Archive for the ‘Company’ Category

Do You Have Any Control Over Your Miles?

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When I speak with new drivers in orientation I always ask the question, “Do you have any control over your miles?”  I ask this because a lot of folks in orientation left their previous company over miles.  The answers I get are always mixed.  Some say, “Yes,” and some say “No.”  Miles are important to ACT and its drivers.  We charge by the mile and our drivers are paid by the mile.  We all want miles.  To some extent you do have control over your miles…and to some extent you don’t. Let’s analyze this important question.


As long as I have been in trucking at ACT we have had drivers who always get good miles.  We always have drivers who get poor miles, and we always have the averages.  So when a driver claims, “I can’t get any miles,” I don’t buy it because I know that many do.  A friend, Robert Low at Prime, preaches to his people, “Blame, Denial and Excuse are your enemies.  They will defeat you every time.”  This is so true.  One thing I have noticed over the years is that those who do poorly on miles always blame the company, they have excuses, or they are in denial, living paycheck to paycheck, not even knowing what miles they do get.  This goes on until their spouse can’t pay the bills, there is a blow up, and they quit.  Of course, they take their same attitude and poor habits to the new company and the cycle repeats itself.  The high mile drivers are always challenging and pushing themselves and asking what can they do to get better…and they do.  These folks are winners…and high milers.

So what can you do to maximize your miles? I have found one calculation to be true.  Performance= Ability+Attitude+Training.  Remove any of these factors and you will not see performance.  If you don’t have the ability to do this, none of us can help you.  You’ll just have to settle into a budget of lower miles.  I would think this would be a rare situation indeed.  You do control your attitude.  Do you want high miles?  Are you willing to do what it takes?  This article will help you with the third factor, training.  It will provide you with the knowledge you can use to reach your goals.



American Central Transport

What are the differences we have seen between high milers and those who aren’t?  Let’s start with the basics.  Some people work harder than others.  It is a fact of life.  Hard workers get more miles.  Have you ever noticed while going down the road the same truck passing you two or three times?  We all have.  What is that driver doing?  He is stopping at truck stops, wasting time, not working, absorbing and spreading negativity, and then speeding and wasting fuel to catch up.  These drivers will never get miles, their companies will notice how much time and money they waste, and their CSA record will keep them from getting on with the good companies.  Lower milers look at trucking as a voyage.  They bounce around, with no plan or discipline to their day, wasting time and then wonder why they can’t get miles.  High milers look at trucking as a job.  With electronic logs they know that time is money (and miles) and so they don’t waste it.  It is hard work to get up, plan your day, drive 8, 9 or 10 hours, shut down and do it again the next day.  But this is what high milers looks like.

High milers don’t cherry pick loads.  They take it all, long and short, heavy and light, east and west, north and south, into the sun and with the sun at their back, and in all kinds of wind and terrain.  They know that they don’t have the information that planners are dealing with and that cherry picking is a gamble.  The gamble may pay off with that perfect load, but it contains the risk of turning down miles to sit if that perfect load doesn’t exist.  High milers are runners.  They know that every system has all kinds of freight, good, bad and in between and they take it all.  They know that taking all loads means they are moving and getting miles.  They trust that people in the office are doing everything they can to keep them running…and most of the time, they are.


High milers get hazmat, tanker endorsement and every other kind of endorsement they can.  They want to be qualified for any freight that comes their way and in slow times this really pays off, not to mention that company drivers earn 2 cents per dispatch mile more for having the hazmat endorsement and contractors 6 cents per loaded dispatch mile more.  With the number of dispatch miles over the course of weeks, months, and years those additional pennies can add up.

High milers take the time to do thorough pre-trip and post trip inspections.  In terms of miles, violations at the scales and out of service orders represent a lot of lost miles.  Taking the time to do things right to begin with saves a lot of time later.

High milers get their preventative maintenance done on time.  Taking the time to have this done correctly and inexpensively at our maintenance facility in Kansas City can save a lot of miles when it saves unplanned breakdowns on the road.

High milers deliver loads on time.  They have a good reputation, are proud of their reputation and are trusted in Operations.  When freight is slow and that hot load is ready, who do you give it to?  The driver you trust?  Or the one you don’t?  The answer should be obvious.  Trusted drivers who do their jobs professionally and correctly get more miles.

High milers do their computer work and always send daily check calls before 10:00 a.m. along withaccurate arrival, loaded and empty calls. They keeptheir ETAs and PTAs current and up to date.  Why?  This puts the information in the computer and helps planners get them more preplans, which helps the driver plan a day or two ahead and keep running.

