Better customer service through the implementation of onboard technology

Twenty-two years ago, Southeastern Freight Lines—the leading provider of regional less-than-truckload (LTL) transportation services—led innovation in the trucking industry by implementing onboard technology to increase efficiencies and offer customers new, groundbreaking services. Today, market demands are not only asking for, but requiring, many of those services, such as prompt inventory, short-order scheduling, swift customer response, internet tracking and mobile computing.

Moving freight is simply not enough.

To be successful in a society driven by data and accustomed to constant updates, trucking companies must provide information that customers need when they need it, plus keep vehicle downtime to a minimum to ensure that pickup and delivery schedules are met. This requires technology that enables excellent customer service and streamlines operations for improved business efficiency.

For Southeastern and its people-first, quality-without-question company culture, this technology must be able to allow employees to improve customer service throughout every department of the company.

After all, while you might think a trucking company’s customer service focuses only on its external customers, there are many other “customers” within the company that must be served. To Southeastern’s fleet services department, customer service means treating its own drivers and operators as customers.

“When you’re within a company, it’s easy to forget that the drivers of the vehicles you’re servicing are in fact your customers,” says David Foster, vice president of fleet services at Southeastern. “Southeastern was built around its people and meeting or exceeding the needs of every customer—every single time. Our onboard systems help us ensure that we are indeed taking care of our drivers as customers.”

 

SOUTHEASTERN’S ONBOARD TECHNOLOGY HISTORY

Southeastern first implemented an onboard technology device in 1991 as a way to reduce the administrative paperwork on the drivers, more accurately record pickup and delivery activity, automate state highway tax reporting and provide an automated system to update the status of each shipment for its customers.

Since then, computerized management systems and onboard technology have given Southeastern the tools to push its customer service and fleet management to the next level. In 2010, Southeastern became the first large LTL fleet to estimate the time of delivery for a shipment within a one-hour window, as well as track and report why shipments were not picked up.

Today, Southeastern’s computerized management systems and onboard technology enable efficient customer service in the fleet services department by electronically monitoring and tracking fleet maintenance.

 

CUSTOMER SERVICE AND VEHICLE MAINTENANCE

Excellent customer service begins as soon as a maintenance issue is identified in the driver’s Daily Vehicle Inspector Report (DVIR)—a pre-trip and post-trip overview of their vehicle. The driver of the vehicle will input a service order directly into their onboard system identifying any defects or service needs.

With onboard systems in all of Southeastern’s power units—2,850 tractors and 22 straight trucks, fleet services’ associates receive service requests instantaneously from drivers.

From the information provided, technicians create, based off the DVIR, a repair order describing the identified defects, the repairs needed and the report number the driver submitted along with data outlined by the Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS). Maintained by the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Associations, VMRS sets the standard for communicating when, why and how maintenance is performed on equipment.

Southeastern keeps 90 days’ worth of DVIRs electronically and is able to use past report numbers, if needed, to review details of previous repairs made on vehicles.

Interfacing directly with the company’s dispatch system, Southeastern is able to easily look at what vehicles are currently under maintenance at what service centers throughout the system. There are 80 of them. Using this information, dispatch is uniquely able to run a report that recognizes any out-of-service vehicles and allows them to plan deliveries accordingly.

In addition to building efficiencies and the tools needed to provide exceptional customer service, the use of technology for electronic DVIRs streamlines Southeastern’s business and eliminates the need to create and manage more than nine million paper-based forms each year. This is just one way that the company is able to help the environment while driving efficiency and cost savings.

Southeastern has extended the technology application to hundreds of forklifts to further lower costs and waste.

 

SURVEYS IMPROVE CUSTOMER SERVICE

At Southeastern, people come first. In December of 2011, Southeastern prioritized its internal customers with a customer service survey for drivers to submit after a repair is made to their vehicle. Southeastern’s survey, a previously unseen practice in the fleet carrier industry, allows for the fleet services department to receive immediate feedback from the customers they serve.

Once a driver submits a DVIR with a needed repair, the fleet services department immediately steps in to fulfill the service needs. This begins the customer service process for which technicians are graded on in each driver’s survey.

The survey allows drivers to identify the maintenance shop location and answer six questions regarding their service experience. Surveys are filled out online through Southeastern’s onboard technology, during which drivers rate their service experience on timeliness, state of repairs, workmanship quality, vehicle cleanliness, overall experience and check lane experience.

“The introduction of driver surveys into our onboard technology system has been effective in improving Southeastern’s customer service by motivating associates and technicians to always treat our drivers the way a business would treat its clients,” says Jim Boyd, manager of fleet technical services at Southeastern.

Survey feedback is sent to every manager in the fleet services department for review. Any survey that gives the shop a “D” in a grading system of “A” to “D” prompts the shop or regional manager to contact the grading customer. Together, they will discuss the reasons why the shop did not meet or exceed customer service expectations.

To date, Southeastern has received more than 3,600 submitted surveys, receiving a “D” score in only 1.7 percent of those surveys.

Southeastern is focused on providing quality-without-question service to all its customers. Therefore, when a customer does not feel they have been served properly, the company makes every effort to improve in unsatisfactory areas.

After interviewing dissatisfied customers to determine the root cause of the poor result, the responsible maintenance shop works to correct any causes or faulting issues by identifying and implementing actionable new processes.

 

MOBILE ONBOARD’S FUTURE

Late last year, Southeastern started updating its onboard technology for the fifth time in its history. Currently in the transition process, the new onboard system is a mobile device that not only seamlessly integrates all the services the company currently offers, but also provides an open door to expansion opportunities for future applications. These applications will continue to enhance customer service and the safety of its drivers’ environment.

Already using a custom dispatch, messaging and proof-of-delivery system and an electronic driver log application, the new onboard technology will also integrate location, navigation, vehicle performance and other data with its custom applications.

With the new system, Southeastern’s fleet services department will be able to monitor the “health” of vehicles while they are in use. For example, if there is a vehicle in transit from Atlanta to Dallas and the vehicle experiences an issue, such as overheating, the new onboard technology will immediately alert the maintenance team. Maintenance can then review the truck’s location and proceeding route to identify the best service center for the truck to stop at and to schedule its driver an appointment.

The WiFi capabilities of Southeastern’s newly adopted mobile system also allows for automatic relays of information once data is documented. For instance, as drivers reach their destination terminal, activity occurring over the course of the day, such as vehicle mileages, is automatically sent to Southeastern’s main server over WiFi. Pickup and delivery information needing to be sent instantaneously back to the server, such as who signed for a package, can be completed over the new onboard system’s cellular network.

Southeastern is currently in the process of transitioning its fleet to include this new onboard mobile technology. This new mobile onboard strategy has provided Southeastern with new opportunities to continue pushing its customer service and fleet management to the next level.

With a strong technology infrastructure, Southeastern is able to collect and mine data to support its mission of customer service excellence. This excellence is proven throughout the company, from operations that provide 99.35 percent on-time service delivery in next-day lanes to its fleet services department that has a 98.3 percent customer satisfaction rating.

This level of quality service, thanks to the company’s technology and people-first culture, has been recognized by more than 325 awards from customers and associations.

 

Braxton Vick serves as senior vice president of corporate planning and development for Southeastern Freight Lines (www.sefl.com). Based in Lexington, SC, it is the leading provider of regional less-than-truckload (LTL) transportation services.

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