The Trucker: Valuing the Industry’s Quarterback

May 08, 2018

Truck drivers are a critical factor in our economy and a vital piece of the supply chain. They generally spend long periods of time away from their families and friends to work days, nights, weekends, and holidays. They can routinely spend up to 11 hours a day behind the wheel and consistently hold responsibility for millions of dollars of goods. Although the life of a trucker is conducive to a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle that can lend itself to depression and loneliness, many truckers do the work with great pride, are committed to high expectations, have a unique regard for their community of fellow drivers, and are the first to come to aid in the event of a natural disaster. Take a minute to really process this: What would happen if the 3.5 million truck drivers in the nation went on strike? Your daily life and the lives of the people around you would change dramatically. Your food choices would be drastically limited, your housing supply options would change, your accessibility to the products that you use in your daily life would immediately change. Truck drivers make gasoline, groceries, medicines, and household goods accessible to you. The economy would plummet and your quality of life would be completely changed without their service.

Truck driving is such important and hard work, but you can talk to drivers, read many trucking blogs, and scan social media posts to find evidence that drivers feel undervalued and unappreciated. I once asked an Owner Operator, Ed, what his favorite memory of a being a driver was. He responded it was when a man, Robert, asked him to haul a load and then took the time to express that he was thankful for Ed and understood his value. When Ed arrived at the delivery facility, Robert was there and made a special effort to seek him out, meet him, shake his hand, and express sincere appreciation and understanding for the work that he does as a driver. It was that simple. Someone had shown Ed genuine appreciation and well-deserved respect and it became an unforgettable act. Several years later, the two of them remain in touch and continue to collaborate on jobs.

People reading this post may or may not be able to directly impact drivers’ ELD requirements, detention challenges, or unfair rates, but if you have the opportunity to impact the way you or other people in the industry view and communicate with drivers, you have the power to create positive impact. Whether you are a dispatcher, a shipper, a dock worker, a broker, or if you hold any other role that lends itself to direct or indirect interactions with drivers, here are some things that you can be mindful of:

  1. Acknowledge Truck Drivers as a Crucial Part of Our Daily Lives. But, they don’t exist in a truck driving bubble. The quote, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.” comes to mind. Picture yourself in this situation: You have been away from your family and friends for weeks, you’ve consistently driven 11 hours a day over a long period of time, it is your favorite holiday and you’re away from home, and something has unexpectedly gone wrong, which is preventing you from completing your job. You call someone for help. How do you want the person on the other end to respond? A simple acronym that psychologists use to help people become more aware of factors that can influence interpersonal interactions is H.A.L.T. If someone is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, they will not be operating from their most effective head space and you must HALT (STOP) and consider this. The very nature of a truck driver’s job is set up to facilitate one or more of these conditions. Be patient, calm, and kind.
  2. Break Down Multi-Step Processes in Clear, Individual Steps. I have a hunch that many truck drivers lean towards having introverted personalities, which may be why they have indicated that they enjoy the freedom of the quiet road, they seek a profession that provides a bit of alone time, and they have unique brains that provide them the type of focus and analytical thought patterns needed to be logistics masters. This personality style also means that they can be prone to have less concentrated attention when there is a lot of external stimulation around (ie, trying to find your way around a busy shipping yard or distribution center when you’re solely responsible for an 80-foot, 80,000-pound machine) or when they approach new territories or situations that they have never encountered (ie, new highways, new driving/weather conditions, new pickup and delivery facilities). Be clear and organize any instructions in individual, manageable, sequential steps.
  3. Communicate Understanding and Be Authentic. Say, “That is frustrating” when something is frustrating. Say, “That is a bummer” when something is a bummer. Say, “I’m sorry” when an apology is due. Say, “That sounds tiring” when something is tiresome. Truck drivers are real and we all appreciate authenticity and truly being heard. To take this a step further, you can connect with the driver by offering a deeper understanding of the situation by personalizing it, without placing blame. Example, “That sounds confusing. I get frustrated too when I’m tired and trying to complete a task that is confusing me. I’m happy to help.” Allowing someone to feel that they have been heard and you can relate to them, can be of great value. If all else fails, the phrase “I hear you” provides acknowledgment that you’re listening. You can also summarize what the driver is communicating to you and ask if you have missed any important pieces.
  4. Remember We All Are on the Same Team. Ultimately, everyone has the same goal. The driver wants to pick up and deliver loads without incident. This is what everyone wants. Acknowledge and express that you know we all have the same goal- to do our job well and deliver shipments, without incident. At the same time, the supply chain can be complex, and it is inevitable that kinks can come up in the chain. The driver is responsible for executing a job that is currently built upon several human touch points/interactions and the information that the driver needs to successfully do his work doesn’t always get delivered to him/her. Drivers frequently express that kinks are created because they simply did not have the information that they needed to successfully do their work. It is all our responsibility to help untangle the kinks.
  5. Show Appreciation. Supply and demand is in favor of the driver. There currently are many more loads out there than there are drivers. They have choices. They also bring you access to many of the things that you need in your life and if you work in the supply chain, they are one of the most critical components of what happens throughout the chain. Thank them for their service and remember Ed, who genuinely expressed that the best day of his career was when a stranger communicated gratitude to him and expressed that he truly understood his value.

Author: Amy Campbell, PhD | Customer Experience at Overhaul

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