Before 1906, there was no such thing as a forward pass in football. Up to that time, moving the ball on the ground was the only option. Teams added to their score inch-by-inch, yard-by-yard, with brute force alone.

In 1906, the forward pass was legalized. With the option of passing the ball downfield, teams still relied on running the ball. St. Louis University was the only team that used the new offensive tool that year. They went undefeated and outscored their opponents 407 to 31 in their 11 victories.

Looking back, it is easy for us to see the irony. Choosing not to use a readily available and distinct competitive advantage seems absurd. Yet, there is an evident analogy here for our industry.

The ready-mix truck driver climbs into the cab of a $150,000 piece of equipment, transports almost $1000 worth of material, and serves as the primary interface with a customer whose lifetime value to the company could easily be more than $1 million.

Yet, for most producers, investing in the driver who is responsible for these assets is minimal or nonexistent. Spending on equipment, technology, and materials are all foregone conclusions, while drivers are forgotten.

Drivers are the face of the company. When they arrive on the jobsite, the customer assigns their performance to the whole company. Drivers account for 85% of the customer interaction.

When the customer judges the company's customer service, he thinks mostly of the jobsite support. Drivers have operational insights. They see hundreds of improvements that can be made; yet typically, no one asks them for their opinion. After all, they are just drivers.

In this economic downturn, everyone is looking for a competitive advantage. And just like the forward pass, ours has been available all along. Looking ahead, it is essential to abandon the dated industry paradigm about the ready-mix driver for a strategic model that works.

The new model

Drivers are delivery professionals. What if your UPS driver showed up in anything he chose to wear that morning? Or, what if he wore a uniform that was tattered and his personal grooming was poor? Yes, this is a tough industry in which to keep a pristine uniform, but it is possible to start with a cared-for uniform and good hygiene. This is part of the new model.

Drivers are customer experience professionals. Besides the important job of driving effectively and safely, drivers own most of the customer interface. Educating them in effective interpersonal interaction, courtesies, and service recovery is imperative.

You wouldn't put someone in a quality control position without a thorough knowledge of mix designs. But drivers interact with customers all day without the proper training in providing a superior customer experience. And somehow that is considered okay.

Drivers are operations and process improvement catalysts. Drivers know when the usage codes are not being filled in on tickets. They know when directions are wrong. They know if the customer is happy or unhappy. They know if there are finishing issues. They know if the truck is being loaded too quickly and the load is wrong. They know if trucks are stacking up on the jobsite. They know if there are plant issues and the specific nature of those challenges.

So what is the process to listen to the drivers and use the information so the same issue doesn't occur again? Are there regularly scheduled forums to listen to their ideas?

Drivers are a part of the sales team. Often they hear of new projects but are neither equipped with business cards like the sales professionals, nor empowered to inquire further. Equipping drivers with brochures and business cards, and educating and empowering them to be an effective sales interface seems practical, but typically is not considered a proactive tactic.

Drivers are company perception managers. What do your customers think about your company? Are they getting the negative inside scoop, woes, and challenges of your organization from the drivers? It's likely. The bigger question is, why do drivers freely share their disapproving feelings about the company with customers? Answering this is key to transitioning into the new model.

When employees do not feel valued, they disengage. This leads to an “us versus them” mentality, prompting drivers to freely share negative thoughts with fellow drivers and customers.