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Issues Archives: Volume 4 - Issue 1

Dealing with Bad Employees

I can remember when I first got into the towing business. I was in the computer industry for 35 years dealing with white collar computer professionals who thought they knew everything. My first exposure in towing was operating a private property towing company and dealing with drivers who thought they knew everything. I can remember screaming at them and them screaming right back at me. All the employees in the company would hear me arguing. I knew this was not good for the company and I would have to change. It seems like every company has that one or two employees that just give them fits.

I can remember teaching a class at the Baltimore tow show and a manager coming up after the class and telling me that he hates his drivers and they hate him. That’s a bad position to be in because it creates a problem for your entire company. We had a long discussion and I tried to make him realize it’s the drivers that make him money and he would have to change not them in order to make it work. As an owner it’s sometimes hard to give in to employees but you have to look at what is good for everyone working there. A good employee with a bad attitude can hold your entire company hostage.

Let’s look at a few things we can do when dealing with that troubled employee:

1. Listen. Often, when an employee is difficult we stop paying attention to what’s actually going on. We’re irritated and we think that employee is hopeless, so we ignore the problem and hope it corrects itself. The best shot at improving bad situation lies in having the clear understanding of the situation. This includes knowing the tough employee’s point of view. In most cases, simply listening can save the day. You may hear about a real problem that’s not the employee’s fault that you can solve. The tough employee may start acting very differently once he or she feels heard, you may discover legitimate issues he or she has that need to be addressed.

2. Give clear, behavioral feedback. Most Owners or managers will go a long time complaining about bad employees and not ever giving them actual feedback about what they need to be doing differently. Giving feedback is one of the most uncomfortable things a manager has to do, but it’s a important part of addressing the problem. When you are giving feedback try not to put them in a defensive position and give them specific information they need in order to improve.

3. Document. Whenever you’re having significant problems with an employee, WRITE DOWN THE KEY POINTS. I can’t stress this strongly enough. If you are planning on firing someone it’s good to have documentation about their bad behavior. This helps them understand why you are letting them go and it also protects you. Remember, if you’re able to solve the problem, you can just breathe a sigh of relief and put your documentation back in the drawer.

4. Be consistent. If you say you’re not OK with a behavior, don’t sometimes be OK with it. Employees look to see what you do more than what you say. If, for instance, you tell a driver they need to inspect the truck before they get in it and they don’t and you let them drive you will never correct the problem. I had a driver that I would argue with all the time. Finally I would send him home. I would lose his tows but he had to see that there were consequences if he did not listen. Pick the standards you’re actually willing to hold to – and then hold to them.

5. Set consequences if things don’t change. If things still aren’t improving at this point get specific. Let them know that you still think they can turn it around but here is what they have to do and give them a date to do it by. If problem employees don’t believe their behavior will have any real negative impact on them – why would they change?

6. Work through the company’s processes. Good managers hold out hope for improvement until the point when they actually decide to let the person go. At this point you will have documentation to protect yourself. The employee will not be surprised when you let them good because they know you tried to resolve the problem.

7. Don’t poison the well. All too often, poor managers substitute bad-mouthing the problem employee to others rather than taking the steps needed to resolve the problem. No matter how difficult an employee may be, good managers don’t trash- talk to other employees. It creates an environment of distrust and back-stabbing, it pollutes others’ perception of the person, and it makes you look weak and unprofessional.

8. Manage your self-talk. Throughout this process, make sure your self-talk is neither positive nor negative. Thinking to yourself, “This guy’s an idiot and will never change,” isn’t useful, nor is thinking, “Everything will turn out fine, he’s great, there’s no problem.” making sure that what they say to themselves about the situation is as accurate as possible. For example, “His behavior is creating real problems for the team. I’m doing what I can to support him to change. If he does, great, and if he doesn’t, I’ll do what I’ve said I’ll do.”

9. Be courageous. Firing someone is the hardest thing you can do. If it gets to that point, do it right. Don’t make excuses, don’t put it off, don’t make someone else do it. If you learn to use these ‘good manager’ approaches when you have a difficult employee, then no matter how things turn out, you’ll end up knowing that you’ve done your best in a tough situation. And that may be the best stress reducer of all.

It may be impossible to change an employee’s bad attitude, but it’s not impossible to correct the problems bad attitudes cause.

Make the distinction between bad attitudes and bad behaviors. What seems like an attitude problem to one person may not seem all that bad to another. Complicating the matter even more is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to document an attitude, and documenting instances of employee behaviors is the key to correcting them. Instead, determine how an employee’s bad attitude is contributing to bad behaviors that are easy to describe and document.

