their knowledge of shipping and receiving locations for the benefit of the fleet.

In 2015, Liquid Trucking, a tank carrier based in Plattsmouth, Neb., created an app for drivers to share location-based intelligence with its entire fleet. The new DeliveRecon app makes it simple for drivers to identify the best wash and parking locations on their routes as well as share tips about loading and unloading at shippers and receivers.

DeliveRecon created a simple hub for drivers to communicate and access the location intelligence from one place, says Jason Eisenman, Liquid Trucking’s director of human resources.

“We’re letting the drivers essentially train one another,” he says.

The engagement factor is increased by drivers earning points for sharing tips and uploading information, such as directions to a facility and photos of the receiver. The points are delivered to drivers through a rewards platform the company uses from Stay Metrics.

Since debuting the rewards platform, implementing feedback from driver surveys, and using DeliveRecon, Eisenman says Liquid Trucking has seen a 46 percent drop in accident/incident reduction, a 24 percent increase in weekly average truck revenue and turnover has dropped from 68 percent to 24 percent.

Liquid Trucking has spun off a separate company, Epic Ideas, and offers the DeliveRecon mobile platform that combines location-based mobile customer relationship management (CRM), automated workflow and connectivity features to the transportation industry through a software-as-a-service.

2. Self-help workflow

When Paper Transport was implementing electronic driver logs, management wanted an open platform that would blend the technology it uses in the back office with technology in the cab of the truck. It also wanted to consolidate applications that drivers already were using on their own smartphones.

Paper Transport deployed electronic logs and other applications on tablets to make drivers more productive and engaged in their work.Paper Transport deployed electronic logs and other applications on tablets to make drivers more productive and engaged in their work.

The Green Bay, Wis.-based fleet, which operates 850 trucks, chose to deploy the XRS mobile fleet management system from Omnitracs on an open-source Galaxy tablet. One of the first applications it developed was a driver scorecard app to allow the company to funnel data to the drivers that traditionally was only available to management.

Drivers can review daily performance across several categories and see where they rank and track their progress toward a monthly reward.

The tablets have given drivers a portable well of information and allowed the company to extend online training beyond orientation. The company uses an online training platform from Luma, which Vice President Ben Schill credits for helping the company significantly reduce turnover during the 0 to 90 day-period.

“We’ve actually extended our orientation by deploying different videos through their tenure,” Schill says. “Having real-time learning throughout [onboarding] has been a significant thing for us.”

Paper Transport also developed a proprietary driver trip planning app, called SmartETA, that accounts for driver’s Hours of Service. With the new technology, Paper Transport shaved the trip planning learning curve to a simple push of a button that lets drivers see a simulated trip plan on a digital map that shows them where and when they will arrive at customers, fuel stops along the route and mandated rest break locations.

3. Driver rewards

Businesses of all kinds use rewards systems to engage their customers and build loyalty. A growing number of carriers are doing the same to recognize drivers and show appreciation.

Usher Transport encourages the families of drivers to get involved in its rewards program to increase engagement.Usher Transport encourages the families of drivers to get involved in its rewards program to increase engagement.

“Building a culture of abundance leads to having more engaged drivers,” says Mary Malone, vice president of business development for Stay Metrics, which provides driver surveys that gather feedback at several points during the on-boarding experience and administers a privately branded driver rewards portal for carriers.

A number of studies have shown that if employees feel appreciated, they are more likely to be engaged, Malone says. A rewards platform is one way to show appreciation and to measure engagement.

Usher Transport uses the Stay Metrics rewards and recognition platform to recognize drivers for meeting specific objectives of the job and for tenure. The nationwide tank-transport carrier based in Louisville, KY, serves customers in the chemical and petroleum industries.

Usher has branded its online platform as “My Usher Rewards.” Drivers can login to track their progress and redeem points on items from an extensive online catalog. To increase buy-in and engagement from drivers in My Usher Rewards, management encouraged the families of drivers to participate.

Driver surveys are another way to create and measure engagement.

“A lot of it has to do with trust,” Malone says. To build trust with drivers in surveys, carriers have to show drivers the benefits of providing feedback by sharing the survey results and communicating plans to address issues the surveys found. “The worst thing you can do with survey data is not to use it,” she says.

Nussbaum Transportation, a 400-truck dry van carrier based in Hudson, Ill., uses a third party, People Element, to conduct driver surveys. Its vendor has an engagement index that can be used to find out if certain segments of its drivers are more engaged than others.

For example, the survey recently found that 88 percent of Nussbaum’s drivers who participate in its voluntary certification program are engaged compared to a 78 percent engagement from drivers who are not working towards its certification, says Jeremy Stickling, vice president of human resources and safety.

