Dispatching – Five Golden Rules

I thought I would focus this month on Dispatchers, the group of individuals who are either the most loved or the most despised in most trucking companies. I myself have been a dispatcher; anybody who starts a trucking company from the ground up, usually ends up performing almost all of the jobs in the company until some critical mass has been reached and you find that you are required to step back and play more of an administrative role. As with anything else in life, there were elements of the dispatcher’s job that I loved, there were parts I absolutely hated and there were ground rules that had to be followed.

I always believed that if you had 40 loads and 40 trucks to move in a day, and everything is in the right spot, it could be dispatched by anyone in the office. But if you have 50 loads and 40 trucks, you will need a good dispatcher. It is an enormously gratifying feeling of accomplishment when confronted with copious amounts of freight to move, and a limited amount of trucks to move it on, that at the end of the day it is all covered and everyone and everything is under control. Trust me, it can be like a complicated game of chess.

The relationship between dispatcher and driver is as complicated as any relationship in this world. Dr. Phil would go nuts trying to get all the bugs out of this relationship as it is often a nonstop game of push and pull. The driver always wants to know three moves in advance where they are going to be sent and what the freight is. The dispatcher is trying to not say too much to the driver for fear that the next load falls through and they will be accused of diabolical gamesmanship, just to get the last load moved. This is a perfect example of being between a rock and a hard place. The good news is that there are some simple rules that, if followed, can make the relationship work for both party’s benefit.

Rule One is Support of the Dispatcher

Whoever is doing the hiring must know that first and foremost the foundation of the driver/dispatcher relationship must be solid. This is accomplished by knowing what each party’s expectations are of each other. If you are a company that specializes in 2-3,000 mile turns and the driver your company is hiring must be home every weekend to get their kids, guess what, this is not going to work. Spell out in writing exactly what you expect of the driver including: notice of time off needed, any particulars of the freight that needs to be discussed, check-in requirements, availability for work etc. Again, get it in writing; your dispatchers need this information to ensure there is a successful relationship!

Rule Two is Have the Driver Spell Out Exactly What Their Expectations Are

The driver might need to have every weekend off for family issues, they might have an upcoming series of professional appointments that need to be made, they might suggest that they expect to be dealt with respect. They might say that they need to drive 10,000 miles a month to be successful. Whatever the individual’s expectations are, the dispatcher must review them and make sure that you can accommodate them, because, if the expectations of the individual cannot be met, you are going to have an ongoing issue with this person until they finally quit or you fire them. Get it in writing, signed off by both parties and review it each pay period!

Rule Three is to Be Honest, All the Time!

This might seem like a no brainer, but it is not for everyone. If you as a dispatcher decide it would be easier for you to B.S. a little to a driver to get an extra load covered, you are playing with fire and are likely to be looking for a new career shortly. Integrity and honesty must be the cornerstone of your relationship with your drivers and if you get caught just once in a little white lie, you are done. This information will fly though the driver fraternity quicker than grass through a goose. You will not be trusted from then on and when you do need that favor because you are really, really stuck to have a load delivered, forget it – I’m outta here!

Rule Four is Be Consistent with Everyone!

The last thing a dispatcher needs is for any of his drivers to think that the dispatcher is giving some other driver preferential treatment. Spread the sweet with the sour evenly throughout all your drivers. Do not favor any driver more than another on anything. If you do, this will cause dissension and mistrust and when you are called on it (and you probably will be), you are done. Every driver or Owner Operator who has decided to spend their career at your company and ends up on your board deserves every opportunity you can grant them to be successful. Always remember this and you will be fine.

Rule Five is Never Talk Down to a Driver or Coworker!

This one gets under my skin; everyone on this planet deserves the right to be dealt with respectfully. Period! I was at a company not long ago and they had a dispatcher that the drivers hated. All of them despise this person but the customers loved this individual. What a crock. This person, who has never driven before, constantly talked down to his drivers. I do not have a problem with a dispatcher who has not been on the road, but before you talk down to a driver, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. I have a million safe miles under my belt, and I am proud of that fact. I also know that driving a truck can be a lonely lifestyle. I know what it’s like not to be available when things go sideways at home and you are two days away; to have just left a receiver who really didn’t want what you had to deliver and for some reason felt that it was his job to make you aware of his problems, and all you want to do is get to your backhaul and get home etc. So, then I talk to the dispatcher and this dispatcher is going to talk down to me? I do not think so, not this cat. No how – no way. I am not taking that crap from anyone!

At the end of the day, this is a pressure-packed business and unfortunately, people do not always show their best colors when they are under stress. Now add in the pressure of COVID-19 and quite often, emotions rather than common sense rule the day. Deep breaths and an empathetic approach to problem-solving are two qualities each side of this situation should practice and with great effort, all things will be successful.

Safe trucking.

Ray J. Haight

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.