You’ve hired a graphic designer to come up with a creative company logo to wrap your fleet vehicles. It’s called branding, and it’s designed to generate new business, but the logo is merely a graphic representation of your products or services.
Your employees must deliver on your service promise and build your brand equity as “brand ambassadors.”
An oft overlooked employee group is fleet drivers, particularly those hired with driver titles. Yet for many businesses, fleet drivers are their customers’ human touch points.
This is why driver training is crucial — not just for safe vehicle operation and productivity, but also to be able to positively impact client relationships.
The first and most obvious component to brand ambassadorship is common courtesy on the road, particularly in fleet vehicles with company identification.
“People want to take pictures of our vehicles. They’re in traveling billboards and the trucks are numbered,” says Stuart Aust, owner of Bug Doctor and associated companies. “We get so many leads from our vehicles, the last thing we want to do is irritate someone out there.”
“A moving billboard is a double-edged sword,” says Jim Zylstra, owner of Tuff Turf Molebusters. “We tell our team to be conscious that everybody sees them, and people will let me know if they are not driving professionally.”
Today’s telematics systems can corroborate a third-party accusation by identifying location and time of an incident, as well as metrics such as speed, hard acceleration, or braking.
But some things a telematics system can’t catch: “We had one call of a tech sleeping in the truck in front of a customer’s house,” Zylstra says, “and another tech that was caught trying to hide in the open truck door while urinating in the street. The customer saw [the urine] running down the street and called the cops.”
Zylstra fired the sleeping driver; the one who couldn’t wait for a bathroom lost his monthly production bonus.
Presentation, for both vehicle and driver, is half the battle. Aust makes sure his technicians wash the vehicles at least every two weeks and fix dents and scratches promptly. He also contracted a uniform service to ensure his technicians have clean uniforms for 12 days.
For residential visits, Aust prevents drivers from parking in clients’ driveways, which avoids accusations of pesticide or oil stains and potential safety hazards. When drivers park on the street perpendicular to the house, clients can see the company branding on the truck.
Human Touch Points
Drivers’ interactions with clients, however brief, present opportunities to influence the relationship.
Bug Doctor technicians carry giveaways such as pens and rubber roaches for the kids. They also carry flyers for the company’s other services to treat birds, bedbugs, and animals, as well as home restoration. “Every interaction is a chance to upsell our other services,” Aust says.
Ken Stellon, a partner in Frontline Performance Group (fpg), recommends scripting the initial customer engagement and the completion of the service call. “An experience is divided into three stages, and we have greater recall over the first and last stage, when level of awareness is peaking,” Stellon says. “In a delivery, that’s when they’re receiving their product or completing a service.”
Stellon suggests looking for an opportunity to deliver a “statement of care,” an authentic comment about a relevant emotion or experience. It can be as simple as “Enjoy your Memorial Day break.”
A Driver Speaks
From the other side of the fence, this big rig driver offers advice for fleet managers on preparing their drivers to be better brand ambassadors: “It is important to reward good efforts by your drivers and to recognize their professionalism,” says Earl Taylor, who drives a Class 8 commercial tractor for Penske Logistics.
“Supply your drivers with good equipment, so they can feel proud,” Taylor adds. “A good fleet has trucks that are safe, clean, and well-maintained. The fleet manager has to coach drivers on how to best represent the brand they drive for, because drivers work directly with the customer every day.”
Taylor was named to the 2017-2018 America’s Road Team, a public outreach program of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). As one of 20 “trucking industry ambassadors,” Taylor is traveling the country to “spread a positive message about trucking.”
What Brown Does
Ask anyone to form a mental association with brand ambassadors and fleet drivers, and the iconic brown United Parcel Service (UPS) uniform might come to mind first. UPS understands its drivers are an essential component of its brand equity — so how does the world’s largest package delivery company ensure its drivers carry forth its core values?
“Great drivers aren’t born that way,” says Dan McMackin, public relations manager for UPS. “They may have a good service ethic, but they’re made. It’s training.”
Most candidates for UPS driver positions come from within the company and must go through a rigorous selection process. Before they even begin training, candidates are required to take a “pre-course” that weeds out many. Those failing must wait a year to retake the test.
Upon passing the pre-course, candidates join a class of 24 students at one of 10 UPS Integrad training centers (eight in the U.S. and two abroad). Each center features a so-called “Tiny Town,” a sort of firefighter’s academy but for UPS drivers — consisting of a replica city to simulate delivery and pickup situations.
The UPS Integrad curriculum provides computer-based and hands-on instruction revolving around four pillars: safety compliance, customer focus, UPS professionalism, and service performance. Experiential learning stations emphasize these goals. The candidates are aligned in pairs as they go through the daily rotations and in large groups for competitions throughout the week.
One station enforces the importance of safe work methods, including a pressure meter that shows how not using a handrail can have a negative health impact on elbows, knees, and back. Another station focuses on brand management and demonstrates how social media can amplify an incident to a million people in a heartbeat.
After completing the learning station specific to the customer service pillar, each team must give a presentation or skit that exemplifies customer focus. “The presentations are creative, and some are off-the-wall funny,” says Thomas Conard, project manager for UPS Integrad. “They get the point across.”
While training is the foundation, the company’s culture is the frame for creating its brand ambassadors.
“We value integrity, punctuality, and honesty,” McMackin says. “We’re handling other people’s goods. We don’t manufacture anything; we provide a service. At UPS, you have to have a willingness to serve others.”
The company’s human resources recruiters are on the lookout for these traits in hiring. But they are also fostered by senior management — many of whom came up through the ranks as drivers and package handlers themselves.
Both McMackin and Conard started by loading “package cars,” as the UPS trucks are called, and then served as drivers before working up into management positions. The company’s CEO started by loading trucks in college as well.
“Once you’re a driver, you understand the customer-facing issues,” McMackin says. “You’re a salesperson, a service provider, and a safety expert. You’ll be able to move into positions of higher responsibility with that basic understanding.”
UPS is known for paying its drivers well, and its compensation package — full health care, up to seven weeks of paid vacation, and a full retirement pension — seems an anomaly in today’s lean business environment. While pay is important, it’s only one factor, says McMackin.
“[Driving] is hard work and physical, yet satisfying,” he says.
Driving jobs offer stability; the average driver tenure is 20 years. They’re regularly recognized for safe driving.
Tom Camp, a UPS driver serving Livonia, Mich., will celebrate his 55th year of safe driving this year. “He’s 77 and has no plans to retire, as long as he’s physically able,” McMackin says.
Conard and McMackin say that drivers look forward to the daily connections with customers. There are stories of clients pinning poster-sized photos of drivers to their walls. It’s not uncommon for drivers to be invited to clients’ weddings — McMackin has been to two.
More than a Product
One factor that ties these diverse businesses together is the idea that their drivers are not just delivering a product. They understand that training drivers in customer service is essential to furthering their companies’ core missions.
It goes beyond formal training, however. For drivers to be active promoters of your brand, they need to be given the same tools and support as the rest of your employees. This comes from effective communication and leadership and consistent recognition of jobs well done.
At UPS, “There is a culture of understanding from the bottom to the top on the importance of the customer,” McMackin says. “Their business makes this place run.”