Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Learn From a Vaquero Part 1: Ask Questions


A few weeks ago I drove my son down to his first roping clinic. Tim is my third child, now sixteen, and finally getting his turn at fine tuning his skills in something that interests him. Much like other kids who pursue sports, music, dance, etc, Tim has become very determined to learn, improve and excel in handling both his horse and his rope.  

His trainer and boss at the ranch where he works generously offered to sponsor him at this clinic, so with an opportunity to learn with one of the experts, Tim did not hesitate and off we went to a weekend in Paso Robles with Dwight Hill, a renowned horse trainer from Idaho.  

This experience felt a little odd for me. I have three other kids, and they have shown their horses in various equine such as dressage, 3 day events, and cuttings. On the morning of their big day everything is fast paced. Get the horses fed, check your tack and ride times, boots polished, shirts ironed, endless stuff to do. Even on some of the most prepared days we would encounter chaos bordering on mayhem trying to get someone on their horse in time for their round.

But not on Tim’s first day. In fact, it was so quiet over in the arena where he was supposed to be riding that I thought that maybe they had ridden off somewhere unseen. I took a closer look and darn if they all weren’t standing in a circle. Hmmm...I hoped he was learning something. I decided to check it out.

I happened to get to the arena just as Dwight started the clinic. After introducing himself, rather than telling everyone what he was going to teach them, he asked them to be ready to tell him why they came to the clinic, and what they hoped to learn.  

Right from the beginning, Dwight started with what the students wanted or needed to learn.  

You know, teaching is not for everyone. Lots of people think that they can, but while they may have some experience or knowledge that is worthwhile to share, effectively sharing these things is not something that they are able to do. And trying to ‘learn’ a grown up gets really interesting, for a lot of reasons.

Dwight clearly is a gifted teacher. But it’s not just because of his style that I say this. Just as important, there seemed to be an underlying purpose in all his advice and encouragement. He was genuinely interested in his students and in what mattered to them.  

It was an interesting two days. Tim learned a lot, and left more addicted to his sport than when he arrived. As for me, I didn’t ride a horse or throw the first rope, but I also ended up with a ‘take away’ from the weekend.

As I watched Dwight work with his group, I could see how his style and method of helping his students could be applied to my own business as a truck broker. Often, my job is to match a truck with a load. Yes, this is what I do, but my purpose for doing so is to help people in both the trucking and produce industries move their own businesses forward.  

There was quite a lot to learn from Dwight’s teaching example, but the most relevant to me in my own pursuit of delivering quality service to our customers comes down to three main points:

1) Start with the question: Why are you here?

2) Know your stuff: People are depending on your experience and expertise.

3) Participate: Don’t tell, but show.

Today I write about the first lesson, ask questions.

Every rider showed up for a reason. They all had different expectations and various levels of roping and riding skills. Some were preparing for upcoming events and a few some were in the early stages of learning to rope. Others could rope but had new or difficult horses that were preventing them from roping successfully.

So around the circle Dwight went, asking more questions for clarification, giving some short term encouragement, and often dropping bits of advice that the rider could think about before practice started.  

This was not a fast process. It took time, thought and a definite level of vulnerability on the rider’s part to describe his or her goal. But it was a necessary step because each of them had specific reasons and expectations for attending this clinic. The only way Dwight could successfully help them accomplish what they sought after was to find out what it was that was most important to them.

Why is this process important to a truck broker?

In today’s transportation industry, particularly in relation to the produce business, a broker is often seen as a person who has a load or a truck available for some price. I see this a lot, and it is often a true assessment of how many brokers do operate.

It’s not how it should be, however. Just as Dwight started the training relationship with a desire to learn and understand what his students were needing and expecting, so should a broker give careful attention to customers to make sure that the work done actually helps their customer accomplish a specific goal.  

Of course, it takes time, and more important, it takes discipline and willingness to craft a service that is tailored for a customer’s particular interest.  

For example, someone may be working on a new account and having detailed, frequent updates will help them establish competence in the eyes of their new customer. Another situation we have seen often is an inexperienced buyer or salesperson who needs some help in how to cube or properly combine product. Listening and asking questions give us opportunities galore to assist in this meaningful way.

Maybe this person is trying to get something done that should be done in an entirely different manner, or not at all. A trusted broker can make suggestions that ultimately lead to consistent successful deliveries.

On the trucking side, a broker can be incredibly valuable to new or inexperienced carriers, dispatchers and drivers. Produce can be tricky to get loaded and delivered. We have found many companies that are very capable of hauling fresh product but have not had the opportunity to learn how to do it correctly. A quality broker noticing this will be ready, willing, and actually able to make recommendations to guide a carrier new to the produce industry through all sorts of challenges.

It all starts with questions. Why are you here? What do you need to do today? Where are you going? What is, and what is not working? What matters to you?

After all, knowing where someone wants to go is really the best way to get to the destination. Right?

Next, we will take a look at the importance of experience and expertise. See you down the road.