By Warren Hoemann, PrePass consultant, former FMCSA deputy administrator

Fleets operating in the COVID-19 world of trucking must learn to adjust in order to survive. Their adjustments will mirror the societal changes everyone went through, from social distancing and enhanced sanitation to a workforce that no longer reports to “the office.” But for motor carriers, the changes extend to the core of their business: customers and freight.

During the pandemic many fleets suddenly found themselves hauling toilet paper, hand sanitizer and medical supplies – commodities they had never handled before. Thankfully, the trucking industry stepped up and got it done. Now, as the economy reopens, these same carriers may see established customers remain closed. Also, some new customers acquired during the pandemic will want a long-term relationship.

New customers and new receivers require as much adjustment as new carrier management and new drivers. Of course, new business means contracts, rates, schedules and freight volumes. That part of trucking hasn’t changed. But here are four steps to take as COVID-19 impacts new business relationships:

Lead with safety – personal safety

COVID-19 taught us the value of protecting colleagues, employees, friends and family. Safety now expands from the highway to the workplace, from regulatory compliance to personal health. Customers expect fleets to deliver on time and safely, but now also need a partner in healthy practices. Carriers should discuss personal protective equipment (PPE) standards for their workplace, review facilities open to drivers, set policies for cleanliness and social distancing, and determine if the nature of the freight demands additional equipment sanitation.

Build on what is working – without personal contact

Customers choose carriers for many reasons. Direct experience is the strongest. Build on the pandemic experience by instituting contactless paperwork processes – digital signatures or none at all. Make business calls in the open air or by phone. Consider shift work as a possibility to avoid congregating employees. Does truck loading/unloading require the immediate presence of the driver? Be sure to ask for phone numbers and email addresses of team members who may work from home.

Be open about the “what if’s”

The pandemic demonstrated how concerns can evolve… no one ever discussed contact tracing before. Now carriers and customers need to establish clear communication channels if a carrier or customer employee tests positive for COVID-19 or is possibly exposed. Solving problems together builds good business relationships.

Tell the team what’s new

A new customer or new receiver means new patterns for carrier employees. Be sure the team knows the commitments made to make this business relationship work – from PPE requirements to driver facilities to contactless practices and reporting health issues. May drivers take their 30-minute rest break on the shipper/receiver grounds? Is there a safe and legal parking area nearby? Where is the nearest food and fuel? How does this affect routes and schedules? This is a good time to review the rules on personal conveyance.

New customers and new receivers mean new business and continued operations. In the post-pandemic world of trucking they also mean more discussion and more planning… because we’re all in this together.

Click here to read “COVID-19 and Trucking, Part 3: Adjusting to New Technology.”

Click here to read “COVID-19 and Trucking, Part 1: Adjusting to a New Future.” 

Warren Hoemann is a former deputy administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, now a PrePass consultant. He previously held executive positions with the American Trucking Associations, the California Trucking Association and Yellow Corp., now YRC Worldwide Inc.