Some truckers are slamming Amazon for an unusual driver support strategy as the megaretailer morphs into a trucking company

  • Some truck drivers who move loads for Amazon said the company's technical-support hotline often connects them to support staff abroad. The cost-cutting move can result in communication challenges for drivers on the road, some truckers said. Some said it could even undermine road safety. 
  • Technical-support hotlines allow truck drivers to quickly notify their employer of a delay while driving caused by incidents like a flat tire or a route problem.
  • Using support staff overseas for these hotlines is unusual, trucking experts said.

    Five large public transportation companies confirmed to Business Insider that they did not rely on offshore call centers for internal technical support. 

  • Amazon said it operated technical-support offices in North America, Europe, and India to support its 24/7 transportation operation.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories[1].

An Amazon truck driver was on the road to drop off a shipment when he noticed something amiss in the route -- it forced him through a subdivision. There were no trucks allowed on those streets. The driver, whose identity is known to Business Insider but who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, called up Amazon's technical-support hotline.

But the voice on the other end didn't seem to understand his problem, what a subdivision was, or why a semitruck wouldn't be allowed in it.  The truck driver said he then realized why there seemed to be a miscommunication. The person he was speaking with wasn't in the US but was part of Amazon's overseas technical-support team.

Amazon confirmed to Business Insider that it employs workers in India and Europe in addition to North America to help provide technical support.  For that trucker, the gaps in the technical-support worker's knowledge of American driving law and trucking regulations, in addition to a language barrier, made it challenging for the trucker to communicate his problem. Ultimately, the driver said he was forced to drive through the subdivision -- which he said could be dangerous for both drivers and pedestrians. 

"They need to be well-versed in what the driver is experiencing," the truck driver told Business Insider. Three truck drivers told Business Insider that they've experienced difficulty multiple times connecting with Amazon outside normal business hours over a delivery issue because of miscommunications with the technical-support staff.  "To ensure our transportation network runs on-time and we are meeting commitments to our customers, we operate transportation support offices 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in shifts from offices in North America, Europe, and India -- and have been doing so for the past eight years," an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider. "Working across geographies allows for more flexibility and choice for our associates, and attracts talent with diverse perspectives and ideas." 

amazon truck Amazon truck drivers aren't happy with the company's technical-support staffing.REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

It's a highly unusual move, some experts in the trucking industry said.

Five large public transportation companies told Business Insider that they did not rely on offshore call centers for internal technical support.  The strategy is likely saving the company significant funds. Corporations across the board employ some 700,000 call-center employees in India who are paid about £300 per month, according to a 2017 Wired report[2].

Meanwhile, customer-service representatives in the US earn a median of £2,800 per month[3], according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Europe is not an outsourcing hub in the same way India is, but some major[4] call-center corporations[5] operate in Western Europe, as well as in countries like Bulgaria and Romania, where labor costs tend to be lower.  But the cost-cutting strategy could threaten the safety of drivers and others on the road as the likelihood of miscommunication or inaccurate advice soars, some drivers said. 

"I'm pulling 20,000 pounds of someone's freaking Amazon packages," the driver told Business Insider. "If I make a wrong move, I'm not only going to kill myself but 10 or 20 other people." Amazon declined to comment on the safety issues that truckers said could happen because of miscommunications with the technical-support team. 

Amazon's increasing delivery might

In recent years, Amazon's logistics arm has strengthened. The company's delivery force is unusually vast for a retailer -- with 40 cargo jets, 25,000 last-mile vans, 20,000 tractors, 7,000 trailers, and a network of ocean freighters.

The speed at which Amazon's logistics network is growing has sparked some insiders to question if Amazon will someday challenge giants like FedEx and UPS at their own game. Morgan Stanley estimated in December[6] that FedEx and UPS could see their revenues slashed by up to £100 million annually as Amazon moves more of its own and others' packages. Read more: Morgan Stanley is sounding the alarm on Amazon's logistics network for UPS, USPS, and FedEx -- with a chilling estimate of up to £100 billion in revenue slashed from the giants[7]  A major part of Amazon's delivery network is trucking, in which goods are moved from one major metropolitan to another in semitrucks. 

amazon delivery shipping breakdown Wolfe Research; Andy Kiersz/Business Insider

Amazon's moves in developing an in-house trucking network have captured the attention of experts across the nation.

