Commentary: 5 ways industry’s Best Fleets outperformed the market

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Andrew Boyle, co-president of Boyle Transportation, accepts the top award, small fleet category, for the Best Fleets to Drive For program in March, 2020.Andrew Boyle, co-president of Boyle Transportation, accepts the top award, small fleet category, for the Best Fleets to Drive For program in March, 2020.

After evaluating participants in the Best Fleets to Drive for Program by the Truckload Carriers Association, we have documented a lot of changes in the industry over its 12-year history. What we’ve learned is that the Best Fleets in the industry continue to innovate, regardless of market conditions. They’re always looking to improve company culture and improve efficiency. That held true again this year.

Here are some of the programs we saw the Top 20 Best Fleets continue to adopt or improve, as well as other interesting findings from the 2020 program.

Improving the shipper-driver experience

Drivers don’t have the patience for shipper delays, nor should they. It costs them money. Ever since the standardization of ELDs, the need for a driver to maximize their hours of service is more important than ever. The Best Fleets understand all this, and we’ve seen a number of them work with their drivers by creating innovative ways to minimize shipper delays. Or, if they are delayed, compensation is increasing, and coming sooner.

Recently, we’ve observed Best Fleets use mobile apps for drivers to enhance transparency between the shipper, driver, and fleet. Many of the apps are designed so that a driver can rate the pickup and delivery experience.

Drivers can review a shipping yards’ amenities, ease of entry/exit, experience working with staff, wait time and other topics that contribute to a driver’s overall experience while awaiting freight. This allows drivers to report back to their fleet with information that can be considered for future planning with that shipper. Maybe even a rate review if needed.

All of this makes it easy for a driver to provide honest feedback about their negative or positive experiences with specific shippers. It’s especially important during this pandemic when facility access may change from day to day.

Guaranteed Pay

As expected, we saw fleets continue to adopt guaranteed pay programs in this year’s Best Fleets program. Nearly every Top 20 fleet offered a full guaranteed pay structure to drivers this past year.

Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a provider of online driver training for the trucking industry.Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a provider of online driver training for the trucking industry.

It was just five years ago that Boyle Transportation, this years’ Best Overall Fleet for the small fleet category, was making waves as the first Best Fleet to highlight its guaranteed pay program. They helped start the trend.

As we see more fleets transition to offering base salaries, it may not be long before this becomes the standard form of pay in the industry. The stability of knowing how much is in a

paycheck, combined with the benefits we’re seeing some fleets offer when drivers exceed goals, is becoming increasingly desired by drivers. Driver satisfaction with a fleet that offers guaranteed pay is higher, which indirectly helps a fleet retain drivers.

Maximizing uptime

On the surface, servicing a truck during a driver’s “home time” seems simple, but when you factor in that even drivers with the Top 20 Best Fleets average only 34-48 consecutive hours of home time a week, it’s not so easy. Scheduling can be a challenge.

Nonetheless, even in the short time frame, we’ve found that nearly all of the Top 20 Best Fleets have programs in place to perform preventative maintenance during that window to keep drivers on the road while reducing equipment related downtime. It makes a difference in maximizing productivity, and I expect to see more fleets make this a core requirement in the coming years.

Development and Career Growth

In an industry that has long held onto its “traditional” ways of managing operations, we’ve seen many fleets in recent years use technology to their advantage. Every Top 20 Best Fleet this year used social media to some degree.

Social media eliminates the many headaches that come with delivering important company messages while drivers are on the road. Our research showed that 60% of the Top 20 Best Fleets used social media tools to supplement or replace their “traditional” driver meetings – Facebook Live being the most popular. And, we’ve noticed some fleets regularly reach 100% of their drivers through these channels.

This year, podcasts grew in popularity among fleets as another way to communicate with drivers. We’ve seen fleets use this tool as a way to share company information and driver “success” stories.

Environmental Practices

This year, we saw Top 20 fleets significantly improve their environmental practices – something we didn’t necessarily expect to see. This isn’t a topic we’ve covered in recent years, since we haven’t seen many notable developments here, but this year was different.

2020 Best Fleets to Drive For logoFor a number of years, we’ve seen fleets upgrade to more fuel-efficient equipment and integrate systems to improve aerodynamics to reduce their trucks’ carbon emissions. But, that was typically the extent of their environmental-based decisions.

This year, we noticed more fleets take a more holistic approach to their environmental programs by improving sustainable practices at their facilities, in addition to adding fuel- efficient equipment. For example, offering compost bins for employees to throw bio- degradable items into instead of using trash cans. Many of these environmentally driven programs allow all company employees to contribute and make a difference.

If a fleet is putting forth the effort to improve their environmental footprint, it’s likely they’re improving other areas within their organization. It’s a sign of good company culture, and something this year’s Top 20 fleets are doing.

As sustainable practices become more commonplace throughout the industry, I believe the improvements we saw from fleets this year will set the tone for other fleets to follow.

Future Outlook

With natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires becoming more frequent and widespread – remember our survey was done in late 2019 so COVID-19 wasn’t even a concern – we were curious to see what policies fleets had in place to adjust their operations during a major event.

While all top performing fleets have contingencies for ensuring their drivers are safe, the majority of these fleets didn’t have a formal “disaster plan” for the company to follow. That will undoubtedly change next year when we ask the question again.

With COVID-19 sweeping the entire globe, fleets are tasked with finding solutions to the many operational challenges the virus poses. Fleets that have never dealt with the impacts from a natural disaster are adjusting “on the go.” It’s too early to tell how this may shape the industry long-term, but next year’s Best Fleets to Drive For program should provide us some insight on how Best Fleets adjusted to such unprecedented circumstances.

Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a 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. He can be reached at www.carriersedge.com.