It seems you can’t have one without the other. Drivers need dispatchers and dispatchers need drivers. However, that relationship can be hard to manage at best at times.
While I am a trained journalist, I spent the last year as a dispatcher for a major chemical hauling company so that my wife and I (she’s a driver still at the company) could grow closer and have more in common.
So, I’ve compiled a list of the top 8 things I wished drivers could see from my side of the transportation industry.
#8 Where is That Snooze Button?
The one thing that probably doomed my life as a dispatcher was the need for sleep. It didn’t help that I had a new baby son enter my life about halfway through my year-long experience. There are lots of emergencies in the trucking industry where dispatchers need to be notified no matter what time of day.
Yet the most annoying thing I dealt were the early morning calls after being up late with a baby and having to deal with things that a driver should have been able to deal with him/herself.
It was things like where is this trailer then saying there it is; wanting to know what they were doing clearly having ignored their paperwork or countless messages; and equipment issues that should have been discovered with a post-trip inspection. I just felt there was a tad too much hand-holding required from me for adults who should have known better. My job was hard enough, doing it on little to no sleep was nearly impossible some days, including 60-80 work weeks.
#7 Check and Respond to Messages, Please
No one likes to be ignored, maybe left alone, but not ignored. I have taken the time to makes sure each driver knew in plenty of time where and when they needed to be along with the product and directions. I’m did this to make sure drivers were getting work and kept moving.
It was frustrating being told by supervisors to send messages using PeopleNet (texting was frowned upon) and knowing full well that certain drivers don’t bother reading any messages. We tried to stick to our created dispatch plans but there were times when changes had to be made and it was brain-numbing to not know if the driver had gotten the correct information. Communication is the key to a good dispatch and the communication flow needs to go both ways.
#6 Speak Up, I’m Not a Mind Reader
Going along with the idea that I hate getting yelled at by anyone, especially drivers, but the reverse is true, I can’t help you if you don’t speak your mind. Despite enjoying mind-reading movies that come along, I don’t have the ability to read your mind, yet. If you made a mistake or if I made a mistake you need to speak your mind.
I can’t get better unless I know what I’ve done wrong or right. This also included time-off requests and types of assignments you prefer or hate going. Communication is the key to improving dispatcher-driver relations.
#5 Rock and a Hard Place, Seeing the Bigger Picture
Once again it boils down to communication and understanding. We live in kind of a me-first society and drivers can be self-centered at times, as can we all. Drivers need to understand our first loyalty is to the company and the customers. We need to fulfill those needs first. Which means that sometimes the dispatcher is the one hung out to dry and caught in the middle in a no-win situation between the drivers and the client after a mistake has been made.
I often thought, “I hate being the bad guy.” I did care about keeping the drivers moving and getting paid but that wasn’t always possible as we had periodical slow times. Life would be easier with understanding and a team attitude, but then we don’t live in a perfect world. It is important that both the driver and the dispatcher look at the bigger picture and understand the ups and downs of the business. And that dispatchers do try to be on the same team with the drivers.
#4 Plan Ahead
If I’m not somewhere 15 minutes early then I feel I’m late. You have to give yourself time to get there. There was nothing more irritating than a driver sleeping through an alarm or having an issue due to poor time management. It was embarrassing when having to explain to customers why a driver wasn’t where they should be.
I can be sympathetic to a flat tire, a regen issue, and especially weather factors. But poor planning drives this dispatcher crazy. I am the guy that finds you work and then you thank me by being late and making me look bad. I’m your dispatcher not your mother. This applies to letting us know about vacation requests, holiday wishes, and doctor appointments. The more time we have the easier it is to plan.
#3 Don’t Tell Me No!!!
No was the worst thing that I heard on the job. It made me feel helpless especially being a new dispatcher trying to work with seasoned drivers. In life and at work, we often have to deal with things or do something we don’t want to do. Drivers need to realize they signed a contract and agreed to do whatever was asked of them by the company.
I’m not heartless, I worked hard to learn drivers preferences and match them with the loads they desired. But every so often something would come up where I’d have to ask a driver to do that uncomfortable assignment. Most drivers after some cajoling and negotiating would agree to do it, but once in a while a guy would just say no. Saying no puts me into a bind and raised my blood pressure.
Drivers often don’t understand what it is like dispatching, it is glorified puzzle solving. And I hate it when after the puzzle is put together someone goes and kicks the table. Understand, you will have to do things you don’t want to, but negotiate, you don’t want to get a dispatcher bitter at you. I tirelessly tried to stay fair and not hold grudges, I say not everyone is capable of doing that. Yet, there were times drivers who had a habit of saying no didn’t get lucrative trips because they weren’t team players.
#2 My Name is Not Satan (or insert curse word here)
I can’t count anymore the number of times I was yelled at by a driver for one reason or another. I could handle the ones I felt I deserved when I had made a mistake. My wife is a driver and I know what she is like after a poor experience with a dispatcher. I take knowing that seriously and worked extremely hard to cater to both the customer, company, and the driver’s needs.
I was generally invested in work and I am a caring person and wanted to keep both the driver and my boss happy. It was never possible but I felt I came darn close. I worked hard at finding work for all the drivers all time. I came into the industry with a lot of education and communication skills but little knowledge of the trucking industry.
My advice for drivers is be more understanding of dispatchers, especially the new ones. There seemed to be a high turnover in dispatchers. Ultimately I worked for the shipping company, but I’m was also working in the driver’s best interests as well. I made sure to try and get a general idea and feel for each driver and tried to find work that was tailored to them. But don’t swear at me when I can’t keep you on your favorite run or ask you to deliver asphalt once in a while.
#1 Time is Money
I’m a friendly guy and I really do enjoy interacting with the drivers. I wanted to get to know their likes and dislikes and their lives outside of driving. However, there is a time and a place. I don’t mind a 2-3 minute chat and then moving onto other business but there are some drivers who never got the hint. I was warned about some drivers but it got to the point where I cringed when a driver called in or stepped into the office knowing it would set back my time needed to put together a plan and get the baby from the daycare before the doors closed.
It wasn’t because they were bad people, I liked all our drivers. It was that some people don’t have an off switch and don’t realize that I want to get home too and long chats get in the way of me getting my work done.
I realize each dispatcher-driver relationship is different but these are the things I learned and wished to pass on. Keep on Truckin’ safely.