by Kim Baerg —
Life as a dispatcher — it's busy.
Some small, one-man tow truck operators do not need dispatchers, but sometimes wish they had one. Everyone else in the towing industry cannot operate their businesses without them.
Call-takers, office staff, wives, kids, dispatchers — from the large auto clubs down to the small-town service stations, we all have them. Whether they answer the phone on the wall or have the newest technologies for taking calls, they are all the first contact with the potential customer. They have to take the calls, keep accurate records, and send the right truck and operator to the scene. They listen to the customer and often problem solve while trying to have empathy — all the while still figuring out how to get paid. After all, no payment soon leads to no job.
Once a dispatcher has satisfied a customer with what they want, and when they want it, they then get to pick from a list of drivers to give the call to. Gone are the old days when everyone did everything. That is rare to find, and if you have those operators, you are very lucky.
For example, here is the difficulty: John cannot do unlocks, Bob has no winching experience, Bill does not “like” tire changes, Joe has a bad back, Kurt does not “do” paperwork, and the list goes on and on. As I tell the drivers, my motto is simple: “the driver that is easiest to dispatch is going to get the most calls.” The phrase “easiest to dispatch” can mean a lot of things, like who knows the area, who gets customer kudos, who handles the entire call by themselves, and who gets paid efficiently. They need to be confident with all road conditions, know the company polices, and basically have our back as we have theirs.
I recently told a new hire to our dispatch team, if you are not scared and stressed-out most days, you do not care enough to have this job. We go home and we worry. We worry whether our drivers got home safe, whether the calls we set up went smoothly, and what new disasters tomorrow will bring. We are not like waitresses or retail workers, where the customers have money and plans to purchase. Our customers, in most cases, have had something bad happen to them — from a death to loss of their vacation plans, and everything in between. One of their most prized possessions has had a problem. It will generally cost them time and money, neither of which they may have at the time of the call.
“Often the job comes with an impound yard. That is a whole new set of special customers.”
The dispatcher’s job is to secure the calls, to help the team of drivers get the jobs done safely and professionally, and to get them home to their families. It is very much team work. Without each person on the team — managers, traffic controllers, shop guys, office staff, tow truck operators, and the dispatchers — each day would be a disaster with nothing getting accomplished.
“The driver that is easiest to dispatch is going to get the most calls.”
Often the job comes with an impound yard. That is a whole new set of special customers. Dispatchers are often verbally abused and threatened with physical harm, all because the customers think they are the only ones the police have done wrong by. Yup, we have heard every excuse and lie in the book. Recently, an 80-year-old lady threatened to meet me on the street and told me she was going to beat me up. Her husband got her vehicle seized in our impound yard, and I actually had the nerve to charge her daily storage on her vehicle. Unheard of! (Not!). She was mad! When she did come to get her vehicle, she said she was sick because I had caused her a heart attack. She then asked if I was going to be at the yard — not a chance, lady. Some days, you have to see the humour in it all.
“Some days, you have to see the humour in it all.”
Dispatchers have to manage time. Most of the time, time itself is not our friend. Law enforcement, auto clubs, and impatient customers have a lot of demands on PTAs. Not all drivers feel the sense of urgency that the rest of us do. The area might be experiencing some extreme weather conditions, and the call centre could have backed-up calls for hours. How do we keep everyone happy? There are customers that need to be looked after, drivers who do not want to wait, and law enforcement and accidents that require life-saving efforts. Many situations need expedited service, and time is always of the essence. Actually, all of these things make our dispatching job what it is. It is rewarding; it is challenging; it sharpens your mind; it develops a sense of teamwork; it improves your problem solving skills, and it forces you to think outside the box. I never thought that 20 years later I would still be at it, or still love each day with the many challenges that come with being a tow company dispatcher.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Tow Canada.