High milers know the customers and use this knowledge to get more miles.  Job jumpers never stay around long enough to get it.  What kind of information do you learn on the job that will help you? Does a customer let you park at their facility?  This information can save you a lot of time.  How well do you know the person at the guard shack?  Good relations here can get you some favors.  Do they sometimes go ahead and get you loaded ahead of your appointment when they can?  Do you know how to get to the customer?  Directions in the Qualcomm are sometimes wrong.  We have over 100 customers withdifferent locations throughout our system.  Tenured drivers get more miles.  Why? Because they know the customers and the system and can use it to their advantage.  How long does it take to learn a new system?  A minimum of 3 months is needed and probably takes closer to 6 months.  Job jumpers spend too much time in orientation and never stay long enough to learn any company’s system.  Then they complain they can’t get miles.  They need to take a long look in the mirror.


ACT Driver

ACT Driver

High milers know the freight flows.  The ups and downs are analyzed extensively by trucking stock analysts and are the same for all companies.  We follow these and compare them to our freight.  In most cases we see the same flows here as everywhere else.  No trucking company has cornered the economy.  We all are subject to it.  In trucking, paychecks are never the same from week to week but bills are.  To be successful we need to plan and budget to anticipate when freight is busy and when it is slow.  The better you are able to do this, the more miles you will get.  A smart strategy is to use more home time when things are slow, and to be out more when freight is busy so you can save up for the lulls.  We see drivers leave us when freight is slow, but you know what?  If it is slow here, it is slow everywhere.  Changing jobs changes nothing except it puts you in orientation in an unknown company for a week and you start all over learning a system.  High milers not only know the flows of freight in this country but they plan for it and use it to their advantage.  These types of drivers always do well.

Here are some general rules.  Our highest numbers of deliveries are on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  If you deliver your first load on a Monday, you will have a good week and your miles will be higher.  However, if you are late out of the home and deliver your first load on a Tuesday, odds are your miles will belower and you will have a bad week.  Going home is important, but high milers leave home on time and have a secure place to leave a truck and trailer, so when the opportunity presents itself, they can go home with a load.   The first week of the month tends to be the slowest.  The last week of the month tends to be the busiest.  The first month of the quarter is slowest – January, April, and July.  The best months are the last month of the quarter – March, June, andSeptember.  From October until a couple weeks before Christmas is peak season.  This is a good time to stay out and make some money to get you through the slow winter months of January and February.  Holidays are always tough on miles.  Think about what the customer is doing on Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.   Answer…not much.

You can maximize your miles by planning home time with your family to happen when it is slower and staying out more when it is busier.  Home time affects miles.  Home time is important but recognize that you don’t get any miles at home.  Every person’s situation is different.  Some need home more, some stay out a month at a time.  These people that stay out longerget more miles.  The more you are home, the fewer miles you will get.  The more you are out, the more miles you will get.  Money is not everything.  Family is.  I can’t tell you which is best for your situation but please understand the consequences of your decisions and discuss this with your family.  You must plan to meet your family needs and your financial needs.

The last thing I would recommend is planning, planning and more planning.  In this day of electronic logs, you cannot stop your clock once it starts.  Lost time is lost miles.  The high milers plan their day before they log on.  They choose loads that work with their hours.  There is so much information you can use on a computer or smart phone, including traffic, congestion, construction, weather, fuel recommendations, routing and more.  When planning before you leave, you will use your time more efficiently and get more miles.

There is a lot more.  But you can see why some drivers who plan and are disciplined always get more miles that those who aren’t.  We want you to be a high miler. Ask for help if you need it.

Happy Trucking!



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In 1972, Tom Kretsinger Sr., bought a little company named, E.K. Motor Service out of Joliet, Illinois.  It was named after a client, Ed Kramer, who was ready to retire.  That was before deregulation in 1980, so the real value of the company was its authority.  One of the first things he did was to change the name.  He wanted a name that had, as its letters, ACT, because he wanted the company to be proactive, or to act.  From there he filled in American Central Transport, which has been our name since, but the company is better known as ACT.

Proactive means acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.  Proactive is the opposite of reactive, which means reacting to problems when they occur instead of doing something to prevent them.  In more common parlance, being reactive is “putting out fires.”  I know a lot of people in trucking through networking at conventions and meetings.  Often during a meeting break, I will see them all out on their cells phones, “putting out fires.”

If you have been around ACT any length of time, one characteristic you will notice is that we are proactive.  We think ahead.  We anticipate problems before they occur, rather than dealing with problems after they surface.

Let’s talk about compliance.  For many trucking companies, the thing most feared is a DOT audit.  If you are not in compliance, you can find yourself in the middle of a lot of fires as a result.  We, at ACT, never worry about an audit because we are “by the book.”   We are compliant.  So it is fine with us for the DOT to come in whenever they want and look at whatever they want.  We were early adapters of CSA and electronic logs, in anticipation of changes in the law.  So when the law does change, it is not a change for us.  We are early adapters of hair testing.  This allows us to know we have no drug users driving our trucks.  By these and many other proactive measures, we know there will be no fires.

