Nurturing the All Important Driver Relationship

Okay, so we all know what to expect from this blog. Save the hidden costs and boost your fleet. Stop idling. Avoid routes that are longer than they need to be. Monitor it all to manage it all.

It’s all true. But the thing is – these make sense in a world which is black and white – but the more you look into the detail the more grey areas appear and the less clarity there is. Where the lines blur, the relationship between the driving team and transport management can be even more important than you might think.

After telematics, drivers are probably the best single source of fleet information there is. But often, for whatever reason, their wisdom and knowledge does not make it back to the decision-makers who are planning routes and managing the fleet on a day-to-day business.

I’m not blaming the managers. They’re under stresses and strains that the drivers aren’t even aware of – quite often having to do more with less and faster.  So it’s not a surprise when relationships and communications are strained and a channel of vital information is lost.

As one of the business benefits team here at Microlise I understand, not just in theory, but in practice, because for most of my working life I have worked in busy transport offices, so know the pressures. For what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts.

Ignore Drivers at Your Peril

We’ve all heard the stories, on both sides. Drivers get frustrated because they are sent the wrong way, at the wrong time of day, when they know better. They know that driving straight through the town centre at 4pm will not be faster than the ring road because they’ve been driving on these roads for 20 years and know them like the back of their hand.

They might have even told you this 5 times in the last month. But there comes a point where, if they’re not listened to, they stop saying anything. At this point they might decide to just start sitting in traffic rather than thinking for themselves. This is not good news for anyone as in the vast majority of cases both the driver and the fleet manager wants the best for the fleet and an important source of intelligence is lost due to a breakdown in communication.

For transport managers the experience can be frustrating for a whole different set of reasons. In one example, a transport manager found out about the escapades of a driver who had a regular route starting 20 miles from his depot which he executed perfectly on the way out. Instead of returning the same way, he elected to take himself on a scenic route, adding approximately 40 unnecessary miles to the trip total. This continued for weeks before it was noticed, by which time thousands of pounds had been wasted on fuel – not to mention the extra time spent.

Both drivers and managers have a part to play. Too much micro-management and the relationship will weaken and eventually disintegrate. Too much leeway and some drivers will not be as productive as they should be. Tools like Microlise Journey Management flag only exceptions – so that both drivers and fleet managers can go about their business until a threshold is triggered. The aim is to strike a balance – remove the micro-management while not missing a thing.

Allowing Some Slack

The temptation is there to drive efficiency as far as it will go – but I would argue that some of the most important information I have ever received from drivers has come from allowing some slack in the system.

This is a very specific example, but one that might resonate. Three dots, each representing tipper trucks, converge on a single spot on the same day, at the same time, every week. After a bit of research it turns out the place is an award-winning truck stop with arguably the best bacon sarnies this side of Philadelphia. The trouble is – you know that in order to get there the tippers had to venture off the beaten track ever so slightly to take their break at their favourite haunt.

In a black and white world I would have identified the inefficiency and closed it down. But while they were seemingly wasting time and I could have closed the loop by banning it, I used to receive some of the best information about rival operations which actually gave us a commercial advantage. By allowing a bit of slack I not only gleaned vital information but also maintained a solid relationship with the drivers, it was a win-win.

Of course this example is not appropriate for all fleet types, but I believe the principle is the same. Driving efficiency is very important, but avoid doing so at the expense of driver relationships. They are often more valuable than one might realise!