Our annual Route Driver of the Year contest, now in its second year, has generated tremendous interest among our readers, and it has shed valuable insight into the dynamics of this most critical position.
One thing’s for sure: as technology changes the way the route driver performs his or her job, the driver’s individual competence still largely determines the level of customer satisfaction and account profitability. In other words, driver competence, more than any other single factor, drives a vending operation’s success.
An all-time truth, a veteran operator might respond to this observation. But not a simple one. The industry is changing in many ways and few things are as simple as they once were.
Technology’s full benefit
Consider DEX. Software providers have pointed out that DEX enables an operator to know how much cash is collected from each machine, and that it gives management more control over what products are placed in a machine. This has given some operators the idea that route management technology can minimize the level of competence needed by the route driver; that it can put a route on “automatic pilot.”
Both of our Route Driver of the Year winners in the last two years work for companies that use DEX handhelds. Yet these drivers vastly exceeded the performance of fellow drivers who were also using DEX handhelds.
Handhelds are an empowerment tool. They help increase efficiency, but they will not stop a driver from simply going through the motions of performing his job and ignoring the condition of the machines, the satisfaction level of the customers, and a thousand other things that a driver needs to pay attention to.
Progress demands more from us
A great feature of much of today’s new technology is that it allows a company to use it in whatever ways it deems most beneficial.
The companies our winning drivers work for — Continental Dining & Refreshment Services Inc. of Belleville, Mich. (employer of last year’s winner, Charlie Martin) and Canteen Vending Services Inc. (employer of this year’s winner, Lester Fields) — use DEX in different ways. Each company employs DEX in a way that supports its individual management philosophy.
Both companies have been able to utilize DEX, thanks to successful, ongoing employee development initiatives. Which brings us to another point.
DEX offers great opportunities to improve performance, as embodied by these great route drivers. But for most companies, progress has been stymied by ineffective management.
Technology gives new urgency to one of the vending industry’s oldest problems: human resource management.
The need to strengthen employee development, starting at the top, is among the key “Wake Up” points in the White Paper for Vending, beginning on page 70 in this issue.
Dual challenges await us
A common trait in both winning route drivers is the intense focus their respective employers place on employee development. Both firms have invested heavily in this area, and both are reaping the rewards.
Conclusion: The need to invest in technology and in people are closely intertwined. Both are critical if the industry is going to meet and exceed customer expectations.