Let’s talk about customer service.  Our customers look at us as a great service carrier.   What makes us different?  We look at something before we agree to do it and ask, “Can we do it?”  We make sure we can do what the customer wants before we agree to do it.  If we can’t, we are upfront about it, and this prevents a fire.  Others charge ahead and deal with the problem when it surfaces, which it always does for those who are reactive.

What about service failures?  No matter how good you are, things will go wrong from time to time.  We watch our loads and try to anticipate any problems.  Drivers call us if they have any problems with a load.  We are quick to get back to the customer, before the customer even knows that there may be problem.  In almost every situation, what could have been a problem goes away.  People understand that trucking is not perfect.  Given enough time and notice, things can be adjusted to solve problems.

What about accidents and lawsuits?  Again, ACT is proactive.  Our drivers know that they are the only person to determine if they are in an unsafe situation.  They know that they have the authority to shut down and call us anytime they feel unsafe.  Being proactive in this way prevents accidents.  We also have event recorders.  These devices protect us from frivolous lawsuits, and we work with drivers to proactively coach out bad habits before they become an accident.  As a result of our proactive measures, we have one of the best safety records in trucking.

What about the driver?  We are proactive with drivers as well.  We know that they need our help, assistance and support.  We know that their time is important.  We pay detention after two hours, whether we collect from the shipper or not.  We pay holiday pay, because family is important.  Depending on the freight season, we work hard to give drivers preplans as much as possible.  Getting drivers home on time is mission critical for us.  We know you work hard and need to get home for some well-deserved rest and relaxation with your family.  We put home time requests in our computer and monitor those carefully while you are working.

These are just a few examples of the many ways the team here at ACT is proactive.  We are proud of this part of our culture and practice it every day and we always strive for constant improvement in every aspect of our business.

Happy and ProACTive trucking!


ACT Increasing Pay for Company Drivers & Owner Operators

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American Central Transport is excited to announce we are increasing pay for both company drivers and owner operators!

Effective August 24, 2015, OTR company drivers will receive a $0.02 per mile pay increase, which will be added to the $0.01 per mile anniversary increase given earlier this year. Together, these raises, an overall 7% increase, result in a pay rate of up to a maximum of $.52 per mile paid for all miles, PLUS fuel bonus.

Engineered and Dedicated Lane company drivers will receive a $0.01 per mile pay increase.


ACT is also adding a $0.02 per mile pay increase for all owner operators who add the Lytx DriveCam system to their trucks. Beginning August 24th, those contractors will receive $1.05 per loaded mile if they have a HAZMAT endorsement, and $0.99 per loaded mile for non-HAZMAT contractors, with $0.90 being paid for empty miles plus fuel surcharge on all miles.


Phillip Wilt, ACT Chief Operating Officer stated that these pay increases reflects ACT’s desire to reward their drivers. “We want to be a market leader in terms of our pay and total benefit package for our drivers,” Wilt said. “We appreciate the job our drivers do and we know what you’re going through out there. Raising our pay ceiling is just one way we can show our drivers how important they are to us.”

“And for our independent contractors, giving them this increase is our way of saying thanks for making our fleet even safer with the addition of a drive cam. We’re very proud of ACT’s safety record and this is an important step in protecting our drivers and the motoring public,” said Wilt.

“We want to get every driver back home to their families, safely and well cared for,” said ACT President Tom Kretsinger, Jr. “Safety and Caring for families are two of our Core Values, along with Accountability, Integrity and Respect. These pay raises, together with our complete benefit package are just another way we support our drivers.”

Want to know more?

For more information, call American Central Transport at 888-HAUL-ACT (888-883-2809) or visit us online at

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Ready for the Electronic Log Mandate

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This fall the FMCSA will publish a final rule mandating electronic logs throughout the trucking industry.  I don’t like all regulations FMCSA adopts but I do like this one.  What is the impact?

At ACT, there is no impact as we have used electronic logs for quite a while.  There are a handful of independent contractors currently on paper logs and they will have to convert to electronic logs.  This won’t affect their operations at all because of our core value of “Integrity.”  We are “by the book” without excuse or exception.  The only change for them will be learning a new computer.  With the right attitude this goes quickly.

