by Tim Brady
, Business Editor
While I can’t speak for everyone, I can say the one lesson repeated more times than any other when I was a child was: “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. He meant for you to listen twice as much as you talk.” We have survived an election year in which that advice seemed to be practiced very little, so it’s a good time to bring that subject up as we continue to rebound from the Great Recession.
Listening is a virtue that can be utilized by those who lead to really understand the right direction in which to take your trucking business. Let’s review a few scenarios that demonstrate the importance of listening.
In recruiting and hiring drivers for your operation, listening becomes extremely important as you determine if the driver will be a good fit for your company and how it operates. You need to know things about the potential hire beyond if he/she will pass a drug test, has a clean DMV record, and has the experience to do the job you and your customers require.
*What are his/her current financial obligations? Will the real pay this trucker receives actually cover the financial needs of his/her family?
*What are the personal relationship needs and/or requirements this person expects that might require specific home time? Will you be able to provide this to the trucker?
*How well will this person integrate into your dispatch system? Is he/she used to a single way of dispatch? Does he/she focus only on the rate per mile and ignore the overall revenue in evaluation of a load? How does this work with your system?
Based on just this example, it’s easy to see there are many questions and concerns that need to be addressed. Follow-up conversations based upon the answers each applicant provides are also necessary; otherwise, it’s very possible to miss the important details. A trucker may have experience and a clean record, but that doesn’t immediately qualify him or her as a match for your operation. It’s listening to the details and letting prospective drivers talk that will provide the answers needed.
The next scenario has to do with customers, including shippers, receivers and freight brokers. Listening and then verifying in writing the wants and needs of the businesses and individuals for whom you haul freight is what will set you apart from your competition. Here are a few examples to help you start your customer listening list:
*Listen for opportunities. Not every customer or broker is going to tell you what their needs are when it comes to freight hauling services. It’s up to you to ‘have your ear to the road,’ so to speak.
*Listen for all the details and ask questions to fill in the holes on what the customer requires, what he needs, and what he wants on every load. There’s no such thing as too much information when you need to provide top-notch customer service.
*Listen to the customer. What services are required, and which of those services are not currently being provided?
*Listen to the conversations of those involved in the load-handling process. Is there an additional opportunity being discussed? Is there going to be a slowdown with the freight they’re offering you? Is there talk of a strike or other event that could affect your freight?
Again, the more you listen, the more information you glean about your customer and the greater your ability becomes to service their needs.
The final example deals with your vendors, those companies and individuals you depend upon for everything from vehicle maintenance and repair, to the phone service provider, to the tire guy, Internet service provider, insurance agent, factoring company, accountant, etc.
Each one of these individuals and companies is, or should be, an expert in their field. You must engage these experts and glean knowledge and insight from them, incorporating what you learn into your own operations to improve your business. You hired them for good reason; make sure you listen to their advice.
Your final listening post is staying aware of what’s happening in your world. And, of course, it’s just as important to keep tabs on local, state, regional, national and international events, which could impact your business.
DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW
The biggest mistake many business people make is listening to a single source or outlet for news. This isn’t about finding the source with which you can agree, or hear only the information you want to hear. It’s about finding the information that will affect your business—like it or not.
Don’t just look at trucking publications; look at the information from the perspective of the broker and shipper. Look for different takes on how a new regulation will impact not just trucking, but how it will affect customers, shippers, brokers and even the policing agencies.
A good example is the volatility of fuel prices. One recent news story discussed what the net results would be if fuel went to $7/gal. An intriguing hypothesis suggested that at that price, it would no longer be cost-effective for manufacturers to produce items overseas, so they’d move operations back to North America by the thousands.
How would this impact your business if it occurred? If you hauled containers from ports, it would be different than if you operated from the factories to distribution centers or stores in Middle America.
It all comes down to listening for the details and making sure you have all the necessary information by asking the correct questions. Then you will be better informed to make profitable decisions.