The truck driver shortage was the top issue in the American Transportation Research Institute’s Top Industry Issues survey for the fourth year in a row. It’s clearly not going away. “You can either choose to accept that as reality, or you can find a new way to do things,” says Jacob Kramer, vice president of driver recruiting at Chattanooga, Tennessee-based U.S. Xpress.
The company piloted what it calls a “digital fleet” of trucks largely recruited, planned, dispatched and managed using artificial intelligence and digital platforms.
“U.S. Xpress wanted to put the driver first and treat them like professionals,” Kramer says. “We’ve created a digital-first approach in how drivers communicate with us, with shippers, and each other. We have operations specialists available 24/7, with 85% of all requests responded to within two minutes. An app allows drivers to connect with each other about everything from parking tips to restaurant recommendations. Proprietary software automates the coordination of loads and time off. We really see this as the future of trucking.”
U.S. Xpress wanted to make doing business with the company as seamless as possible for drivers. It started as a conceptual hypothesis, but CEO Eric Fuller says it quickly evolved into a much bigger initiative.
“We now have more than 400 trucks on the road that are part of the digital fleet, and we’re hoping to scale significantly over the next couple of years,” he says.
Drivers, of course, don’t operate on office time. U.S. Xpress says 35% of candidate conversations are happening after hours. This driver-first approach uses technology to be flexible around drivers’ schedules.
“If they’ve been on the road all day and finally get to their destination and that’s when they’re ready to interact, we’re ready,” Kramer says. “If they decide they’re going to grab a bite to eat and that’s when they want to engage with us, we’re ready.”
Transforming the Driver Recruiting Experience
“We’re taking the entire recruiting department and flipping it on its head to think driver-first in everything we do,” Kramer explains. “This led to the decision to completely transform our recruiting process. We want to take all the burden from the driver and administrative work from our recruiters and leverage technology to streamline the process and complete all the heavy lifting.”
In April 2020, U.S. Xpress took the digital fleet a step further and partnered with Paradox, an artificial intelligence company that has developed an AI assistant for fleet recruiting. It allows recruiters to engage drivers on any device or messaging app, at any time, and instantly screen them with customizable questions and a smooth, mobile-first experience.
The conversational AI is an easy way for interested candidates to get answers to questions and apply for jobs right on their phone. When someone comes to U.S. Xpress’s career side or texts a number to look for a job, an AI assistant can deliver recommended positions based on details a candidate shares in a quick chat.
If someone wants to apply, the assistant can capture their information and screen every candidate in real time. If someone meets key requirements, that candidate is fast-tracked by automatically scheduling them for an interview through direct API integration with the company’s driver software platforms.
The majority of applications are now coming in through a mobile device, and 38% of candidates who start a conversation with the AI assistance convert into applicants. And the time it takes for qualified applicants to get scheduled for an interview is less than 3 minutes. The technology helps make recruiters’ jobs easier and allows them to have more meaningful conversations with drivers, Kramer says.
But the company didn’t stop with simplicity.
“We wanted to take it one step further with this technology and ensure everyone who interacted had a higher likelihood of feeling represented,” Kramer says. “We co-developed with Paradox a first-of-its kind algorithm that utilizes location and census data to present an array of avatars across the country. We felt that being represented by multiple backgrounds would better align with our values.”
While most fleets using the Paradox AI use a standard single avatar, Olivia, U.S. Xpress wanted to present a more diverse recruiting face. The technology is part of a broader diversity initiative for U.S. Xpress, which announced in August that it was forming a diversity and inclusion council made up of employees to achieve that goal. The council will make recommendations to a strategy team about how to be more inclusive, including diversifying its applicant pool.
The Challenge of Doing Something New
Kramer says one challenge the company faced was “creating and leveraging a technology that has never been put in place within this space before. It’s not uncommon in the trucking industry to do things the same way they were done 20 years ago. Many processes and systems are outdated, and in order to build and leverage this technology, you must develop solutions that can directly integrate into these systems or replace them entirely.”
If the process doesn’t allow for a better experience for the driver, he says, they develop one that does.
“At the end of the day, we’re reducing friction,” Kramer says. “The AI assistant can automatically identify open jobs and find positions that fit the candidate’s needs – not the other way around.”
“In a competitive industry like ours, you have to find a way to operate differently,” says U.S. Xpress CEO Eric Fuller. “We’re doing it by obsessing over customer and driver satisfaction and getting creative with how to use technology to be a lot more efficient. The results we’re seeing already speak for themselves. And long-term, we believe our strategy will completely disrupt the industry.”