There are a lot of benefits to electronic logging for those who operate legally within the Hours of Service.  The first is the elimination of paper.  Paper costs money to buy, it kills trees, and logs must be scanned at a cost and then the auditing function is more labor intensive.  With paper logs you get a closer look at the scales.  When the logs consist of electronic digits, the filling out and transmission of the logs becomes automated.  Often scale houses don’t inspect drivers with electronic logs.  With electronic logs, business leaders and planners can see a driver’s exact hours, rather than estimates.  This allows more accurate planning and preplanning.  With electronic logs, non-driving on duty time is counted at the exact number of minutes as opposed to 15 minute increments required on paper logs.  This adds time to a driver’s day and time is money.  Electronic logs automatically add up time used and show time remaining, rather than a driver having to do this manually.  Form and manner violations which were common with paper logs go away with electronic logs.  Late logs disappear as the computer always keeps things up to date and transmitted.  With electronic logs, CSA fatigued driving violations go away.  This keeps CSA scores low and gets drivers a green light.  That makes us and drivers a lot of money as they drive down the road racking up miles while others sit for hours at a scale house racking up violations.

ACT drivers run legal.  We pay for the electronic log.  So there is really no valid fear other than having to learn something new.  I asked one of our early adopters a few years back how electronic logs changed his world.  He replied that where in the past he always picked the longest load, now he picks the load that works best with his hours.  He mentioned that he actually can do better because of this if he plans his day well before logging in.  That is easier to do today than in the past, because computers, smart phones and tablets put so much information at our fingertips, including road closures, road construction, routes, fueling, tolls, congestion, time zones and much more.  So once the one or two week learning curve is over, it is actually better than paper logs.  I have heard over the years many drivers who are at first fearful of electronic logs say after two weeks that they would never go back to paper logs.

This has also made ACT better.  We know and this reminds us that drivers’ time is important and we have stressed preplanning to help drivers save time and get more miles.

A lot of truckers, who object so strongly to electronic logs, have a problem they can’t admit…that is, they run illegally.  Some say they don’t want to incur the cost.  But, electronic logs actually save money.  The illegal business model should offend good drivers.  It offends me.  These carriers, corner cutters, bid against us for freight with cheap rates.  This drives down rates for all.  They pay their drivers less, and make them work more and drive more miles by running illegally.  This lets them get away without pay increases.  Their drivers have to work harder and risk their driving record and CDL for less money.  They risk their drivers’ safety and their health.

We can all feel good about this change.  The electronic log mandate will level the playing field for those of us who do play by the rules. It will help clean up the industry’s bad image they create. It puts a lot of these outlaws out of business because they can’t change their business model fast enough to adapt.  Their drivers can’t make any money legally at that low rate of pay and they will lose their drivers.  They can’t change their lanes and get their rates up enough to pay their drivers what they deserve. In the future, rates put into bids by all will have to take into account the value of your time and the cost of doing things right….and that is a great thing.

Happy and legal trucking!


Safety and Technology

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As you know last year we tested event recorders.  Starting in January we announced that we were deploying them fleet wide by year end 2015.  To date we have 167 event recorders installed and are well on our way to meeting our goal.  I’d like to give you an update on our experience with them so far.

There have been a lot of false and frankly paranoid rumors on the driver grapevine in general about these devices.  As with a lot of technology, some folks resist change and improvement.  But as more and more drivers adopt the technology they learn the real facts.  It only records 12 seconds during an event, something brought on by hard braking or swerving.  For the most part, the driver controls whether or not it sets off.  We don’t see anything else.  It comes with a cover that can be placed on the unit at night if that is important to a driver.  It has caught a lot of parking lot accidents and helped our contractors to recover their $1000 deductible.  It is a great way to protect our drivers and our company while improving ourselves.  We have seen a number of videos that exonerate us and our driver, thus protecting us both.  By having the inward and outward facing cameras, lawyers cannot speculate about what our driver was doing at the time.  These videos show true professionals doing their jobs and saving lives.  Certainly something to brag about, not try to hide.

The results are simply amazing.  Paying claims and buying insurance are major expense items.  This tool has saved a lot more money than it costs.  In the first half of 2014, we had 16 DOT recordable accidents and our “Crash” basic was rising quickly.  We started ramping up with DriveCam in mid-February of 2015 from 30 units to 167 units now.  I’m pleased to share with you that in the first quarter of 2015 we had only 4 DOT recordable accidents and since the first quarter we have had none.  In 2014 we saw our “Crash” basic on CSA rise to a score of 70 which resulted in a DOT audit since it was in alert status.  Today, it has fallen to a quite respectable 23.  During the ramp up period this represents a 45% reduction in DOT recordable crashes.  This brings all our scores low, helps us attract and retain business and get our drivers green lights at the scales. This saves all time and money.

When we are involved in an accident, insurance companies create a reserve which is an estimate of the amount of money it will take to defend and settle a claim.  In addition, we create reserves to pay the deductibles and self-insured amounts not covered by insurance.  Last year at mid-year we had $640,000 in reserves for accidents.  As of mid-year 2015, that was down to $260,000, a 60% reduction!

