Wednesday, February 21, 2024

By Bob Crescenzo

For the sake of safety, productivity, cost control, and customer service, every luxury transportation operator should make driver retention a top priority, particularly amid today’s nationwide driver shortage. There are several steps you can take to improve retention, and it primarily comes down to effective communication between you and your drivers.

Believe it or not, it starts with a driver’s manual. Even in its simplest form, a driver’s manual provides your chauffeur team with a clear understanding of their responsibilities, and serves as a compass for how these duties should be accomplished. Without this information, reinforced by training, your drivers might lack self-confidence and have difficulty solving problems.

Bob Crescenzo If your company currently does not have a driver’s manual, you should put that project on your “to do” list as key elements for employee satisfaction are comfort and knowledge of what is expected. If you’ve already developed a manual, now is the time to update it with COVID-related policies and practices, as well as new expectations due to any operational changes made since the pandemic shutdown if you haven’t already.

Next, develop a consistent policy for the following items:
• Proper dress
• Customer service
• Driving techniques
• Itinerary planning and maps
• Communication
• Electronics/technology
• Fueling
• Vehicle maintenance
• Working with a tour guide and information about what the group is supposed to receive on or with the trip.

Doing so helps ensure key company policies are clearly and consistently communicated. If you don’t have a written policy for each of these items, then you’re expecting your drivers to work without the proper tools. Questions always arise, and since they work independently, they don’t always remember to ask when they are with your lead chauffeur or manager—or they may not know to ask. This lack of tools will lead to frustration. Have you ever tried to fix an engine without the proper wrench? If frustration is a common experience for your drivers, they will be less likely to continue working for you, especially since there are so many other job opportunities these days, not to mention the lingering COVID concerns.

Importantly, make sure your drivers feel appreciated. Drivers, like all employees, seek recognition, pride, significance, growth, and value from their jobs. While wages and benefits are a critical part of that equation, they are not everything. They are also unique in that they work outside the office (often unusual hours) and rarely see the boss, so extra efforts have to be made to make them feel a part of the overall team and company.

If employees feel undervalued, believe they are not allowed to think and contribute ideas, or don’t feel recognized for their efforts, they will seek a job that is more rewarding. Creating a formal driver incentive/recognition program is an excellent way to engage drivers, while helping to manage their driving behavior—and the company’s bottom line. In addition, drivers need a healthy work-life balance, and respect from those they work with and the clients they serve.

When it comes to wages, make no mistake about it, your company is vying with other businesses for employees, and not all of that competition stems from the transportation industry. This has never been truer than it is now. Pay levels must be competitive and adequate for the industry and your geographic area, especially when compared to other businesses in your region. Full-time versus part-time work may also be a critical factor in retaining drivers. You will not be able to retain a part-time driver who really needs full-time employment, especially when another business is enticing them with sign-on bonuses and guaranteed hours.

Of course, some drivers will change jobs over a small pay differential; you cannot keep everyone happy. However, if you have high turnover, you have to figure out why. Simply divide the number of driver positions in your company by the number of drivers you hired in a year, and the resulting number is the turnover rate. Undoubtedly, turnover at this point in time may include not being able to convince furloughed drivers to return or simply not having enough consistent work for them (which might be the case for bus drivers, for example). But, generally speaking, if your turnover rate is greater than 25 percent and your drivers are coming and going through a revolving door with no “clear” reason, then you have a retention problem and you need to investigate further. This is particularly important since the task of hiring new drivers these days is such a difficult and attention-demanding process.

So, how can you find out why drivers leave? That’s easy: ask them! Doing so can provide invaluable insight into their perspective of your organization and help determine where your driver retention strategies need improvement.

And while you’re at it, speak with your current drivers and find out why they stay on the job. As an owner and manager, it’s a lot easier to tell people what to do than to ask them their opinion and listen to their answers. But, fostering open communication with your employees makes them feel valued and more invested in the company. Besides, the feedback you get from your drivers—as tough as it may be to hear—will allow you to identify from the source what changes need to be implemented to retain employees, and might actually improve your business.

Possibly the worst response to driver turnover is to think that there is nothing you can do. It just takes a little bit of active listening to find out what’s motivating the decision to leave, and some extra effort to act on that feedback.

Here is a brief “Retention Checklist” that might help you apply some of the theory to your company:
• Are wages adequate and in line with prevailing labor rates?
• Do the hours worked meet driver expectation?
• Have you identified ways to reduce down time and time away from home?
• Are you providing personal growth through skill and knowledge training?
• Do you know which parts of the job your drivers like the most and the least?
• When you know about the dislikes, what do you do about them?
• Do you have a driver incentive/recognition program?
• Is the driver position a job or a career in your company?
• Have you instituted a longevity and/or bonus program?
• Are your supervisors trained in human relations skills?
• Is there an effective employee-to-management communication system?
• Do you keep drivers informed about company issues and business matters?
• Is your company the “best transportation company” to work for in the area?
• Are you keeping customers happy at the driver’s expense?

Finally, not all turnover is bad. If you lose a bad driver, or one who is not on your “team,” proper selection of the next one will improve your overall situation. Remember to prioritize safety and risk control over driver stability. No one will argue with you if you intervene when a driver proves to be unsafe. However, retention is a key to your company’s financial and safety success, and you can improve it, as well as driver morale, when you weed out the bad drivers and reward the good ones.   [CD1121]

Bob Crescenzo is the Vice President for safety & loss control of Lancer Insurance Company in Long Beach, N.Y. He can be reached at bcrescenzo@lancerinsurance.com.