The megaretailer's take on trucking has departed from key practices in the industry. For instance, Business Insider first reported in December that Amazon pays its truck drivers on a daily rate, rather than per mile[8]. The pay method appears unique to Amazon and allows the company to offer predictable rates to drivers. 

"I love the creativity of it," Chad Boblett, a Lexington, Kentucky-based long-haul truck driver, previously told Business Insider[9] of Amazon's day rates. "If I was going to give advice to the big carriers, I'd go to them about this."

Trucking insiders are surprised by the company's technical-support moves

While paying per day has impressed analysts and truck drivers alike, the industry players Business Insider spoke with about Amazon's technical-support hotlines being staffed abroad warned of safety problems -- and headaches. "I'm not aware of anyone who uses that kind of offshore support for the regular problems that our drivers are going to encounter day-to-day," Steve Viscelli, a sociologist who studies the trucking industry at the University of Pennsylvania, told Business Insider. "It is sensitive to safety, so you want to have it as close as can be." Kevin Sterling, a senior equity analyst at Benchmark, agreed.

"I would imagine the majority of your truckers would have a hard time with that," he told Business Insider. "It seems like it's going to cause unnecessary headaches." Truck drivers typically call a technical-support hotline when they are running out of hours that they can work or have a flat tire or other route disruption. 

Amazon truck drivers 7 Hayley Peterson/Business Insider

Rickie Jarrett, a Philadelphia-based truck driver who works for Amazon on a contract basis, noticed that the support workers during the daytime tend to be in the US. But if he calls at night, the workers often do not appear to be native English speakers.

Other truck drivers Business Insider spoke with confirmed the same timing. Amazon confirmed calls that come in during US nighttime hours were handled by technical-support staff in India.  "Some guys get really angry and just call the next morning," Jarrett, who said he enjoyed working for the company as a third-party driver, said. 

Some of the technical-support staff not in the US don't appear to be as familiar with common issues truckers experience on the job, Jarrett said. He mentioned one issue in which a facility was short on trailers and he could start his route on time. He said an after-hours support worker did not fully understand his problem.

He said some workers tend to stick to a support script when assisting truck drivers and aren't able to quickly understand a problem that a driver may face. "You can't blame them for doing their job," Jarrett, who has been a truck driver for more than 30 years, said. "They have to do their job. It just takes you some extra time."

The differences in language can also be challenging for truck drivers, Jarrett said.  Truck drivers said a lack of understanding by Amazon's support staff around the strict safety regulations that govern the trucking industry could cause safety problems down the line. "They've got a long way to go," one truck driver told Business Insider. "Those tractors they bought are just sitting.

But when they roll them out, that's where the liabilities really start." Are you a truck driver who works for Amazon? Email [email protected]

Learn more about Amazon's moves in trucking:

From zero planes, vans, or trucks in the beginning of the 2010s to delivering 3.5 billion packages this year, Amazon is becoming a logistics giant.

Here's the timeline of its transformation.[10] Truckers say Amazon's new logistics empire is being underpinned by low, 'ridiculous' rates -- and some are refusing to work with them[11][12] Worked 'like a rented mule': A truck driver claims an Amazon contractor forced him to drive for up to 30 hours straight in a new lawsuit[13]

References

  1. ^ Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories (www.businessinsider.com)
  2. ^ according to a 2017 Wired report (www.wired.com)
  3. ^ earn a median of £2,800 per month (www.bls.gov)
  4. ^ some major (www.sitel.com)
  5. ^ call-center corporations (www.concentrix.com)
  6. ^ Morgan Stanley estimated in December (www.businessinsider.com)
  7. ^ Morgan Stanley is sounding the alarm on Amazon's logistics network for UPS, USPS, and FedEx -- with a chilling estimate of up to £100 billion in revenue slashed from the giants (www.businessinsider.com)
  8. ^ on a daily rate, rather than per mile (www.businessinsider.com)
  9. ^ previously told Business Insider (www.businessinsider.com)
  10. ^ From zero planes, vans, or trucks in the beginning of the 2010s to delivering 3.5 billion packages this year, Amazon is becoming a logistics giant.

    Here's the timeline of its transformation. (www.businessinsider.com)

  11. ^ Truckers say Amazon's new logis (www.businessinsider.com)
  12. ^ tics empire is being underpinned by low, 'ridiculous' rates -- and some are refusing to work with them (www.businessinsider.com)
  13. ^ Worked 'like a rented mule': A truck driver claims an Amazon contractor forced him to drive for up to 30 hours straight in a new lawsuit (www.businessinsider.com)

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