Folks, this is real safety and real savings.  And this is with only a little more than half our trucks equipped.  DriveCam records only 12 second during an event, 8 seconds before and 4 seconds after.  Through film review our drivers have reduced the number of recorded events by 60% and the number of severe events by 64%.  We had one driver who reduced his hard braking events from 40 per month to one or none. This is safety improvement you can see, hear, feel and touch.  It is very real and gives ACT a big competitive advantage.  We are seeing our work in the safety department shift from spending hours handling claims to proactive work preventing accidents.  And your typical driver has less than one minute of film recorded and sent to us each month.

Together, we are all responsible for accidents and live in a legal environment which is unfavorable and often unfair to truckers.  Now together, we are making real strides in protecting ourselves and the motoring public.  Thank you for your help on this project and being the true professionals that you are.

Happy and Safe Trucking, Tom

Hair Testing…Why?

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A couple months ago an ACT driver called the Tennessee Highway Patrol.  He complained that people had been on his catwalk talking all day.  The astute troopers arranged to meet this driver.  They met, and to no surprise, there were no people on his catwalk.  Obviously, he was hearing voices.  They asked the driver if he was on anything.  “Meth,” he replied.  They found meth, cocaine and paraphernalia in his truck. He was arrested, terminated, the truck, trailer and load impounded and we were left puzzled, scared and trying to figure out what to do.

When I heard this, it chilled me to the bone.  We discovered this driver had been with us for a year.  He passed drug testing in orientation.  He seemed to be a good driver.  He didn’t look like a drug user. Our policy regarding drugs and alcohol has been a “no tolerance” policy for many years.  Any drug or alcohol related incident results in immediate termination.  Drugs, alcohol and trucking do not mix.  We had no clue we had a drug user in our fleet.  Perhaps we were naive.

This caused 59 CSA points on ACT.  But the implications are much worse.  I thought of the ramifications of this for a long time.  They are simply horrible.  A bad wreck caused by a driver on illegal drugs or alcohol could put any trucking company out of business.  Lots of people would be hurt and lots would lose their jobs.

But what can we do?  We are “by the book.”  We follow the law.  We have everyone in orientation do a urine test.  We do 60% random urine tests of our current drivers, more than required by law.  Could we do more?  Ridiculously, under the law, we cannot do more without a legally defined, “reasonable suspicion.”  We follow regulations, but regulations often lack common sense.  Privacy concerns sometimes trump safety.  The FMCSA is working on regulations for hair testing and for a drug and alcohol data bank to warn us who may be a problem.  But they are slow and it is not there yet.

I determined to make sure this never happens again.  We checked into hair follicle testing.  It is easy, safe, and more reliable than urine sample testing required by FMCSA.  It does costs us more, but if we can ensure our drivers are free of illegal drugs and alcohol, the price is worth it.

Accordingly, starting on July 1, 2015 all applicants in orientation undergo hair testing in addition to urine testing.  All random drug and alcohol tests include this as well.  We tell prospective applicants up front what to expect.  We have already caught another driver.

Some may find this intrusive, but it is a small price to pay for a true drug and alcohol free company where drivers can be proud of the safety and professionalism of all they associate with.  The office folks undergo the same testing.  In the long tradition of ACT, this is the right thing to do.  This directly reflects our core values of integrity and safety:  “Doing the right thing even when no one is watching,” and, “Going above and beyond what the law requires.”

As has always been the case, at ACT, we are raising the standard.

Happy and safe trucking!  Tom

The Golden Rule and Trailers

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Two of our important Core Values are “Integrity” and “Respect.”  Integrity means doing the right thing, even if no one is looking and even if nobody will ever know.  It is the honorable way of conducting yourself in life.  “Respect” is the Golden Rule.  Everything we do in trucking has an effect on others.  Everything others do has an effect on us.  The Golden Rule, “Treat everyone else as you would like to be treated,” is not only the “right” thing; it is good business.  If everyone in trucking, and at ACT, would live their lives and conduct their business in line with these principles, trucking would be easier and more profitable for all.

This brings me to the issue of trailers.  One of the age old frustrations I have heard from drivers over many years is the condition that trailers are left in.  I hear complaints of bald tires, damage to trailers, trailers being left jacked up too high, trailers being jacked up to low, and other problems.  Few things are more frustrating than showing up with a pre plan, ready to go with a boat full of hours, and finding that you are delayed, because the trailer is in poor condition.  It frustrates the driver and it frustrates us in the office as well.  It wastes time and costs us all money.

So what can we do?  When I confront problems in business or in life, I divide things into two categories.  On one side of the ledger, I list things I can control.  On the other side of the ledger, I list things I cannot control.  I don’t stress on things beyond my control, it wouldn’t change anything anyway.  I focus on solutions for the things I can control.  That is how we get better.