Document the employee’s bad behavior. Include dates, times, any other employees who were present or involved, and the details of the incident, including any supporting documentation if any. If the employee’s behavior is a violation of any organizational policy, refer to that policy and limit the documentation to these details only.

Schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss documented incidences of bad behavior. If the documented instances involve one member of management specifically that is not you, sit in on the meeting. Including an uninvolved third party in the meeting can defuse a difficult situation, while also protecting you from claims of discrimination or harassment by the employee with the attitude problem.

Explain how the documented behaviors impact the organization, outline the consequences if the behaviors violated policy, and ask the employee what he or she would like to do to remedy the situation. Develop a plan for change with the assistance of the employee. Give the employee a specific amount of time to implement the plan, and set a time to reassess the situation after the time period is up. Let the employee know what the outcome will be if the plan does not work.

The last thing you want to do is let an employee go, especially a driver. It was hard at first for me to deal with some bad attitudes, but I was able to resolve the problem by working with the employees to improve their attitude and mine. Once we were on the same page we all lived happily ever after.

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Choosing the Right Light: Advantages and Disadvantages of LEDs, Strobes and Halogen Bulbs

By Leslie Emmel, Technical Support, AW Direct
Given all the available warning light choices, how do you decide which one is right for you? The various
styles include, but are not limited to, body warning lights, beacons, mini-lightbars and full-size lightbars. Then there are the various lighting technologies, including LED, strobe or halogen bulb. Each kind of light and light technology has its own advantages and disadvantages. The first thing to be considered, however, is the SAE rating.

SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers. There are two class ratings that outline the minimum
warning device for particular vehicles when they are on the roadway/highway. Class 1 is the minimum
primary warning device for authorized emergency vehicles (police and fire vehicles). However, a growing
number of states require class 1 lights on tow trucks as well, so be sure to check your state’s regulations.

In many cases, Class 2 is the minimum primary warning device for authorized maintenance and service
vehicles such as tow trucks. After making sure that the lights you are considering comply with the SAE
standards, you then have to choose between LED, strobe and halogen bulb lighting options. In order to
help you make an informed decision, let’s compare the various technologies.

LED lights by definition are light emitting diodes, and they are the newest in lighting technology. They
have a higher initial cost, but are the most durable and dependable and usually come with longer
manufacturer warranties. LEDs generate heat and draw the least amount of power from the vehicle’s
electrical system. They are exceptionally bright and can be seen from greater distances than strobe and
regular bulb lights. Also, their brightness is not affected by age – they do not “burn-down” as they age
like halogen bulbs and strobes do. Over time you will realize the cost savings from not having to replace
strobe tubes, power supplies and bulbs. Another benefit is the increased number of flash patterns that
are available with most LEDs

Strobe lights are “tube-style” lighting and have been around a long time. They are very bright by nature and require a power supply to operate. Strobes are less expensive than LEDs, though costs tend to add up when replacing the tubes and power supplies. Strobe tubes only have about a six-month lifespan while power supplies typically last two years. Strobe tubes generate more heat than LEDs and are
usually limited in the number of available flash patterns and/or flashes per minute depending on the
power supply. Strobes also draw more power from the vehicle than LEDs, but less than halogen bulbs.
As they age, their brightness decreases or “burns-down”. Considering all of this, strobe tube technology
is gradually being phased out by most manufacturers in all styles.

Halogen bulb lights are the oldest style of the various lighting technologies and were, at one time, the only choice available. Halogen bulb lights are also the most affordable and have long been thought of as an industry staple. Halogen bulb lights use rotator motors and a mirror to output their light (thus their being commonly referred to as “rotators”). Halogen bulb lights also generate more heat than LEDs. While an increase in heat generation indicates that they are less energy efficient than LEDs, more heat can also be an advantage for certain climates. Towers in northern states like the heat as it helps melt off the snow and ice. Halogen bulb lights are susceptible to vibration damage due to the construction of the bulbs, rotator motors and gears. Though the replacement parts costs are normally less expensive than
that of the strobes, they can add up. Halogen bulb lights also require the biggest power draw on a
vehicle’s electrical system compared to LEDs and strobes. Another drawback to this technology is that as
bulbs age, their brightness “burns-down” like strobes.

