The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

How to Deal With 'Cry Baby' Drivers

Any fleet manager will admit you can’t please everybody, but some people are never happy. Here’s how to keep chronically unhappy drivers from giving you a headache.

November 2011, by Staff

Every fleet manager can tell the same story. They have at least one or more drivers who just can’t or won’t be satisfied, and who complain about anything and everything: the vehicle selections, the equipment, personal use policy, etc. 

One driver is too tall for the mid-sized sedan. Another driver is too short to climb up into the SUV. Still another can’t drive a minivan, because it’s windy where he drives, and it’ll get blown off the road. For every employee who won’t drive a Ford, there is another who won’t drive a GM, a third who hates Chrysler, and the one “old guy” who remembers WWII, and would never drive that Toyota or Audi. 

For every one of these drivers who leave, another seems to pop up. How can you deal with them? What can a fleet manager do to handle the constant whining, particularly from a “star performer” whose manager goes to bat for him?  

At a Glance

Chronic complainers can cause fleet managers unending headaches. To deal with a fleet “crybaby”:

  • “Lay down the law” with a clear, no-exception policy.
  • Answer complaints clearly and concisely without being overly detailed.
  • Don’t take complaints personally; keep it professional.

Laying Down The Law

It’s an easy thing to do: The policy is the policy, the selector is the selector, the equipment is the equipment, and if you don’t like it, well, it’s only a few steps to the door. Just like dealing with the kid who refuses to eat the broccoli you made for dinner, drivers should be reminded in no uncertain terms that they are expected to do the job with the tools provided and in a manner determined by the company. 

However, it is seldom as simple as that. This won’t satisfy your “crybaby” drivers, it likely won’t satisfy their supervisors and managers either, whose ear they have on a daily basis. If the driver complaining about the size, model, or equipment of the vehicle they have to drive is a strong performer, you can pretty much expect a manager to take up the banner on his or her behalf. The reason? Good talent is difficult to find, and sales or service management want their performers to go to work happy and remain satisfied. 

So, is “laying down the law,” in and of itself, the best way to handle drivers whose consistent complaining becomes a distraction? It is not and it likely cannot be, since you won’t be simply dealing with the driver, but with anyone else they can rally to their cause. But making sure that drivers know that “policy by exception” won’t work is indeed one part of addressing their complaints. 

What Kind of Complaints?

There are many different forms these complaints take. Some examples:

Personal: The driver who complains that at 6 feet 5 inches, he’s too tall to fit comfortably into that little four-door sedan, or at 4 feet 11 inches climbing up into the driver’s seat of the SUV is difficult.

Preference: These are the types of complaints from a driver who has had terrible experiences with a particular model or models that he or she may have to drive, or a type of vehicle (minivan, SUV, compact car, pickup truck) that a driver or drivers dislike.

Policy exceptions: There are always policy exceptions; those situations where a driver has violated policy, and complains to his or her supervisor that the consequences don’t fit the violation. “He is my best sales person!” the complaint generally goes. “If you take away the car, I’ll lose him.”

These are among the most common types of complaints your “crybaby” drivers will bring over and over again, particularly complaints about the size of a vehicle or the make and model. 

Steps You Can Take

First, differentiate between the occasional comment or complaint and the true “crybaby” driver. Hearing from a driver about a vehicle, model, or policy issue isn’t unusual, and hearing from the same driver or drivers regularly complaining about one aspect or another of the fleet (or, for that matter, from a manager or executive) is another matter entirely.

Individual, rare complaints can be dealt with pretty easily, and are usually offered from the heart. It is the driver who constantly complains, who criticizes everything from the vehicle to fleet policy that must be dealt with. 

For the occasional complaint, be honest and straightforward. If it’s about the selector, make your case clearly and concisely — without all the esoteric detail — why you’ve chosen the makes and models you’ve chosen. Most of the time, the driver will understand. Emphasize the value of getting a vehicle at all, particularly, when it is a vehicle for sales staff, where other companies might require drivers to use personal vehicles. 

For the crybaby, begin with that sort of straightforward explanation. For that 6-foot-5-inch driver, you can be pretty sure he isn’t the only tall driver in the fleet. Know you cannot make policy decisions based upon exceptions and that if exceptions are made, the policy itself becomes useless. Once that exception is made, you’re only opening the door to more of the same kinds of complaints — not to mention those drivers who have not complained, but hear that another driver who complained has gotten what he or she wanted. 

