MARCH LCT Publisher's Page: Social media marketing done right can gain you more customers for a lifetime.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — What would you do with an elephant? Not many of us have ever considered what we would do if we were handed the leash of that massive mammal. But that’s just the question Jeff Greene, owner of Greene Classic Limousine in Atlanta, asks when interviewing potential dispatch candidates. So what does holding a leash attached to an elephant have to do with getting a dispatch job?
“How they answer the question will tell a lot about a candidate,” Greene says. “The answer [uses] your analytical skills and makes you think through a process. Do you calmly go through a process or do you scream and run? These are the same skills you need to be a good dispatcher.”
Hiring procedures was an important topic among panelists at the LCT Show East session on dispatching. Joe Ironi, owner of Global Alliance Worldwide Chauffeured Services in Toronto, believes that good dispatchers have similar personalities.
“They are calm under pressure,” Ironi says. “They aren’t always the nicest guys. They are like air traffic controllers who don’t fluster easily. They know how to assess and deal with situations.”
Danny Bacher, owner of Topper Worldwide in Atlanta, looks for people who have had experience dispatching in other industries such as freight and shipping. “I look for dispatchers who have previous dispatching experience, not necessarily in this industry but in other logistical industries,” he says.
Finding Dispatch Candidates
Finding a good dispatch candidate takes more than running an ad on the local job boards. Bacher, Ironi and Greene all agree that law enforcement officers and firemen work well as dispatchers. “Law enforcement personnel are great [because] they have been put in stressful situations and have been given stress training,” says Greene, a former police officer.
Bacher suggests thinking out of the box. “We advertise on the DOT [Department of Transportation] website that we are looking for dispatchers to get people from the trucking and freight industries. Tow truck operators and others who work with the DOT [use] the site.”
Experienced chauffeurs also can become good dispatchers, Greene says. “Chauffeurs already know the area and how you operate so if they have the right personality, they may be good to train in this role. In our office, all chauffeurs sit in dispatch and the same with dispatchers; they must be trained as a chauffeur.”
Training someone to dispatch is a long process. If they are new to the job, it can take two to three years before that dispatcher is completely trained, Ironi says. “You can’t just plop a person in a dispatch position and expect success. Dispatchers have to get to know a lot of chauffeur personalities. There are a lot of moving parts. They also need to be able to deal with clients. This takes time and a great deal of exposure.”
Ironi believes that within the first three months of the job an employer will know if the candidate has what it takes to be a good dispatcher. “We all have the habit of holding on to the wrong people too long. Sometimes it is better to let them go and be forced to find someone else.”
“We have worked with our software company to set up training software,” Bacher says. “We can populate the grid just like it was real life and they can do the work as if it were live.”
Greene suggests making the dispatcher train as a reservationist first. “Our dispatchers must spend 30 days in reservations. They must be able to take reservations and understand pricing.”
Ironi adds you should have good procedure manuals. “We made our own but there are companies that will come in and do them for you.”
Defining The Dispatch Job
Fully understanding the dispatcher’s job will make it easier for you to find the right candidate. A dispatcher makes sure the correct vehicle is at the correct location before the required pick-up time.
“Part of it though is matching the right chauffeur with the right job,” Ironi says. Take the music industry as an example. We have chauffeurs who are great for these folks but not as good for the corporate types. We look to see if they can handle the VIP and the assignments. Good dispatchers know how to do this.”
The chauffeured transportation business has some of the toughest logistics in the world, including bad weather, delayed flights and mechanical issues, Ironi says. “We need to give the dispatchers the best tools available to do their jobs. Good dispatchers know when to say, ‘I need help,’ if it is needed.”
Roles of Dispatchers
As your business grows and you begin to have multiple dispatchers watching your board, breaking down the responsibilities for each dispatcher depends on your individual book of business.
“I have dispatch one, two, and three,” Greene says. “Each has a different role. Seat one is concerned with coverage. Seat two is statuses (15 minutes before) and seat three makes sure that all trips one hour ahead are covered.”
“We take out-of-town entirely out of dispatch,” Ironi says. “They call ahead and get phone numbers etc. The only difference is the overnight. They must be able to handle the out of town also. Our main dispatch is watching the board while our second seat is dealing in issues and incidents. We buy our dispatchers dinner when they are able to prevent an incident or identify a potential problem.”
Filling the Night Slot
Getting coverage for the graveyard shift can be a challenge. These dispatchers are often the only ones working for you during that time slot. They must be able to fill multiple roles while still handling their dispatch responsibilities.
"In a lot of companies the night dispatch has no clue what they are talking about,” Ironi says. “This is the worst possible thing a company can do. Night dispatch should be the best dispatcher you have because he often operates on his own. He needs to know every aspect of the company. He needs to be able to deal with the international farm outs on the overnight. In other industries, the graveyard shift is where you put your castaways. With our industry, the most experienced person should be the one you put in the overnight shift. They can close trips, understand the credit holds, and communicate with global affiliates. Overnight dispatch needs to be the sharpest tool in the shed. No owner wants that 1 a.m. call.”
Greene puts the people who have been with his company the longest in their overnight shift. “They need to be completely entrusted. They should be cross-trained in all aspects of the business.”
For Bacher, the overnight shift is more than just dispatching. “He handles overnight events, often managing manifests. We have extended our shifts so that they tighten up and overlap the overnight shift. Never put your least experienced person in the overnight dispatch position. If your overnight people do a great job, it is a great reflection on you and your company. Feedback about the overnight dispatch is crucial.”
Knowing When to Let One Go
No owner wants to be at the mercy of employees. In the dispatch role, proper staffing is crucial to your success but filling that position is always challenging. “You don’t want to be put in a position that you are afraid to fire someone,” Ironi says.
Bacher adds, “You never want employees to feel that they have the control. It is important to cross train if only to cover yourself short term should you need to let someone go. If you can afford to hire an extra person to work in dispatch, you should.”
Staffing the Dispatch Office
There is no magic formula for when you need to add staff in dispatch. “I have found that when errors occur it is always a communications breakdown,” Greene says. “There is no super-secret formula. You need to staff to make sure it goes smoothly.”
Ironi stays flexible by having one main dispatcher and two or three assistants with different roles.
So what would you do with the elephant? If you are still calling the zoo to take him then you probably shouldn’t be in dispatch. Consider this: Build a pen in the front of your office. Create a banner for the sides of the elephant promoting your business. Call a local farmer and ask if he can use the waste for fertilizer and call the local radio and TV stations and let them know how you are going green with the elephant promotion. Hire the dispatcher candidate who comes up with that clever answer.
MARCH LCT Publisher's Page: Social media marketing done right can gain you more customers for a lifetime.
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