The quality of Driver Associates is the most important predictor of a DSP’s success. You can run a messy standup, choose the wrong insurance provider, have dispatchers that rack up overtime, forget to dispute invoices, and generally run around with your hair on fire – but if you have strong DAs who do the right thing at the right time, you can still be successful at the end of the day. DA payroll is the largest cost factor by far, and DA performance weighs the heaviest on scorecard results – where your true profit comes from.

But let’s face it – the socio-economic pool that DSPs pull drivers from is not populated by most reliable individuals. Fortunately, there is a clear method to turn that reality into your #1 advantage by following 5 steps:

Make the Correct Hiring Decision

A DSP that is faced with a driver shortage will often start hiring anything with two legs and a driver’s license. It is far better to have your growth stunted than to hire bad drivers. Remember this statement and live by it:

“Drop a route before you let a bad driver on the road.”

The following are the most important questions to consider when hiring. If the answer to any of them is ‘no’ – don’t hire them!

Do they appear to be physically able to do the job?

Many people are afraid to judge a possible candidate by their physical capabilities because they fear running afoul of federal regulations regarding equal opportunity. What many DSPs do not understand is that it is perfectly OK to disqualify a candidate if they are not physically capable of doing a job if you can prove a certain level of physical requirements and that the candidate does not pass an objective test. A simple, quick test of physical strength and endurance that is representative of the delivery role that is well-documented and applied to every candidate will suffice. You cannot pick and choose who must pass this test – it must be a requirement for 100% of all candidates who make it to a specific stage in the hiring process.

Do they appear to be interested in the job during the interview?

You must be able to visually see every candidate to gauge their level of interest. Facial expressions and body language convey their level of interest, as do the nature of their questions. Look for the following:

  • Do they maintain eye contact, or are they easily distracted?
  • Are they slumped in the chair, or are they attempting to engage? 
  • Do they have a sour expression, or do they appear approachable? 
  • Do they ask any questions? Some introverts may not ask questions but can make great drivers. Asking a question is a good sign, but if no questions are asked do not assume this is a bad thing – loo for the other signs to fill in the blanks.
  • Are the questions related on what will help them succeed at the job, or do they center around on how the pay, benefits and time-off? 

Do they have a good work history?

Experience in the delivery driver industry is not an attribute you should consider when hiring. The DSP world is so unique that any previous experience will more than likely not be applicable. If a candidate has worked as a DSP driver before, and the DSP is not located in the same geographical area as you are, then it most certainly can be of benefit. Always check with the former DSP about the candidate’s performance and reason for leaving.

It is far more important that a candidate have a strong and steady history of work than someone who changes jobs every 6 months. If a good driver stays at your company for 8-12 months, then you will have made a wise hiring decision.

Are they currently employed?

A good employee that loses their job through no fault of their own is a rarity. Even if a company downsizes, they will always let the poor performers go first and keep the best. Being unemployed most often indicates one of two things:

  1. The candidate was terminated for under-performing.
  2. The candidate quit without having a job lined up.

In either case, the best bet is to not hire that candidate.

Are the comfortable with technology?

It is a crucial capability that DAs are comfortable with technology – especially smart phones – as they will be using them on the job. A driver that is not comfortable with a phone at the very least will not be successful. Make interaction with technology a part of the hiring process. Anyone who cannot navigate using a cell phone to check email, log into a site using mobile browser, and perform e-sign on a small screen is not a good candidate. Make sure that 100% of candidates use this exact same process to avoid discrimination:

  • Use e-sign for all employee contracts.
  • Send the link using email.
  • Require the candidate to e-sign while you monitor to ensure they can do this on their own.

Invest in Proper Training

Amazon holds a one-day training for your new drivers. If you want your drivers to excel at their job, then you must be willing to invest money with additional training that will not be reimbursed by Amazon. Typically, this means around 4 hours of additional time, for which you must pay the driver. While this certainly is a significant cost, especially for drivers that only last a week or two before disappearing, you will more than make the money back if 50% of your drivers last for 4 months. Here are the benefits of holding your own training sessions:

  • The drivers get actual experience in driving a van.
  • You get to coach on common struggles such as getting stuck on muddy roads, avoiding reversing, achieving a good safety score, troubleshooting deliveries, etc.
  • You increase driver affinity for your company by increasing their confidence level.
  • You get a chance to spot trouble drivers before they get on the road.

Changing Driver Behavior

Changing behavior can be accomplished through two different methods – the carrot or the stick. This phrase comes from holding a carrot in front of a cart horse to encourage it to walk forward. If that does not work, then a stick is used to prod it from behind. Both methods have their places and are most effective when used together.

DSPs are measured by the scorecard, which in turn is mostly driven by driver behavior. Every driver will benefit from constant monitoring and feedback. Drivers will only get better if the following three statements are true:

  1. I can measure driver performance.
  2. I communicate to drivers their current level of performance, where they need to get better, and consequences if they do not improve.
  3. I follow through on consequences if behavior does not change.

How to measure performance is a discussion all by itself, but a DSP must have an objective, data-driven method for numerically scoring drivers. This score ideally will be visible to the driver daily, with clear levels of acceptable and unacceptable scores.

The next two sections describe the ‘carrot’ aspect of changing driver behavior.

Support

Drivers need to feel they are being monitored and taken care of while on the road. If they feel they are on their own with no one back at the station to support them when a problem is encountered, they will not last. When a driver encounters a problem, they must know that they can contact dispatch for help with ease. Dispatch must be extremely responsive and positive when drivers are struggling. They do not need an earful on how bad of a job dispatch thinks they are doing. 

The dispatcher should be able to make the driver feel encouraged even when communicating negative information. For example, if the driver is running behind, there is a world of difference between ‘Speed it up buster!’ and ‘I know you are struggling, but I believe in you!’ This is the proactive approach.

Share the Profit

The other carrot to correct driver behavior is pay. DSPs should be extremely careful raising a DA’s base hourly rate. Amazon will not allow a DSP to dock driver’s pay based on the hourly rate, but bonuses are an excellent ‘carrot.’

The wisest approach is to keep DA hourly pay at the minimum level of $15/hour (which can change based on the local market) and use bonuses to reward drivers according to their seniority and performance. Since bonuses are based strictly on performance, it is perfectly OK to change this from week to week based on how a DA carries out his or her job.

Some DSPs use the scorecard ranking to adjust bonus pay. The problem with this approach is that Amazon does not take the following incredibly important metrics into account when ranking drivers:

  • How much damage does a driver cause to vans each week?
  • Does a driver no-show or show up late?
  • Is a driver efficient when running a route, or are they always running into overtime?

That is why a DSP must rank drivers on their own and not only take the scorecard into account. 

Another way to pay out bonuses is to base it on your own profit. That way, drivers take into consideration how the company is doing overall – boosting not only your profit but their bonus.

Overall, you must be willing to invest time and resources into your drivers from the hiring process to ongoing bonuses for performance. They are the core of your success.