Do I have any control over how drivers or yard dogs leave trailers?  At first blush, my reaction is:  “I have no control over that.”  There is no way to police that.  I have no control over it and there is nothing I can do to help my drivers.  Perhaps this is just part of the bad part of trucking.  It then follows that I should advise drivers, not to stress over trailers because it is beyond our control.  It is stress for no reason.  Focus on things you can control.  (Last year, to help alleviate the obviously frustrating problem, we started paying something to drivers for taking a trailer in, although the customers will pay us nothing for this.  It is not enough, but it is something to help.)

But let’s review our list of things we cannot control.  Sometimes there are things that we seem to have no control over, but on further reflection there is something we can do.  These things might not solve everything, but could help.  I thought about trailers more.

There is nothing “I” can do…but there may be something “WE” can do.  What “WE” can do to help all of us is simple…, do our jobs.  What is that?  Every driver has the job of doing a post trip inspection.  If everyone did this, every time, and reported any problems, tires, scrapes, damage and the like could be fixed more rapidly and hopefully, before the trailer is loaded or the next driver arrives to pick it up.  What else is our job?  It is every driver’s job to pull nails and sweep the trailer out.

These things are not complicated.  They are about doing our jobs with integrity and respect for others.  If we all do it, trucking in general, and, trucking at ACT in particular, is better for us all.  I still don’t know what to do about problems yard dogs cause, but if you know of such a situation, report it to us.  If we see a pattern at a particular location, we can address it with the shipper.

My advice is…don’t complain.  Whiners never get anywhere.  Don’t stress.  All that will do is shorten your life.  Let’s do our job with integrity and respect and spread the word to all our drivers the importance of integrity and respect.

Will it happen?  I don’t know.  I hope so.  Can it happen?  I’m sure of it.

Happy and Safe Trucking, Tom

Customer Service and Accountability

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“Every day we’re saying, ‘How can we keep the customer happy? …because if we don’t, somebody else will.” – Bill Gates

All drivers in all companies worry about miles.  Why?  Drivers are paid by the mile.  We are paid by the mile too.  So if we havea week of low miles, our pay is low.  Miles are critical to our financial well-being.  Miles are the coin of the realm.

The key to getting good miles is good customer service.  In the hyper competitive world of over the road trucking, a customer can easily tender freight to another carrier if they are not happy with the service.  In the case of yearly freight bids, ties go to the carrier with the better service.  Service oriented carriers get the rate increases which enable them to increase driver pay.  Poor service carriers do not.  It takes months of work to find a good customer and only seconds to lose one.  If we lose business to poor service, we all lose miles.

ACT does not give drivers miles.  Customers give drivers miles.  They have the freight.  They tender it to ACT and ACT tenders it to you, the driver.  If we all want miles, it follows that we have to make and keep that customer happy so that we continue to get miles and get more of them.

How do you define customer satisfaction?  What makes a customer happy is defined by the customer, not us.  It is the customer who defines service expectations.

If you are a company driver, your job is to transport a customer’s load safely, legally, professionally and to the customer’s requirements and deliver the load in the same condition you received it.  If you have service failures, you are not doing the job you are paid to do.  If you are a contractor, you have agreed to do the same by contract.  If you have service failures, you are not living up to your part of the agreement.  This is a breach of your contract.  Service failures hurt us all.

We have been through a crazy capacity crunch in 2014.  There was so much freight in relation to trucks that carriers simply could not cover all of it.  Everyone’s service deteriorated.  2015 is different.  Everyone in trucking has seen a relative softening of freight.  This results in spotty areas from time to time and customers demanding better service.

We can’t control everything that causes a late delivery.  For example, weather and late loading can cause delay.  However, we can control our attitudes towards good service, our planning and our communication.  Customer service is not a department, it is an attitude!  It’s everyone’s job.

Excellence in customer service is what sets ACT and its team apart from the competition.  We have worked on this reputation for years.  Excellent service means we can get better freight and charge a little more rate than others.  This in turn helps us maintain business in down cycles and pay our drivers top pay in the industry.  If service suffers, our rates are hard to justify and increases become impossible.  Without service, we are just another carrier.  We have always cherished our reputation and worked hard to keep it.  We continuously look for ways to get better and make the customer even more satisfied.

Help by doing your part in keeping our standard of excellence in customer service!

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” – Henry Ford

Happy Trucking!  Tom



Passing the Torch

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Passing the Torch

Justin decided today that he would search for an old style diner this evening instead of the fast food restaurants that were dinner fare at most truck stops. A quick search using his iPhone’s GPS showed Betty’s Family Cooking 15 miles up the road off Exit 46. As he was looking at the search results, the automatic rumble strips on his in-cab camera went off, warning him that he was outside his lane. He quickly corrected and looked up the road. Looking down at his instrument panel, he noticed that he was averaging 7 miles per gallon, not bad for a 30,000 pound load. He really liked his aerodynamic truck with the 13-liter engine and automatic transmission. His GPS now indicated that he had 13 miles to the restaurant and that he would arrive at precisely 8:56.

