2020 will forever be defined by the pandemic and the havoc it wreaked on global supply chains. Capacity was at the center of the disruptions with the United States experiencing the tightest capacity market in history. Even as society cracks open the door to normalcy, supply chains are still hobbling along with some big obstacles to a recovery in truckload supply.
One of those obstacles is driver availability and retention. While a broker can’t solve the macro issues of equipment availability or capacity demands, brokers do have a powerful role in driver retention. Truck driver life is a life on the road, seeing firsthand U.S. highways and landscapes, but it can be a lonesome lifestyle that often keeps drivers away from their family and friends for weeks at a time. Truck driving is not an easy business so when thinking about retention, one area that brokers can make a big impact in is the quality of the job. Brokers can make the day-to-day not so hard.
At the base level, the purpose of a freight broker is to be a liaison between shippers and carriers to manage the transportation of goods. But, brokers can (and should) be more than just the middleman in a game of telephone. The following are four ways brokers can do more to improve how they support the people who keep modern society running – truck drivers.
1. More preparation. Everyone loves an on-time delivery, but few are willing to dive into all the mechanisms that made that delivery happen. Moving freight is all about the details, and carriers rely on brokers not just for the freight but for the information on what delivery success looks like. The quickest way to create a driver headache is to give too little detail on warehouse facilities, misquote a delivery time or not answer the phone when a driver needs assistance. All of this can be solved with more preparation.
One strategy to prepare is to don a deerstalker hat and play detective. Instead of assuming all the details are accurate and confirmed, do the opposite. If the shipper allows, call the shipper and consignee to confirm every detail. Typos and human errors happen, but unfortunately, the person most impacted by these mistakes is the driver. Taking the time to triple-check delivery times; actively listening to carrier needs and working internally to make sure they are all addressed; and becoming familiar with the delivery facilities to anticipate any issues — all of these things mean something to the driver. It is worth the time and effort of a broker to save their time and effort.
2. Direct communication, even when it’s not happy news. In an industry loaded with complexities, tight deadlines and too much paperwork, everyone appreciates a straight shooter. Talking around issues and avoiding hard truths is just frustrating, especially when you spend your day on the phone. Brokers should prioritize direct communication instead of avoiding unhappy drivers.
One way this comes up often is detention. Detention isn’t always avoidable, but there are ways to make the experience of long loading and unloading more pleasant for drivers. Over communication is key. If you know a facility is going to take hours on either end, give the driver a heads up. If the delivery facility is strict on what a driver can and cannot do while loading, let them know. Nothing is worse for a driver than arriving to pick up or drop off a delivery, expecting a standard two-hour process and then waiting 6-8 hours (or more in some cases). Whether it's detention or an appointment that wasn't scheduled or stated correctly — in logistics things go wrong. Brokers have a responsibility to be problem solvers; to over-communicate; and to hold themselves and others accountable.
3. Educating shippers. Brokers have a unique position of connecting drivers and shippers and hear the experience of both sides of the freight business. With this unique position is the opportunity to educate both parties. Brokers can help educate drivers on specific facilities, their hours, amenities, etc., and can also educate shippers on how to best set up their freight: transit times that make sense for drivers, freight that keeps drivers from having to make excessive stops, freight that keeps drivers moving, etc.
Brokers have a pulse on what carriers prefer in freight opportunities and sharing this insider knowledge with shippers is not only good for the broker, but it helps shape the overall driver experience. By flagging again and again to a shipper that their facility is not driver-friendly, change can happen. Shippers don’t necessarily know what drivers want and need, and brokers have an opportunity to make a positive impact on drivers, just by sharing insights with the shippers they serve.
4. Respect. The last factor to consider when improving driver retention is not an easy thing to solve, but is also at the core of this issue. Drivers are essential to modern life, but they do not necessarily receive the respect they are owed. The pandemic has highlighted how important drivers are to this critical infrastructure industry, and brokers have a responsibility to give drivers the respect and support they deserve. The inconveniences of the road add up over time, and if brokers can do anything to improve the quality of life for a driver, they should. Because at the end of the day, a broker should advocate for their driver. Drivers are the eyes and ears of a broker, and they offer more than just a truck. Drivers have wisdom to offer and can foresee issues sometimes well in advance of a broker. Treating drivers with patience and courtesy, the frontline workers of transportation, should be a priority for brokers, but putting in the effort and time to improve their experience for the future — that shows respect.
There are many factors that contribute to driver retention, but at the end of the day, logistics is a people business. While the industry is changing with new technologies and supply chain strategies, logistics will never not need people. If the logistics industry wants to retain drivers and continue to attract new talent, there must be a focus on the human aspect of logistics. Driver retention is a people problem and requires a people solution, and brokers can be a part of that solution.