NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Empathy is an important quality to have when connecting with truck drivers, according to best-selling motivational author Jon Acuff.
Acuff opened the 2019 Recruitment and Retention Conference on Feb. 21 with a discussion on the changing nature of the trucking industry and the best methods to reach drivers. Conversion Interactive Agency, an advertising firm that specializes in recruitment, hosted the conference in conjunction with Transport Topics and American Trucking Associations.
Understanding someone’s needs and acting on them is important for retaining all employees, including drivers, according to Acuff. He stressed the need for recruiters and industry leaders to understand the challenges truckers face every day. For example, he said getting a flat tire on the side of an interstate highway would rattle the average commuter but hardly faze a trucker.
“You’re going to need to lean into empathy. Being a truck driver is not easy,” Acuff said. “It’s a lonely job. Being a truck driver is challenging. We need empathy to understand that.”
Recruitment is important for many firms seeking to redress the industrywide driver shortage. ATA has estimated that the industry is short at least 50,000 drivers, and that number is expected to climb as older drivers retire.
Acuff said asking questions is the easiest and most effective way to determine an employee’s needs. He pointed out that understanding someone’s problems is the first part of empathy.
“When you ask somebody what they need, you make them visible and valuable,” Acuff said.
Recruiters can empathize with drivers by adopting their vernacular. Data Scientist Christopher Penn, who also delivered remarks at the conference, said that what recruiters say to a driver should match what job-seekers say they want. Penn also is co-founder of BrainTrust Insights, a data and analytics firm that specializes in marketing. Although Penn said that artificial intelligence is faster and cheaper than human intelligence, he acknowledged that AI lacks empathy that people can display.
In a partnership with Conversion, Penn’s team at BrainTrust Insights examined 17,400 calls from Conversion’s call center, about 10,000 Facebook posts and 21,000 job listings to get a sense of the text and language people use on these various forums. They discovered a total mismatch. The job listings used demand-centric language, while the people on Facebook expressed concerns about job quality and home time.
Penn (Eleanor Lamb/Transport Topics)
“Ideally, what you say to a driver for recruiting purposes should be from the same language that they talk about their own work,” Penn said. “Are you paying attention to the quality-of-life conversation points that drivers are talking with each other about? Our language that we use to talk to drivers doesn’t dine at the same table as what drivers talk about to each other.”
Penn said companies can address this by talking to their drivers and collecting data on their concerns and the language they use to express them. Beyond that, he said trucking firms should tell their data analytics partners what’s going on in the lives of drivers so that the data experts can better interpret the information they collect.
“Mine the feedback you’re getting,” Penn said. “This data is available.”