As the truck geared down the exit ramp, the GPS told him to turn right up County Road and go one mile to his destination. Suddenly, he heard another voice, this one from his mobile satellite tracking unit, “Warning, you have fifteen minutes left of on-duty drive time,” she said. “Timed perfectly!” he thought as he pulled into the parking lot. He parked and entered “Off duty” on his mobile unit. He reached in the back for his backpack. It had been a good day, he thought to himself.

Yesterday, however, was not so good. Justin had pushed it a little too hard. He had started to lose control of his tractor-trailer, but the anti-rollover system on his rig kicked into gear and kept him from a jackknife. The safety department back at the terminal had noticed the alert on their computer indicating that he was speeding and “hard braking.” He received a call warning him that he needed to slow down and leave more distance between himself and other vehicles. Justin remembered from driver training school the company’s progressive discipline policy. He had already had two problems and knew that a third would result in disciplinary action. But he wasn’t too worried about it. He could always go work for another trucking company. Since he finished his CDL two years ago, Justin had learned that it was easy to jump from job to job if things didn’t work out right. He kind of wanted to take the winter off anyway and spend a few months on the beach in Florida. As he climbed down out of his truck, he noticed an old big hood Peterbilt that said “Gertie” on the side. “What a dinosaur,” Justin thought, “that should be in the Smithsonian.”

Carrying his backpack, Justin walked across the lot and into the diner. It looked like something out of the last century. It had knotty pine walls, linoleum floors, and frilly half curtains on the windows. The tables had old Formica surfaces and chrome legs. The place looked like pictures Justin had seen on the Internet from an old “Life” Magazine. Justin sat down at a table and took his Mac out of the pack. He booted up his computer to check the weather and traffic, plan tomorrow’s route and fuel stop, and scan in his paperwork. He couldn’t find a WiFi signal so he plugged in his Internet card.

Outside, across the parking lot, Ralph climbed down from the cab of his 1998 Peterbilt 379 and lit a cigarette. She was a long nose Pete, with a 600-horse CAT, and 18-speed transmission. “I guess 1 ½ million miles was all that Gertie had in her,” he thought out loud. He had spent all of those miles with her. “Gertie, you were the best of them all,” Ralph said aloud to the truck. “Maybe it’s time for me to quit, too,” he wondered. He made his way slowly towards the diner entrance.

Justin was texting his friends when he heard the door open. He looked around the diner and saw the old man walk in. The old man coughed, took off his cap, and combed his hand through his gray hair as he walked over to the pay phone. He put a quarter in, dialed a number, and made his call. He overheard the old man say, “I’m done. I’ve run my last mile.” He then put in another quarter and made another call. When he finished, he walked slowly toward Justin and sat at the adjoining table. The old man wore cowboy boots, jeans, and an old flannel shirt. His face was wrinkled and weathered from many years on the road. He had gray hair and a mustache. Behind the reading glasses he had just slipped on, his steel blue eyes were heavily bagged and framed by crow’s feet.

Ralph noticed Justin as he sat down and thought he seemed about the age of his grandson. The lone waitress came to Ralph’s booth. “What are we having tonight, Betty?” the old man asked. “The special tonight is meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and peas,” she replied. “My favorite,” he replied, “No one makes meatloaf like you, Betty!” She smiled and scurried off to the kitchen. The old man pulled out his paper logs, the last one he would ever fill out. He actually filled out two, one for the company, and one for the DOT. He tore the second one up, though, as he realized that he would not be going through the scales anymore.

Justin gazed over at the old man and the old man looked back. “Hello, son, my name is Ralph. I just filled out my last comic book and I won’t be going through the chicken coops anymore. Yes, you’re looking at a retired truck driver…and this time is the last,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I retired two years ago after driving for the same company for 50 years, but came out on the road again to save my marriage. I guess my wife, Judy, got used to being alone a lot after all those years,” he said with a grin.

Justin was incredulous. “50 years?” Justin asked, “…and with the same company? How did you do that?” He thought out loud, “we’re only truck drivers.” Just then his phone beeped and Justin started texting again. Ralph was just as puzzled.

When Justin looked up from his phone, Ralph looked at him and said, “Son, even though I’m only a truck driver, I have a lot to be proud of. I have a good family, my girls are grown and married now, and trucking provided a good living up until the last three years. I have delivered goods to people all over the country and driven millions of miles, but have never had an accident, all with the same company. And until lately, I enjoyed the freedom of being out on the road without a boss looking over my shoulder. But now they want me to learn to use computers and something they call smart phones. I don’t know how a damn phone can be smart. The company and the government have been breathing down my neck more and more each year.” He coughed again, and said, “And, I’m not as young as I used to be and neither is Gertie. She just blew her engine and I think it’s time for us to hang it up. It just ain’t like it used to be. I suppose Judy will just have to get used to having me around,” he said with a slight smile.

