Consistency, Please


In June I visited the United States Postal Service's National Center for Employee Development (NCED) in Norman, OK (see story on page 8), and I was impressed by everything I saw and heard. This is a training center where employees from every level of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) come for both basic and advanced training, and where a great deal of the training classes are designed with the input of engineers from OEMs.

When I learned that USPS' recent purchase of thousands of new trucks included 100 hours of consultation between the NCED's training staff and the OEM's engineers, I thought back to the last cover story I had done for the magazine ("Too Much, Too Fast," June, 2005). In that story, I profiled the work of Steph Sabo, the director of maintenance for Nashville, IL-based Norrenberns Truck Service, in fighting against "truck complexity." Readers may recall that Sabo was so upset with overly-complicated trucks that he started a movement within the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) to address the issue.

When I interviewed Sabo, he described his difficulties getting any sort of factory training on his new trucks. He just wants to keep his trucks on the road and hauling freight, and he can't always do that because the trucks are so complicated and the level of training he gets from his vendors (at a price) is so lacking.

How is it, then, that the Postal Service gets 100 hours of consultation with OEM engineers to develop in-house training programs, and Norrenberns Truck Service has to pay for whatever they can get? If you answered, "Because, the USPS buys thousands of trucks from the OEM, and Norrenberns buys only a few dozen, that's why," you probably aren't alone. But why do we just assume that a BIG customer will automatically receive special customer support, and a small customer won't?

Shouldn't the little guy get just as much service and attention as the big guy? That answer is just as obvious: the little guy should get just as much service and attention. And the OEMs, if they were to be asked, would undoubtedly say that they do provide the same standard of customer service across the board.

And yet the perception remains that the little guy will have to do without factory training, and even if that is true only 10 percent of the time, the industry can scarcely afford it.

But there are smaller fleets that have appeared on these pages that have had "big guy" success in getting OEM training.

I'm thinking of Chester County, VA, where the maintenance trainer has demanded that the county's technicians be trained to the level of their dealer counterparts. I'm thinking of HealthEast Care System in St. Paul, MN, whose technicians have so much factory training that other ambulance fleets bring their vehicles to HealthEast for work.

Neither of these fleets is what you'd call a "big guy," but the difference is that they ask more of the OEM suppliers than other fleets. And they get it.

As I see it, there are two things going on here. First, the industry as a whole seems to have a very arbitrary view of what makes one fleet "small," another fleet "big," and yet another a "megafleet." Norrenberns has 54 over-the-road tractors and 86 day cabs; nobody would call that a "megafleet," but doesn't having 140 trucks (and several hundred trailers) make a fleet at least "big?"

Second of all, it seems that the "squeaky wheel" really does get the grease. If fleets—even small fleets—demand that training be included in the service contract at no additional cost, they can get it.

Maybe it's time for OEMs to start treating all customers with some consistency. And maybe it's time for the little guys out there to start acting like big guys, and demanding factory training for the new trucks they're buying.

Steph Sabo said to me, "Shame on us" for not negotiating training with the purchase price of new trucks. But why should we be saying "shame on" anybody? Seems to me that OEMs and fleets—of ALL sizes—should be in this together.