Okay. Let’s start this out by explaining something to my non-trucking readers. You drivers out there can zone out for a second. As if you weren’t doing that already.[box]Listen to the audio version above and subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
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When you drive a satellite-equipped truck, here’s the way the dispatching process is supposed to work:
- Your satellite unit beeps at you.
- If your company believes you to be incapable of reading a short message and hitting a few keys while you’re driving, then you pull over. If they actually treat you like a professional, you can do the remaining steps while you drive.
- You examine your load information, which includes a load number, the shipper and receiver, their addresses (and sometimes phone number), the pick up and delivery times, possibly some fuel stop and/or routing information, and any additional information you might need, such as pickup and delivery numbers, weights, piece counts, etc.
- If everything you need is included in the message, and you have the hours to run the load, you respond with a canned message that says you got the info and you accept the load.
- You pick up and deliver on time.
- You wait for the next beep.
That’s the way it works if you work for a normal company. Now I swear I’m not going to start another whine-fest, but I’ve got to explain what happened this morning to get to my point.
I had set my PTA (Projected Time Available) for 1:00 p.m. So naturally, I get a beep at 10:30 a.m. I’m not exactly shocked about this. The message says to call in for a “verbal.”
As long as I can remember, there has always been a need for verbal dispatches. Maybe the load is too complicated for a satellite message. Maybe it requires special instructions, like you have to go to a different location to weigh your empty tractor-trailer before you go into the shipper. Maybe it’s a high-value load. It could be a lot of different things. These loads are fine for verbals. They’re actually appreciated.
However, lately, nearly every load I get requires a verbal dispatch. I don’t know why and according to every one I talk to, they don’t know either. Basically, everyone is just repeating something that someone else has already said, which just so happens to be the exact same information that is included in the satellite dispatch. Take this morning for example.
I call in and my dispatcher tells me where and when the load picks up and delivers, including the extra stop. She tells me to call another phone number. I call that number and the woman tells me the EXACT same information. Then that woman tells me that I need to call yet another number because there is 19 pounds of HazMat on board.
Okay. First off, 19 pounds isn’t even a reportable quantity. It still has to be listed on the Bill of Lading, but it doesn’t require any other special handling. Secondly, I’ve been hauling HazMat since 1997, so do I really need to be told to keep the papers in the side door or on the seat when I’m not in the vehicle? Thirdly, I’ve been woken up early and told to call three different people. Lastly, I think the stupid beep interrupted an especially interesting dream. I’m assuming that because I woke up grumpy, and frankly, that’s just not like me. Unlike The Evil Overlord and the wrath of her mornings, I usually wake up in a decent mood. Not today. Which brings me back around to the point. Yes, finally. Hush.
When I called the HazMat guy, I said these exact words: “Hi. This is truck #### calling in for a HazMat verbal, because clearly I haven’t learned how to do HazMat loads in the 13 years I’ve had my HazMat endorsement.” I admit that it was dripping with sarcasm, but it was in no way said with a mean or violent tone. I’d be willing to bet that if he would’ve laughed, I would have too. But that was not to be.
His response? “Do you have a problem.” I said,”Well, yes. This does seem a bit ridiculous, don’t you think?” His reply? “I can always route you to a terminal if you’d like to turn your truck in.” After a moment’s pause of disbelief, I said, “Wow. This company sure has changed for the worse.”
Now I realize that he didn’t deserve my sarcasm, but I didn’t deserve that kind of threat either. That’s like giving someone a swift kick in the nuts when they only gave you a friendly arm punch. I think he realized that immediately, because he started explaining that he had a job to do, and that he didn’t make the policies. I apologized for the sarcasm, but again explained to him that this kind of nitpicking does nothing to make us drivers feel like the professionals that they claim us to be.
And now to my point. Yes, I know. It’s about freakin’ time. You know, I’m fully aware that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I just prefer to get from point A to point B like an alcoholic wastoid trying to walk a white line.
I immediately called my dispatcher to tell her what happened. I explained to her what I had said and how I had said it. Knowing me fairly well, the sarcasm bit didn’t surprise her much. Still, she said that the HazMat guy shouldn’t have said that to me. She said she was going to turn him in, but I asked her to give the guy a break. Who knows what kind of day he was having, and our conversation had ended on a friendlier tone. I suppose my forgiving nature might have had something to do with some unnecessary sarcasm, too.
After that, I went into a mini rant about how things are changing at this company and where I thought the company was heading if they continued to treat experienced drivers like 4th graders. Although she has heard similar rants from me before, she calmly listened, agreed with certain points, and disagreed with other points. By the end of it all, we were laughing as usual. And that, my friends is the key, and the point B at the other end of my oddly shaped line.
Sure, a dispatcher needs to know what they are doing. They need to know the rules. They need to try to fight to get you pulled off the crappy loads. They need to try to get you home when you requested. But that’s not what makes a great dispatcher. First and foremost, they need to have the ability to listen, understand, and remain calm.
- When the person on the other end of the line is having a hissy fit, they need to understand that life on the road isn’t a picnic. The Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” It’s true. When she’s calm, it always calms me down. If a dispatcher gets combative back at you, it will only cause things to escalate. My dispatcher is always calm. Even when she’s having a rough day, she always manages to stay cool with me.
- When you call to inquire why you only got 1500 miles last week, they need to understand that you’re not staying away from your family for weeks at a time, just so you can sit at a truck stop while you wait on a load. Not to mention, poor miles make them look bad. My dispatcher comprehends this.
- When you call complaining about some policy that you both know will never be changed, they need to realize that you just need to blow off some steam. My dispatcher always has an open ear.
- When you get woken up, causing you to cop an attitude at them or someone else, they need to understand that a trucker’s schedule is as wonky as SpongeBob on a Peyote vision quest. My dispatcher understands that I don’t hold the same hours as she does. She always apologizes when she has to wake me up to pass down the holy orders from the trucking gods.
Now, I fully understand that truckers haven’t cornered the market on crappy days. I have no doubt that working in an office must really suck. I know that dispatchers have bad days too. But what a good dispatcher must realize, is that at the end of the day, they get to go home and relax, while we’re stuck in our truck waiting for the next beep and our next idiotic verbal dispatch. And we’ve still got a week-and-a-half before we’ll see our family again.
So drivers everywhere, if you’ve got a good dispatcher, hang onto them. Tell them you appreciate the fact that they understand your life on the road. Maybe even get them a gift card this Christmas.
If you’ve got a crappy dispatcher, ask for a new one. And if you can’t seem to get rid of them, I’ll be barreling down I-29 tomorrow. Just bring them out and shove them into my path. That oughta do the trick.
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Photo by mboperator via Flickr