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Data in, data out: What’s data got to do with driver retention?

Data may be taking over the industry, but drivers aren’t robots, and they aren’t about to be. (Image: Shutterstock)

Data data data. It’s all about the data. The antiquated, fragmented transportation industry is in a technology and data frenzy. The fierce industry operates on tight margins. Data today explores lane-based margins, margin by customer, evaluates how to improve overall utilization. One of the most important opportunities that remains frequently overlooked when it comes to data is the human element. And that may prove the biggest consistent challenge of all.

We’re frequently reminded how times have changed.

“You now need multiple dashboards, and a method to measure the data in order to analyze, theorize and test, and then repeat,” says Onavie Boyce of the Business Intelligence team at Trimble, speaking at this year’s in.sight 2018 conference and expo.

All of this is true.

“It’s no longer just a simple report card,” Boyce reminds us. “Even so, you need to know the behaviors and what led to the results. How can you refine and hone your measurements in order to drill down and know the numbers? How do you know what’s happening and why?” 

Today, you need to have strategic segmentation and management knowledge. Unique measurements and dashboards are required, and each with separate analysis and action plans. New tools can help you find “expert fuel,” where to buy it and reduce expense.

You can also refine your analysis. What about out-of-route miles, long idle times, and driving habits? These things also today can be measured.

But where’s the sweet spot?

Where’s the point in the middle where not just managers—but also drivers—can both be happier? Right now, it tilts toward managers and executives, and less toward the driver’s end of the spectrum. In other words, how can the increased use and implementation be used to improve drivers’ experiences so much that they insist on better data, swear by it?

“Improve your business by knowing what you can change. Educate, motivate, and manage and then measure the results,” says Boyce. “Learning what part of it is real, what part is optional, how to help drivers make different decisions, all of this can be adjusted based on how to better make things add up.”

But it’s only going to add up if drivers are at least somewhat motivated to be tracked. If it doesn’t help—that is, help with the essentials and improve their quality of life on the road—then it’s going to feel like a chore to run the ELDs and keep up with the telematics. ELDs and telematics are bad words to most owner operators. It ends up feeling like a constant hall monitor, like Big Brother.

In other words, if data retention is really the keys to the trucking kingdom, then the bottom line should be to discover how to either educate—or actually create—the systems that drivers are going to love. Maybe that’s a beginning point for “thinking outside the box” on the subject of driver retention.

Operations and efficiency may be what data analytics is all about, and managers love the control and ability to extract data to know how to make adjustments. Meanwhile, drivers are still turning over and over and over in the capacity mill.

You can talk revenue per mile, order count, net miles, daily TRC utilization. You can talk load optimization, trip velocity, detention, and radius. You can track a driver’s movements minute-by-minute now, and not just day-by-day, but in the end, you’re going to need more than data. You’re going to need creative problem solvers, which is also a human element.

And besides just thinking about miles, you need to think about relationships.

What are your hire and termination trends, your turnover ratio? What’s your cost to your business for 100% turnover that isn’t getting any better? What’s the impact to your business when someone leaves after their first paycheck or first month, as opposed to someone who’s been there for eight years who suddenly leaves?

That’s where the data can lead you to the water. You still have to drink, still execute.

In her presentation on business solutions Boyce illustrates the very point. She asks, “What about a driver who’s behind on his payments through maybe a payday loan, and he’s just barely able to pay off his check each month and is having trouble getting ahead? What can you do to help him so that he doesn’t abandon ship for a company that’s going to give a big sign-on bonus?”

Keith Mader, VP of analytics for Trimble Transportation, tells FreightWaves at the in.sight conference on the What the Truck?!? podcast that transportation is unique and “all about family.” Bridging the gap between their various sectors is key for Trimble. He says “the role of analytics is like a glue between the transactions from all the data coming in.”

And even while Trimble’s goal is to achieve their data applications at scale, Mader says, “These are human beings. You have to have the human touch. It’s not robots. How do we take data and take the digital world and do something meaningful with it, do something human with it?”

The real gold nugget from all that data mining? How to extract improved experiences—that would make everyone at least a little happier.

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.