4. Driver mentors

Motor carriers with successful driver mentorship programs report higher levels of engagement from participants. The more experienced and tenured drivers who serve as mentors often view participation as a career advancement.

Nussbaum Transportation boasts a low driver turnover rate due to programs that help drivers maximize their skills and career opportunities.Nussbaum Transportation boasts a low driver turnover rate due to programs that help drivers maximize their skills and career opportunities.

At Nussbaum Transportation, driver managers have between 30 and 35 drivers in their fleets. Three drivers are road captains in each fleet and are given responsibilities to mentor new hires and receive calls from other drivers who want to voluntarily talk about their performance. The captains are paid an extra $25 a week plus incentives when new hires reach milestones, Stickling says.

Hammond credits a driver mentor program at Epes Transport for lowering early driver turnover. At the four month mark, 71 percent of drivers who have a mentor are retained, compared to 47 percent of drivers without a mentor, Hammond says.

Drivers mentors at Epes Transport get their own business cards, a cell phone allowance, and are paid incentives when the new drivers hit milestones, such as delivering their first load on time, and when they have been on the job for one month.

“They love it,” says Hammond of drivers who participate in the mentor program. “We have an engaged fleet. Driver mentors are an extension of our leadership.”

5. Gamification

Many fleets are now using technology to create gamification programs to increase engagement. These programs foster competition and make it easier for companies to recognize and reward drivers for achievements.

SmartDrive’s driver app lets drivers track their safety score and self coach their behaviors and habits.SmartDrive’s driver app lets drivers track their safety score and self coach their behaviors and habits.

One of the elements of a successful gamification program is fair and consistent measurements, says Matt Brunelle, vice president of customer success at SmartDrive, which supplies a video-based telematics and safety platform.

The SmartDrive system calculates driver safety scores that represent the observed rate of risk for every driver based on 80 individual behaviors that include speeding, following distance, texting while driving, seatbelt compliance, aggressive maneuvers, and more.

The scores are normalized by hours and miles driven. The higher the SmartDrive Safety Scores, the higher the risk of collision. The SmartDrive driver app also has an option that fleets can use to allow their drivers to review video clips of the risky events that the system detected and recorded.

Now that most people, drivers included, use smartphones as a central source for information and interactions with people and their companies, “I think [apps] is how you’ve got to get everybody’s attention,” says Adam Bruttell, vice president of sales and marketing, North America, for Mix Telematics.

Driver apps have become the preferred medium to deploy gamification strategies by fleets. Giving drivers visibility to their performance in that format has changed the perception among drivers towards technology from being “big brother” to an essential part of a company’s safety and performance culture, he says.

With gamification apps, motor carriers are engaging drivers differently than they have in the past. With the SmartDrive mobile app, for instance, fleets can have their drivers “self-coach” and compete with peers by monitoring safety scores to see how they are driving each day, adds Brunelle.

Bill Howe Plumbing, a San Diego-based service fleet, has used Verizon Connect Reveal for more than two years. From the start, the company set up the system to send email alerts to drivers when it detected risky behaviors such as rapid acceleration, deceleration, speeding and harsh turns.

Drivers self-police the behaviors by clicking a link in the emails to see the location of their risky events on a Google map. The system also scores drivers on a 100-point scale. Bill Howe Plumbing posts the scores of all drivers weekly on a bulletin board.

“Nobody wants to be in last place,” says Rhett Wheeler, risk manager.

The fleet’s score started in the 70s and was “quite terrible,” he says. “The culture wasn’t there back then, but it is there now.”

After coaching, training and road testing drivers with the lowest scores, the fleet’s score improved to more than 98 within six months. In the year before using Verizon Connect Reveal, the company had 16 collisions. It had two incidents last year and one non-moving incident this year.

Going forward, the company plans to implement forward-facing cameras from Verizon Connect during the next year to further improve driver safety performance, he says.

The MyMix driver app from Mix Telematics shows drivers their performance and safety score to gamify the work experience.The MyMix driver app from Mix Telematics shows drivers their performance and safety score to gamify the work experience.

Mix Telematics has a companion driver app, called MyMix, for its in-cab fleet management system. Fleets that use it give drivers visibility to their safety scores that include speeds, acceleration and braking behaviors and peer-to-peer rankings.

Bruttell recommends using gamification to recognize and reward drivers in shorter time frames, such a monthly basis. And rather than limit payouts to the top performers, he says incentives should reach more drivers across the board.

“A lot of people just showcase good drivers, but I think you need to come up with program where you are rewarding everyone,” Bruttell says. “Rising all tides raises all boats. You’ve got to find ways to make it not punitive.”

By all measures, drivers who are engaged will be less likely to look for greener pastures. With technology, driver development is happening with an approach that gives drivers information and encourages them to voluntarily go above and beyond.