Can you hear me now? Anybody out there?

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Updated Oct 16, 2019

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Have we lost the art of communication — that simple ability to talk to one another? I’ve been working this over in my mind and in conversation with a few close friends for quite some time.

Clearly we have problems. Is it too much tech? Reliance on cell phones, texting, apps and the internet has put the whole world at our fingertips, with access to information and answers to questions that range from the most serious to the silliest. Yet these tools are facilitating personal divisions on a grand scale. In small business ownership, everything is personal. I think this is all holding back our potential for growing the strong personal relationships that are among our most important assets.

Expert ability to deploy the art of communication is a special gift. My wife Marcia is one of these rare individuals who still sits and writes letters to her dearest and closest friends by hand. When is the last time any of you received a handwritten letter?

The time another person takes to do this for you is precious and personal, and should be treasured. They are freely giving you a part of themselves. I wager we could use this to effect by delivering such hand-written letters of appreciation to our brokers, customers or service providers (people like shop owners).

Though the ever-faster-paced pressure cooker of a small trucking business is certainly time-consuming, the biggest roadblock to effective communication isn’t time. Too often, when we feel the pressure, we take out our frustrations on the weakest link. Our biggest personal roadblock, I believe, is anger.

We’ve all probably experienced road rage on both ends. Several times in a day or a week we hang up the phone or walk out of a business with the hope that we got in the last word — not as a resolution for a problem, but for that feeling that we won the argument. We are ticked off and we want them to know it!

There’s a reason I use the first-person plural we here. I’m not perfect, but of course. Just today, I was in one of these situations. I’m not proud of how I came across to the customer. The problem was resolved in the end, yes, but not without a few unnecessary exchanges. Next time, I’ll handle things differently because of the experience.

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As business owners, we are not just in the driving business. We’re in the customer-service business. We’ve got to do everything from selling our services, talking to dock workers and security staff, negotiating with brokers and agents, navigating interactions with state police or the mechanic. … And that’s just to mention a few that come to mind.

When I think about the way brokered freight seems to be going — tap a button on a screen, get a load – the phrase trust but verify comes high to the mind. We need to be careful we don’t give up on due diligence with the shippers and receivers in such transactions. Yet another applicable cliché: Devil’s in the details.

Most customers I speak with tell me they wish more drivers would call directly to confirm ETAs and/or directions to the facility — or simply as a courtesy to make that personal connection. The No. 1 complaint I hear: Trucks arriving late for the appointment with no warning, no status update for the customer ahead of time.

Clear communication, deployed effectively, can be a valuable asset. That only requires our personal effort. And as for that capital-T Technology: Use it for what it is, a tool toward that clarity of information and purpose, and maybe for us it’s not the divisive set of instruments it’s been for so many. Maybe it can support our extra efforts to do better.