So, with all of this considered, the lighting technology and style that are best for you is very much an
individual choice. It will depend on your budget, amount of use and just plain old personal preference.
However, LEDs seem to be the best choice for dependability, longevity and aesthetics. Whatever lighting
style you choose, safety and visibility are the most important factors. Remember to check your lighting
before each call, or at least daily, and activate lighting well before pulling over, not afterwards, to alert other motorists of your intentions. Pull as far over to the right as possible and do not turn your back to traffic if you can avoid it. Stay safe out there.

AW Direct
Helping You Help Them
(800) 243-3194
awdirect.com

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Unified Fleet and Operations Management

By Matt Gunzenhaeuser, TomTom Telematics

Labor and fuel are the two biggest line items on a tow operator’s operating budget. If you could cut fuel costs by 15 percent or more, it would have a major impact on your business. What about maintenance costs? Insurance? Liability?

Forward-thinking towers are realizing a lot of value from integrating telematics systems with traditional dispatch and management software. The right approach can help you determine which is the best vehicle to dispatch to a given job, and give your drivers the best tools to perform their job safely and effectively.

Embracing Technology
Towers have long been at the forefront when it comes to using technology to drive more revenue. In a market where margins are tight, every competitive edge helps reduce costs and drive revenue.

Most everyone in the industry has implemented some sort of tow management software that helps with dispatching, invoicing and other tasks. Still, most dispatch today is done via phone – a call comes in, and the dispatcher may consult a GPS map that shows roughly where the drivers are, and then calls the operator that seems closest and available to assign the job.

With so much going on in the industry, squeezing more time out of the process is a win-win, allowing towers to get more done each day. Wouldn’t it be great to reduce the amount of time dispatchers have to spend on
assigning and managing a job? And wouldn’t it be helpful to have a truly clear view of which is actually the closest available driver with the right tools and skills? Integration can help.

Integration: What does it really mean?
Integration means different things to different people.

In some cases, it can be as simple as installing GPS or telematics software in all of your vehicles. This allows the company to develop one cohesive and accurate real-time map that helps you see where all the operators are in order to dispatch the closest available truck. This approach focuses on improving your visibility into driver location.

Or, it might mean being able to communicate directly with drivers via the GPS units in the vehicle rather than having to call them about a new job. The units in the vehicle provide the team back at the office with live realtime job status and ETA updates based on what’s happening in the vehicle. This type of integration plan focuses on optimizing communication between dispatcher and operator.

The most comprehensive approach to technology integration focuses on both scenarios – location and communication.

How Does Integration Work?
With a real-time view of where your trucks are located, current job status, and what the traffic looks like, it’s no longer about making a best guess about who to dispatch to the job.

Typically, dispatchers enter job and location information into two separate systems: initially into the tow management system, then duplicated into a separate dispatching solution, or sent as an email, text or phone call. Then, in many cases, the operator needs to enter the information into his personal GPS device in the vehicle.

In addition to wasting time, this process opens up the opportunity for mistakes. Each time information is re-keyed is an opportunity for a typo that can cost time and money.

In a perfect world, dispatchers create a single work order that is sent to operators in the field electronically. This significantly reduces data entry and errors, and improves response times. Instead of managing phone calls, texts and/or emails, the job summary and address information are sent directly to
the personal navigation device in the vehicle. Then operators can simply accept the job and start driving to their destination without having to take down information from a phone call with the dispatcher and enter the address.

Back at the office, dispatchers can see a real-time map of where all vehicles are located, where they are going, and what routes they are taking. Instead of managing two different systems, to see what’s happening, they can see plans, assignments and routes in a single view. All of this visibility, and process improvement delivers a host of benefits.

Reducing Mileage and Idling
Integrating telematics into your dispatching and back office operations can deliver value that adds up quickly. Smart dispatching and traffic avoidance do much more than simply provide turn-by-turn directions. They can actually reduce time and mileage driven. With the average tower spending close to $2,000 per month per truck on fuel, saving 15 percent can really add up.

GPS capability within telematics systems can reduce miles driven each day by a significant margin. By providing smart route planning and turn-by-turn directions that get vehicles to the job in the most efficient fashion, towers can see real fuel savings in a short period of time.

Idling also continues to be a problem across the industry. After deploying a telematics solution with engine idle monitoring, one tower found that some of his trucks were idling as much as four or five hours a day. With this information, he was able to set a company standard – and ensure that his drivers were following the rules.