“How did you do it?” Justin mused. “Son,” said Ralph, “You don’t have to be able to jump over a ten foot pole to be successful in this business. What matters is whether you can jump over a one foot pole a hundred times a day. Take pride in being a trucker driver, stay constant, and I know you can do it, too. Here’s my phone number at home. Give me a call anytime.”

Ralph smiled, and went back to his dinner. When he was finished he laid a ten dollar bill on the table. Just then Justin saw the door open and an old lady came in. Ralph got up from the table, walked across the room to her. She gave him a big hug. “Honey, you’re finally home,” she said as she kissed him. Ralph was smiling, but Justin thought he noticed a tear in the corner of his eye.

The door closed and Justin unconsciously grabbed for his phone as it beeped again. He started to reply to a text from one of his friends, but then he stopped, hit ignore, and put it down. He was interrupted from his thoughts by Betty’s soft voice, “What are you having tonight?” Justin turned off the phone and thought for a minute. “I’ll have what he was having,” he replied as he stuffed Ralph’s phone number in his pocket. The smart phone would stay off until he called his dispatcher in the morning.

Happy Trucking! Tom

Sales, Miles and Pay

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In any trucking company, drivers are supported by a number of departments, all of which are necessary to get the job done.  One department that is overlooked and in many companies underfunded is sales.

Why is the sales function important?  The first and most obvious reason is that we all want freight and we all want miles, none of which happens without a customer.  I often tell drivers when stressing the critical aspect of good customer service, that ACT doesn’t give them any miles…the customer does.  So it naturally follows that if we want miles, we have to make the customer happy so the customer want to give us miles.  We also have to find enough good customers to grow our miles, especially in an economic downturn.  If we don’t make the customer happy, that customer can easily give those miles to someone else.  If we don’t have miles drivers are unhappy as are our owners.  Therefore, it behooves everyone in the company, driver or office, regardless of their function, to see it as their job to make the customer happy.  If you are not taking care of your customer, your competitor will.

Are all customers equal?  They don’t all pay the same.  Some have good rates and some are on a constant search for the cheapest rates.  Some have good fuel charge and detention schedules and some have bad ones.  Some have fair contracts and some have very one sided, “take it or leave it” attitudes.  Some are loyal to their good carriers and others don’t care.  These customers engage in annual bids, where carrier put rates in spreadsheets.  The customer picks the cheapest ones, which often are brokers who have no trucks.  Some customers are more driver friendly than others.  Some get drivers loaded on time and some don’t.  Some are flexible with appointments and some aren’t.  Some require more trailers than others.  There are many other factors.  Of course, we all want the perfect customer.  I don’t know if that exists, but clearly some are better than others.

So how does a trucking company get driver friendly freight and good rates and enough freight?  This can only be done by investing in a robust sales organization… and they aren’t cheap!  To improve your rates, and the quality of the freight, we need lots of opportunities from lots of customers so we can pick the good ones and replace the worse ones.  It’s a lot like culling fish.  You have the salespeople bring you lots of opportunities to price.  You then make sure your trucks are busy and when they are, start replacing your worst freight with better, thus making constant improvement.  Over time your basket of freight improves, your rates improve (which translates into higher driver pay) and you can create density in your lanes.  This in turn allows for more engineered lanes and helps get drivers home more often (hopefully with a load!)

Many companies our size and smaller do not invest in sales.  They have a dominant customer, usually from their local town, who gives them shotgun freight (no lane discipline).  Because the trucking company is dependent on this dominant customer, they do whatever they want.  They have no other option because they don’t have a sales team bringing other deals to the table.  So now they are spread out over 48 states and brokering their way back.  This always translates into live loads at cheap rates and often unfortunate surprises.

ACT has invested in a sales team.  We have four full time sale people for 300 trucks.   We also have sales support staff to keep those salespeople hunting for new business instead of being bogged down in maintaining existing accounts.  We track our freight and rate growth and are always looking for feedback from drivers.  If we see driver unfriendly freight trends, we will attack it.  That is easy to do when you have options, impossible if you don’t.  Many carriers have customers who represent up to 50% of their business.  We don’t let any customer get over 10%.  That allows us to maintain leverage and protects us from drastic problems if a customer leaves.  We do very little broker freight because we don’t have to.

There will always be times of the week, month, year or economic cycles when freight is very strong and when it is very weak.  This is true at ALL trucking companies and drivers should plan for this.  However, those who do best in slow times or when customers change are those, like ACT, who are forward thinking enough to make the investment in a sales organization.

We are proud of our sales organization.  I think the investment has paid off and made us better than most carriers.   Help us out by appreciating what they do and taking good care of the customers they bring us.

Thanks and Happy Trucking!  Tom



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