Editor's note: Each year, the Truckload Carriers Association teams up with CarriersEdge to determine the Best Fleets to Drive For, based on driver nominations and input and in-depth evaluations of the nominees.
The 2021 edition of the Best Fleets to Drive For program brought unique insights from the trucking community, from the C-suite to the driver’s seat. Through this year’s program, we received more than 6,900 driver surveys that told us what drivers like, don’t like and want to improve.
Here are four trends we saw that other fleets can use to improve their driver satisfaction and retention.
1. Emotional Compensation
Why does a driver stay at a company for lower monetary compensation? The emotional compensation.
Emotional compensation can be measured in a carrier’s “Total Work Environment,” one of the most important components of a Best Fleet submission. It tells us what carriers are doing to strengthen the ties between driving and non-driving staff. The more that carriers foster positive communication between these groups, the greater the emotional compensation.
For example, a common theme in 2021 was a massive increase in communication strategies, often related to the pandemic. In driver surveys, however, it wasn’t the quantity of communication that was recognized, it was the quality. Many carriers provided additional training on communication techniques with office staff. As a result, transparency increased, and many carriers made permanent changes in this regard.
Best Fleets 2021 Driver Quote: “Our input is always taken and listened to.... we may not always agree, but there is open communication. Operations will many times reach out to the driver and thank them for a job well done.”
2. Consistency before Cents Per Mile
Program participants use a wide array of compensation models, ranging from traditional per-mile to full-blown salaries. What we see through driver surveys is that the attraction of a time-based or salary model tends to be less about overall compensation and more about income consistency. One of the biggest downsides of activity-based compensation to a driver is the potential for large variations in income.
There is an obvious movement toward weekly (and in very rare cases) daily settlements as opposed to bi-weekly to stabilize driver income. Consistency doesn’t just “pay the bills.” It eliminates the need to turn to methods such as high-interest loans to fund the gap between paychecks. Consistency of income allows drivers access to credit to build the life they deserve.
Best Fleets 2021 Driver Quote: “Buy a home, pay bills, better clothes and food for the family. Heck yeah, you clear up and establish excellent credit.”
3. Maintenance Scheduling and Effectiveness
Since pay per-mile is still the method used by most carriers in North America, drivers resist any impediment to their trucks moving. Whether, it is maintenance, collision, or detention-related, drivers receive a fraction of the compensation during downtime compared to when their wheels are turning.
Over the years, we have seen carriers adopt more safety and communications technology but still rely on manual maintenance processes. This year, however, there was a palpable feeling that maintenance technology adoption may be catching up. Automated maintenance scheduling has emerged as a clear winner, with increased visibility for other departments and the drivers themselves. Many carriers have established applications and routines to give a minute-by-minute breakdown (pardon the pun) of work orders, with average KPIs giving drivers and technicians alike transparency into the progress.
Best Fleets 2021 Driver quote: “I have never seen a finer and more prompt repair and service from a company. They care about their equipment….if the driver ain’t driving, the driver ain’t making money.”
4. Shipper Relations
Once large shippers implemented sophisticated (and largely one-sided) scoring mechanisms for carriers, the shipper scorecard emerged as a response.
Best Fleets participants started mentioning “rate-my-load” mechanisms years ago, but the methods for collecting this information were varied. Now, most transportation management system providers have plug-and-play methods enabling drivers to score loads in both simplified and detailed ways. Driver apps can automatically recognize when a trailer has been unloaded and prompt for feedback. Carriers can immediately rectify any negative situations.
So, what are drivers saying about shippers? It’s less about time and more about human factors. When drivers are not treated as valuable partners in the supply chain (for instance, no access to facilities and general rudeness), trust erodes, and conflict erupts.
The good news is that this relationship has never been more transparent.
Best Fleets 2021 Driver Quote: “A customer scorecard was implemented a couple of years back, and it is used to rate customers and is taken into new contract negotiations. If a customer isn't treating us right, and they can't or won't do anything to fix it, they usually don't stay a customer for very long.”
These insights are far from all the observations from this year’s edition of Best Fleets. In fact, participating carriers can pick up a significant amount of feedback just from their own driver surveys, which may aid in their strategic plans, or in simple process changes.
A general conclusion from the Best Fleets team is to focus on the top one or two insights and devote significant attention to that area. For new(er) participants, it’s easy to go overboard and get spread too thin – and when that happens, very little positive change can happen for the driver. Instead of going a mile long and an inch deep, go an inch wide and a mile deep.
Chris Henry is the vice president of customer experience and recognition programs with CarriersEdge, a provider of online driver training for the trucking industry. His duties include overseeing a dedicated team responsible for producing the Best Fleets to Drive For recognition program. The program is an annual evaluation of the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry produced in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association.
To be considered for the Best Fleets program, companies operating 10 or more trucks must receive a nomination from one of their company drivers or owner-operators. The fleets are then evaluated using a scoring matrix covering a variety of categories, including total compensation, health benefits, performance management, professional development, and career path/advancement opportunities, among other criteria. Driver surveys are also conducted to collect input from drivers and independent contractors working with the fleets.