You want me to do what?

by POWER INVERTERS: AC & DC IN CONCERT

Today’s Trucking readers will recall a story about driver grievances earlier this year (“Take this job and love it,” March 2005) in which truckers shared a few things about their jobs that they loathed so much they quit.

A lot of those beefs — the guy whose family vacation was foiled at the last minute or the chap who arrived home only to be sent back out a few hours later — seemed to center around dispatch.

This time, we talk to three industry leaders — two recent winners of Cancom Tracking’s Dispatcher of the Year Award, as well as a dispatcher from Boucherville-based Transport Robert, judged last year as one of Canada’s best-managed companies — for their advice on what it takes to be an effective dispatcher. And good dispatchers can mean less driver turnover.

Think Like a Driver: Gary Post, Transport Robert

“I think more than anything drivers want honesty from their dispatcher,” says Gary Post, a weekend Toronto dispatcher for Transport Robert. “Drivers know there’s going to be good loads and bad loads, and when there’s a bad load you come out with it and don’t try to sneak it past them. You just tell them, ‘Look, you’ve got a crappy load today. I’m sorry, but it’s your turn.'”

Post says it’s also very important that dispatchers establish relationships with the drivers they work with, and get to know their likes and dislikes.

Some of his OTR drivers, he says, like to max out their miles and might request three Chicago trips a week. Some guys want to stay out all week. Other drivers don’t want U.S. east coast runs because they want to avoid New York City, so Post works to keep them in the midwest. “And every now and then you get a guy that just wants to check out a part of the country he’s never seen. You really have to communicate with the guys, get in their heads, and find out what they want.”

In terms of dealing with customers, Post says honesty works best. When he was starting out he says he was guilty of dancing around issues, and “telling little white lies” when customers called demanding to know where their freight was.

“You’re so much better off telling them ‘I’m sorry, it’s late, it was poor planning on my part, it’s going be another hour’. Attack the problem before it attacks you — that means calling the customer before they call you.”

The same goes for drivers. With the advent of satellite tracking, dispatchers can tell if a driver is running behind and Post says it’s up to dispatch to plan accordingly. “If you’re on top of it, you know who’s in trouble before they even call you. And if you’re not, it’ll bite you in the ass when it catches up with you.”

If You Bait, Don’t Switch: Darryl Samay, Provider Transportation & Logistics

Like Post, Darryl Samay, the 2004 Ontario Trucking Association/Cancom Tracking Dispatcher of the Year, stresses honesty and timeliness as key to establishing good relations with drivers.

Samay mans the dispatch desk with Provider Transportation & Logistics, a small Ayr, Ont., carrier with just over 20 trucks. Most of the firm’s freight moves across the border, and the company
has a 2:1 ratio of owner-operators to company drivers.

“The relationship between dispatch and driver is a two-way street. You’re asking them to work for you, but you have to show them that you’re willing to work for them as well. You have to do everything you can to make sure they’re rolling and doing loads that are good for both parties.

“For example, if our customer is short on loads and a driver wants to go out again, or if they want to go out this day and be back that day, you have to talk to everyone you can to get them a load,” he says.

“And make sure you keep your promises about getting them home. It’s about doing the small things to ensure they’re successful and they’re happy doing it. They can’t expect to get what they want all the time, but you try to help them out in getting decent lanes and decent times as much as you can.”

Samay says his drivers are great, but he does get the odd driver who doesn’t really understand the demands of the customers — drivers who think they can dictate when a load’s going to arrive or don’t call in when they’re in trouble or running late.

“These guys often don’t get the big picture; we’re here to service the customer and that’s the main priority,” he says.

Money Talks, Dispatchers Listen: Glen Dowden, East Can Transport Services.

Dispatching a St. John’s, Nfld., fleet poses unique challenges because drivers are always dealing with making the ferry at Port-aux-Basques. If you miss the boat, you’re looking at hours on the dock, waiting for the next one.

“I drove between here and Halifax so I know what they’re going through,” says Glen Dowden, a dispatcher with St. John’s East Can Transport Services. “We try to give them more time, but really, all you can do is pay them some hours. You can’t do much about the weather.”

Dowden, who won the 2003 Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association/Cancom Tracking Dispatcher of the Year award, says a sympathetic ear goes a long way in building trust with drivers.

“Anyone who’s just getting into dispatch should make sure that they really listen to the drivers. When there’s a problem, listen, try your best to sort it out, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Good communication has to work both ways, of course. Dowden says nothing makes his job tougher than finding out a driver is unavailable at the last minute.

“There’s nothing worse than being surprised, good or bad. Like when a driver unhooks a trailer that’s a complete mess — straps not rolled up, tarps not folded — or the trailer has a flat tire, and the driver doesn’t bother alerting anyone to the problems.

“Meanwhile,” Dowden goes on, “I’ve booked a loading time with a customer and called in a driver to load. When he arrives he finds this mess of a trailer. Now I have to call the customer to advise of the delay; and I’ve got an irate driver who has to wait around while the trailer gets fixed. Everything seems to snowball from there.”

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