Truckers close up
At the MRS Impact conference 2015 Andy Cooper* stressed the importance of understanding the person behind decision-making, particularly in B2B research: While fleet managers hang out in comfortable offices and head out to commercial lunches, their truckers may have an €15 expense budget for the entire trip, worry where to find secure parking for the night, and hope they can get to the place with great sausages before being timed out by the tacho.
Truckers have multiple fuel cards onboard when they are on the road. They - not their fleet managers - are the ones who actually walk through a service station door. So, what makes drivers with multiple fuel cards choose a service station, what attracts them to a particular location, and are the influences that trigger a choice made in commercial driver mode different from the ones made as a private motorist?
Truckers inhabit an unreachable parallel universe. They spend more time - and potentially money - at fuel stations than other customers. To find out more about these customers, we had to ensure we engaged them in commercial driver mode. Research needed to put our client, Shell, in the cab of the long-distance lorry driver.
To see service stations as truckers do we needed to triangulate a number of research approaches:
• Our multilingual teams carried out live in-the-moment interviews at Shell fuel stations across Europe. We went to drivers’ natural habitats, including Europe’s two largest truck stops in Luxembourg and Slovenia. In all, we met 19 nationalities of trucker across a dozen locations. We accompanied drivers through their morning ablutions and sat with them around their camping stoves. We could see, hear (and often smell) what service stations mean in their world.
• We went on the road via mobile research, ensuring the method was built from truckers’ perspectives. While it can be tempting to utilise the latest technology, that’s not always the best way to engage the target audience. We needed to connect with truckers via basic phones and limited data so we used text messaging. That meant minimum disruption for them, maximum output for us.
• To contextualise on-the-road decision-making, we explored underlying needs, through more structured conducted face-to-face depth interviews across 10 European locations. For each interview we made bespoke stimulus based on the drivers’ mobile data. This helped us keep the truckers in ‘trucker mode’.
The results? We were able to build a 360-degree version of the - hitherto elusive - commercial driver and develop actionable recommendations. We enabled Shell to define new driver categories and identify different attitudes and need states, and to better understand the decision-making parameters of commercial drivers.
*Andy Cooper is a partner at Thinktank. The paper ‘How one oil giant found a way to get closer to long-distance lorry drivers’ was presented as part of a session on ‘Empathy, humanity, happiness and haulage’ at MRS Impact 2015. The paper was presented jointly with Jo Pabari of Goodstuff Consulting.
"Empathy, humanity, happiness and haulage’ was short-listed for best overall contribution to conference; Andy was short-listed for best conference newcomer. The research was also shortlisted for the AQR Prosper Riley-Smith Award for Qualitative Excellence Award 2014.