November 13, 2017 7:45 AM, EST

Opinion: Recruiting, Retaining Drivers: It’s Not Them, It’s You

If you have a driver turnover problem and can’t keep drivers, especially new ones, and can’t attract new, qualified drivers, regardless of what you try or the money you throw at the problem, what you’re doing is not working. But why?

Simply put, it’s not about them, it’s about you — the motor carrier CEO. Change must start at the top of your organization.


Compare for a moment your dining experience at your favorite restaurant. At every touchpoint, from the moment you arrive and throughout the time you’re there, are you treated like a VIP with respect and attention to detail, along with an impeccable meal that comes with polite, high-level service?

If just a couple of these touchpoints were a disappointment and not up to expectations, would you come back, much less be a raving fan? Probably not.

How did you find out about the restaurant? Was it an advertisement or did a friend or colleague refer you?

With your company, what’s the first touchpoint a new driver will experience? Is it an ad, a sign or one of your branded trailers? Or is it another employee or driver? What do any of these first impressions say about your company?

Suppose “Potential Driver” calls the telephone number provided on your company’s ad or sign, or perhaps receives it from one of your drivers. How is the phone answered? Is this potential driver applicant put on hold or is the call sent to voice mail? What is his or her expectation? How will this phone call impress “Potential Driver” among the five or 10 other companies he or she also is calling?

Did the first experience at your favorite restaurant live up to your expectations?

Are you building a trust relationship with the potential driver for your company so that he or she has a feeling that they may soon sign on with a company that matches expectations with representations? Is what the recruiter tells him or her about your company regarding miles, home time, equipment and other aspects the job, actually being followed through on?

Is your company a “me too?” That is, does your company make the same promises as others to attract applicants — sign-on bonus, great time at home, pay, insurance and guaranteed miles? How do you differentiate your company?

An intelligent driver retention system starts with the fundamentals — from the first impression the driver experiences with your company and continues at every single touchpoint along the way.

I know. You’re likely thinking: “We are already doing all of this.” Well, here’s a fact: 10 out of 10 CEOs don’t really know what’s going on with driver retention and recruiting in their company. That’s why turnover is so high. It jumped 16 percentage points to 90% at truckload carriers in the second quarter, according to data from American Trucking Associations released in mid-September.

While treatment of drivers is critically important, it’s not so much about the culture of your company, but rather it’s about the driver experience. From the first contact to everyday working on the job, a driver needs to feel that he or she is not going to be just a truck number for dispatch or on a payroll report, but instead an important contributing member of the company.

Do you know about your company’s driver experience?

This is about learning what you don’t know about your company, challenging your assumptions and fine-tuning procedures until you can guarantee that every touchpoint is just like your positive restaurant experience.

You need to properly and intensely assess your operations and eliminate the threats to retention by becoming an adaptive, more curious organization by measuring, monitoring and making changes that will create a WOW driver experience at every touchpoint.

Similar to the restaurant experience, everything about your recruiting and retention program has to be real, friendly and high-quality and not one designed only to fill seats. Those seats will be empty once again if the touchpoints aren’t executed properly and designed for building a long-term, trustworthy relationship.

What you need to do is to ask not what your drivers can do for you, but ask what you should do for your drivers. Successful companies:

1. Do not hire their turnover.

2. Do not treat recruiting like a call center.

3. Do not lose drivers during orientation or early in the new driver’s tenure.

4. Have an early warning system in place to identify unhappy drivers.

5. Understand that their retention is directly proportional to their favorable driver experience at all touchpoints

6. Create drivers and other employees as “raving fans.”

You can move the needle on high turnover and lots of unhappy drivers with one simple principle: Assess, plan and modify any negative impact of your drivers’ experience. Show drivers that they are valued — and that they come first.

Drivers don’t stay with your company because of what you do but why you do it. And that’s how you stop the revolving door of drivers.

Norris Beren is chief executive advisor at Risk Reward Consulting, a Chicago area-based firm that provides guidance to trucking industry CEOs on various issues, including eliminating threats to driver retention and creating a competitive advantage to attract more drivers. He is the author of the book, “How to Create an Intelligent Driver Retention System.”