One way that will help short circuit the chronic complainer is to make it clear to all drivers, managers, and any other stakeholders in the fleet from the beginning that the fleet policies and procedures, including replacement cycles, personal use, and vehicle/equipment selection are firm, and exceptions will not be permitted. Do it right off the bat, and this will help root out crybabies and other chronic complainers before they’re able to establish an unhappy track record that could impact the rest of the fleet’s drivers. 

That alone won’t stop the complaints entirely, of course. Some drivers will come down with a case of “amnesia,” claiming they were never notified of this “no exception” rule. Still others will lean on their managers to carry the ball for them — particularly if they are otherwise star performers in their discipline (sales or service, for example). The biggest problem you’re going to have is the driver who has been successful in getting a supervisor to “cut a swath” through policy in the past. That complainer will likely now have a mindset that he or she is worthy of an exception no matter what the subject. 

Keep It Professional

The single biggest mistake a fleet manger can make when dealing with crybaby drivers is to respond in kind, forcing the escalation of the issue simply because it has now become an angry or sarcastic exchange. You’ll hear or read comments such as:

“That vehicle selection is garbage!”

“I don’t have time to just run in and get the oil changed, I have customers to contact!”
“Whoever put this policy together is an idiot.”
Since the “idiot” is likely you, the fleet manager, it is tempting to respond in the same distasteful manner. 

Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it. Ignore any insults, personal or otherwise. Respond in a short, to the point, and professional manner. If possible, your response can actually disarm that kind of nastiness. For example, you can begin by saying, “I understand your concern; it is one of the most important responsibilities of your fleet department to hear, and address, any issues or complaints our valued fleet drivers bring to our attention.”

Another technique is to reach out to the driver, either by telephone or in person (if possible). Make it personal: not the complaint, but your concern. You’ll generally find that most people tend to soften language that they use online when confronted with the target of that language directly. As for crybabies and chronic complainers, you can begin by telling him or her that you are concerned that they seem to dislike so many aspects of the fleet program, and would very much like to hear from them any ideas they have to improve it. You never know; sometimes you might even get a good idea or two that you can implement (giving that driver full credit, publicly). 

Ultimately, you can handle the crybaby’s complaint, while, at the same time, adding a little laying down of the law to clarify things. Hold your temper, and remain professional throughout. The old saying goes that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar; let the honey flow, and you may be pleasantly surprised when you’ve turned a crybaby into an advocate.

The Incorrigibles

Unfortunately, there are always going to be a handful of incorrigible complainers, some who don’t get the message, some who just like to be miserable (and make others join in on the misery), or, most dangerous of all, the “expert.” Backyard mechanics, car buffs, anyone who believes they know more about your job than you do, and aren’t shy about making you and everyone else know about it. In these situations, laying down the law, while reminding the incorrigible that managing a fleet is no more the car business than managing a benefits department is the insurance business. Knowing cars or trucks well adds little to the lease vs. own debate, the calculation of a lifecycle cost, or the choosing of an accident management supplier.

Yes, sometimes laying down the law is the only arrow left in the quiver. Do it judiciously, when all else fails, and keep that “professional distance” from anything below a businesslike manner. Include the driver’s supervisor or manager in your ultimate response, and make certain that the final decision is made in the best interests of the company and its employees. 

Dealing with crybabies isn’t any more fun when they are 30 than it was when they were three. Some people simply refuse to take no for an answer, some just like to complain, and others like to lord their own perceived expertise over everyone else. You do have to deal with it, and them, so do so in a way that won’t cause you heartburn.

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  1. 1. V. Lynn Sturm [ December 06, 2011 @ 05:59AM ]

    You forgot about some important issues, like Federal laws such as Ergonomics and ADAAA. You have to put that 6'5" guy in a car that fits him and he won't end up with a Worker's Comp. claim or an OSHA complain. A guy with a bad back who's doctor says he has to be in a vehicle higher off the ground so he have to bend down to enter/exit.

  2. 2. Ed Miller [ December 06, 2011 @ 01:02PM ]

    Complaints about the selector or the policy are easier to handle in some fleets than in others.

    My pet response is, "Just have your supervisor call the chairman. He has my number and he'll call me if he'd like for me to make an exception. Or, perhaps you'd like to do it."

    Shuts them up every time.

  3. 3. Trone Abeetin [ May 20, 2013 @ 09:05AM ]

    Yes very salient article, at what point do I get to call them crybabies? You seem to defeat your professed professionalism with your pejorative terms!


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