Not everyone has the skills to be an effective dispatcher. I know one fleet that recently learned this the hard way after re-assigning an injured driver to the all-important deskbound duties. Once off the road, he began playing favourites. Some of his former peers were given profitable loads and favourable lanes; others were assigned the toughest routes and were pushed to complete deliveries at all costs, no matter what any regulations required.
They’re the types of decisions that threaten everything from a carrier’s safety profile to driver retention efforts.
A dispatcher’s job clearly involves more than grabbing a headset and tracking equipment. These employees are the conduits between managers, operations teams, customers and drivers alike, ensuring that freight arrives and rules are followed. When things go wrong – and they will – they are also the people who have to step in as referees and protect relationships.
It’s why strong interpersonal skills are a dispatcher’s most valuable tool. A sense of empathy will help to address calls from a frantic customer looking to re-route a load, and even the message from a driver’s spouse who is looking for guidance on a home repair. Active listeners who offer ongoing feedback during a discussion will also be able to identify the real challenges behind a driver’s complaints.
As important as these skills will be, dispatchers need the support of senior managers, too. They should be confident that they will not be penalized for following rules that might sometimes lead to delays. Besides that, any dispatcher pushed to break laws, policies or standards is bound to become a witness in a court case after a collision or spill. That’s when any differences between written and unwritten rules will lead to expensive judgments and fines.
Of course, effective dispatchers will need to understand a broad array of rules and regulations in the first place. Hours-of-service limits will dictate the times a driver can turn a wheel, while weights and dimensions regulations will determine if equipment can even travel specific routes. Every commodity in the trailer will also face its own restrictions, whether they come under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act or the rules that govern food and livestock. Looking to take anything across the border? There are Customs regulations and procedures to consider as well.
Informed dispatchers schedule routes accordingly, avoiding challenges that include delays and outright cargo seizures.
But the required understanding is not limited to regulations. Dispatchers also need to know how their decisions fit within the context of fleet policies and customer requirements. Every trip needs to be planned with all of this in mind.
To compound matters, there are other barriers that can arise. Changing weather and road construction can certainly wreak havoc with trip plans. But dispatchers who understand the need to stay informed will avoid many related issues.
Vehicle locations and delivery times are just the beginning. There is room on every computer screen for a window devoted to information about traffic delays and weather reports along specific routes. The dispatchers who know about a scheduled parade or construction activity will be able to re-route equipment before wheels grind to a halt. A TV monitor in a dispatch office can also be tuned into the Weather Network to warn everyone about changing storm paths.
There is always time to plan for the worst and hope for the best. The dispatchers equipped with a list of approved repair facilities and towing companies will be ready to address any unplanned breakdown. A list of available truck stops and secure yards can guide drivers to safe locations when available hours-of-service begin to dwindle. Carefully structured checklists and emergency plans will ensure that no step is overlooked if they receive a call about a collision.
It can also be helpful to recognize that some drivers will require more attention than others. A few extra calls to new or inexperienced personnel can identify emerging challenges before they lead to larger errors. This simple step will help to reinforce that the fleet truly cares about people behind the wheel, limiting the frustrations that often cause people to look for new jobs. It will enhance the relationship between drivers and dispatchers, too.
Yes, there is a lot to learn, but there are training programs to help. Trucking HR Canada, for example, offers dispatcher training around interpersonal skills.
Fleets that include dispatchers in team meetings will ensure that everyone receives the same details about changing regulations, policies and procedures. And as every experienced dispatcher knows, information is a powerful thing.
This month’s expert is Kevin Brandon, risk services specialist. Kevin has served the industry for more than 25 years in loss control, transportation safety and insurance risk engineering. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a longstanding history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.