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When it comes to a driver’s success throughout his or her career there will always be one factor that will stand out time and time again above all else…more important than the equipment you drive, more important than the freight you haul, and even more important than the company you were working for. The biggest factor in the level of success and happiness a driver will find will without a doubt be your dispatcher. Everything in trucking begins and ends right here….with dispatch.
Depending on whom you ask, dispatchers can go by many names. If you ask someone in middle management in a large company they may call them fleet managers, distribution specialists, driver managers, and other wonderful titles. They’ll smile and say how these people are the backbone of the company and their knowledge, dedication, expertise, and heartfelt appreciation for the hard work their drivers put in has made their company grow into the industry leader it is today.
If you ask experienced drivers about their dispatchers they may agree wholeheartedly with the middle manager’s view. Or they may describe them more along the lines of being the most, “idiotic son of a @&%(# I ever knew. That $&^@ is so %*#& $&^@ stupid I’d like to shove his $&$*@ in a $&@*# volcano!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met up with drivers on the road that had the same dispatcher that I had and we had completely opposite opinions of that person. Maybe I was getting 3200 miles per week and home every weekend while the other person was getting 1800 miles per week and only allowed to go home every other weekend.
Nobody will have more of an influence on your success as a driver than your dispatcher. He or she can be your best friend, worst enemy, or anything in between, sometimes all in the same DAY!!! Of course I can be that way too and without a doubt there have been a number of times I’ve brought that upon myself. But hey, I’m not on trial here so get off my back!! No, seriously though you will find out that you control your own destiny to a very large extent. Pretty soon I’ll show you how.
For now, let’s start with what exactly your dispatcher does. A dispatcher’s duties will vary greatly from company to company. In a smaller company a dispatcher will have a lot more control and authority than in a larger company, generally speaking of course. First and foremost though your dispatcher will be the number one day to day contact point you will have with your company. Almost every single time you call or message your company it will be directed to your dispatcher. You will deal directly with each other one on one but you will not be the only driver your dispatcher will be handling. He or she will have anywhere from 5 to 60 different drivers on their “board”. A dispatcher’s board is simply the group of drivers he/she is handling at any given time. If someone else’s dispatcher calls in sick you may find that your dispatcher will have to cover his or her board that day and it will likely take you longer to get replies to your messages.
Your dispatcher’s first duty is to exchange information with you. All of your load information will be given to you by your dispatcher. Any questions, problems, or concerns you have will be directed back to him or her. Basically all of your normal, everyday communication with your company will be with dispatch. At times you will need someone with more authority or you may have an issue with you dispatcher personally and you need to talk with someone higher up. We’ll cover those things in a little while.
Dispatchers usually have the lowest level of authority within the company’s office. Some dispatchers will also handle the “load planning” which means deciding which drivers get which loads each day. Often times in smaller companies the dispatcher will have this authority. In larger companies they may or may not. Often times a larger company will have a dedicated group of people, we’ll call them “load planners” that decide which drivers get which loads but the information is actually given to the driver by the dispatcher, not the load planner. I have worked within both systems and always found that the more authority my dispatcher had the better things went for me. Here’s why:
Since you deal with your dispatcher directly day in and day out, nobody in your company knows you better. Your dispatcher knows how many miles you like to get each week, what areas of the country you like to run, how hard working and reliable you are, how flexible you are, whether or not you’ll cheat on your logbook, how often you like to be home, what types of loads and how many miles you’ve been getting lately, and so on. If there is a load planner distributing the loads, that load planner likely doesn’t know you or much of anything about you. Just like a dispatcher will have a group of drivers on his or her board, a load planner will likely have either a region of the country or a group of several different dispatchers that he or she is responsible for handling. I’ll give you an example of how this can work.
Say you are running regional and getting home every weekend. You like at least 2500 miles per week, you work hard, you’re reliable, you’ve been with the company for five years, and you have a wife and three kids at home. On Monday load planner A gives you a 300 mile load from New Jersey to Pennsylvania for Tuesday. Now, on Tuesday you’re in load planner B’s region and you get a 200 mile run from western PA to Baltimore, MD for Wednesday delivery. Now, on Wednesday you are in load planner C’s region and you get a 180 mile run back into New Jersey. If you normally shoot for 2500 miles per week and you’re running 5 days and home weekends, then you’re averaging about 500 miles per day normally. Well, here you are on sitting back in New Jersey on Thursday morning with only 680 miserable miles and you’re supposed to be home in another day or two. There is no chance whatsoever you’re going to have a good week this week. You may only get half the miles you were hoping for. Why did this happen? Why didn’t you’re dispatcher do anything about it?
See, in this type of system the dispatcher has less authority than the load planners. If a load planner says, “this is the way it is” then that’s the way it is. Your dispatcher can not overrule the load planner. Now a good dispatcher who really cares about their drivers will beg and plead with the load planners to get you the best freight possible. The office in this type of system is in a constant state of lobbying. Deals are being made and compromises being sought day and night. But the problem is that the load planners often times don’t really care. It’s not THEIR drivers who are unhappy, it’s the dispatcher’s drivers. Besides, their job is to move the freight efficiently within their region, not to move it in a way that makes every driver happy. Once they move a particular driver out of their region it’s not their problem anymore. Believe me I’m not making this stuff up. I’ve lived it. There’s a reason that most companies have locks on the doors and bullet proof glass separating the drivers from the dispatchers and load planners. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.
I once worked for a company that three months prior had a driver pull into the terminal, walk into the dispatcher’s office, and shoot his dispatcher in the back of the head. Dead. The driver walked back out, sat in his truck, and waited for the police to come get him. Life in prison. Every word of it is true. When I say your dispatcher can make you mad sometimes, I mean REALLY mad sometimes. No joke.
Brett R. Aquila is a 15-year veteran of America’s highways, logging over 1.5 million safe miles. He is trying to help Newbie truck drivers to be successful in their trade, through a dose of reality. Please visit www.truckingtruth.com for more information.
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