Route planning, smart dispatch and traffic avoidance can also increase revenue opportunities. If you gained 30 minutes of time per driver per day, you’d save two and a half hours per week per truck. For a small operator running 10 trucks, that represents 25 additional work hours per week freed up for more jobs and more revenue. And with the ability to share actual, verified mileage with motor clubs, billing and reconciliation become much easier – and bulletproof.

Improving Driver Performance
Integrating telematics technology into your systems can also put you in the passenger seat of every truck you have out on the road by providing the ability to monitor the habits of each of your drivers. If they know you’re watching, you’ll suddenly have a fleet of vehicles that never speed, where hard braking and hard steering are unheard of, and idling is just not an option.

With real data on what your drivers are doing, you can move to a model where each employee treats your vehicles as well as they treat their own. In addition, the ability to monitor PTO and after-hours driving can eliminate side jobs and non-revenue generating driving. Add visibility into their habits with the real-time map of where your vehicles are, and you now have real data to measure and train on good driving habits, how to follow the best routes and improve response times.

Integration makes sense
Towers have always been early technology adopters. Most have already made investments in GPS, tow management, or dispatch software – or some combination of these. If you want to get the most out of these investments, think about ways to integrate these systems to give you a whole lot more visibility into your business.

Matt Gunzenhaeuser is Director of Sales & Marketing at TomTom Telematics. Learn more at www.tomtomtelematics.com.

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Voice of Your Loyal Customer

All of us appreciate our customers because they’re not so easy to keep. It’s important to know what they feel about us. Whether they’re a repeat or “one-time” customer, what are they hearing? What are they seeing? What causes them to think about us, as Towers, the way they feel about other groups or businesses? What are they telling others about us? Are we measuring UP?

Through the years, it’s been my privilege to physically visit many towing companies in the North, South, East and West. They’ve may have been successfully built but they may still be missing something. As we go through our busy day, we tend to forget customers are the reason the company exists. If a business can’t meet the needs of a customer, then the business won’t survive and it’s only a matter of time before our “life support” is turned-off.

These days, just meeting a customer’s needs isn’t enough. Developing relationships with customers will give us the information we need to delight them and build their trust which brings loyalty.

Delighting customers is imperative for developing a customer’s loyalty. Hope you heard that. It’s very important! Developing increasingly satisfied customers comes through delighting them every time we or our team work with them because helping and satisfying their needs is at the heart of everything we do. Understanding that will truly generate customers for life. (I will give examples to you in a minute). For now, let’s talk FOCUS and COMMITMENT.

Total customer focus means absolute commitment to the customer. That commitment drives everything. Commitment is the way individuals think, the way they work, and the way each department is managed. Your total customer focus can be achieved only when everyone and I mean, everyone on your team – your dispatcher, driver, day-time or nighttime manager, your yard people, all work together.

Here are some examples. Real world stuff!

Example 1 – A large loaded 18 wheeler needs to be picked up taken 3 blocks, then unloaded and taken to a repair shop 42 miles south. Dispatch explained the need to the day manager and a tow truck was dispatched while I was sitting in the conference room writing a new chapter of a book on delighting our customers so they can be our raving fans and brag on us. The manager asked if I could drive to where they are unloading the 18 wheeler and pick up the driver and take him to a hotel located near where the truck is
to be fixed. So, I stopped writing and drove to pick up this driver. He and I made one stop at a Wal-Mart for some personal items and then I dropped him off at a hotel close to a restaurant where he stayed 2 days. Folks, that’s the kind of customer service I was writing about.

Example 2 – Another time, I’m at a different location. While in the office, I overheard a
driver’s conversation with the office. A family was stranded out on the highway with food from a trip to the grocery store. After retrieving my keys I pointed my car toward the stranded family and dropped them off at their home. Later that day, the mother dropped off a plate of brownies to the office staff. Picking up that family wasn’t a big deal to me BUT it meant a great deal to that stranded family. Help people where you can.

I’m sure you and your team have plenty of similar examples you could share with us. We can brag about our customer service and it means something to others. However, when customers brag about us, it means much more. Actually it’s worth 10 times more for someone to brag about you than you bragging about yourself.

Let me close this article with a thought on service and my favorite quote. Service is NOT AN OPTION. It is the bottom line for every business. NO Service – NO Customers. NO Profit – NO Business.

Service sprouts and cultivates new business. A good reputation stabilizes growth while excuses destroy business. I feel service is what really makes the difference. Your customer dedicated loyalty is built on what your team has to offer your customers. What those customers are telling you comes from what your customers are seeing and hearing from your team.

I leave this thought with you.

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, they become your destiny.

See you next time.

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