Sarah Johnson, Executive Vice President of Branch Operations at Milestone Trailer Leasing, is driven to come to work to make sure her team is successful. “I love what I do,” she says. “I love to help them win. It’s very rewarding.” Johnson discusses how Milestone Trailer Leasing goes above and beyond when it comes to customer service, what the future holds for the company, and her biggest a-ha moment.
Tell us about your role as Executive Vice President of Branch Operations at Milestone Trailer Leasing. What does a typical day look like?
My day is focused around supporting branch operations in 27 locations across the US. This could be through structuring deals for customers, sourcing equipment, and general problem solving. It’s about being in constant communication. Setting up calls every day to review pricing and quantity of trailers; fleshing out details; arming the operations team with data to go out and execute with customers. I spend a lot of time traveling, meeting customers, evaluating the sales approach, helping them to understand their markets, and ultimately evaluating how we can be more successful. That success then drives the metrics, utilization, and overall profitability of the business which is the most important for everyone!
Tell us about the transition from Personal Attention Leasing (PAL) to Milestone Trailer Leasing?
It’s always been about focusing on the customer service aspect. We have trailers and our competitors have trailers, but what’s the differentiating factor? For us, it’s about how we better partner with our customers. That gets back to this idea of creativity and flexibility. For me it’s fun to do some creative problem solving; I like innovating in an industry that doesn’t often require innovation. That was the whole foundation of PAL, it was about being flexible. It started out as a local, then regional and now we’re at a national level.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’ve been in the industry a long time in a variety of functions. I’ve loved getting out over the past couple of years and building that customer rapport and getting on the frontline and watching those relationships grow. It’s very rewarding. It’s easy to sit behind a computer or on the phone and ask the team to do something, but getting out and doing it with them gives me firsthand knowledge of the interactions and how to help them through day to day issues.
Biggest a-ha moment?
Our most successful sales people have a strong rapport with their customers. They take their time to get to know their customer and build trust. They become a partner and not just a vendor. It’s not just about closing the sale, but having the rapport so that when the customer has a problem, they will pick up the phone and give us the chance to help them.
What’s the key to unparalleled customer service?
It’s finding employees who are driven to work hard and who are going to be of service. If the team is dedicated to building a successful business that translates into making sure the business is building strong customer relationships. You also have to be good at negotiating with customers; doing what’s in the best interest of Milestone while retaining the customer relationship. Therein lies the art.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your industry today?
Driver shortage and accessibility to drivers. In addition to new regulations with ELD (electronic logging device), the third thing is the shift to online retail. It’s changing the shape of transportation and who’s participating. It’s in its infancy, so there are a lot of efficiencies to be made on that front.
What does the future hold for Milestone Trailer Leasing? What things are you excited about?
Continuing to identify gaps in the industry then where and how to fill them. Thinking outside the box when it comes to industry-wide solutions, as well as continuing to develop a strong team. Nothing is stagnate and we have to be ready to evolve. What’s next? It’s exciting to think about.
What is key to a strong team?
There are many elements that make a strong team. A few worth noting are respect for one another, communication and having positive attitudes. We also have to collectively celebrate the wins (recognize failures) and respect each other’s roles on the team.
What keeps you up at night?
I worry about if I was supposed to call someone back and didn’t because the day got away from me or if I need to get an answer to someone so I’m not holding them up. I worry about the overall health of the business and if we’re doing all we can to make it successful. The other thing is making sure I’m delivering the message and everyone is on board and we’re pushing in the same direction. We use the analogy about rowing a boat, and how we need everyone rowing in the same direction. It affects the team if someone is rowing the other way.
What is a great story about Milestone Trailer Leasing that you love to share?
We’re pushing on bigger accounts where we haven’t been able to before. We are partnering with bigger companies in a bigger way. It’s been organic growth; everyone pitches in to make it work and it’s rewarding.
What is a great customer story that you love to share about MTL?
There was a target account in Atlanta our sales rep was working on for over a year. For a year, she listened to me say, “Why aren’t we in there?” A year spent calling on them, working through several contacts and really cultivating a relationship with them. Today they have over 100 trailers with us. It speaks to the sales rep’s perseverance and drive to win. I love it!