Operations

Don’t Let Your Chauffeurs Wake Up On Their Own

Richard Ramis
Posted on November 24, 2017

Richard Ramis of AYS Dispatch advises talking to your drivers or licensed operators about waking up on time is not a trust issue with them personally, but a safeguard for finding alternate coverage.
Richard Ramis of AYS Dispatch advises talking to your drivers or licensed operators about waking up on time is not a trust issue with them personally, but a safeguard for finding alternate coverage.
CHICAGO -- Seasoned transportation providers all know there are many elements between booking and billing vital to success. One seemingly routine component I never realized played a major role in daily operations involves the wake up process for chauffeurs and drivers. That would include action plans, fail-safe mechanisms, and dynamic protocols, all contributing to what I call “wake up science.”

In Chicago, just west of Wrigley field, I run AYS Dispatch (http://aysdispatch.com), a small, non-descript office operating 24/7 with a staff of 11 dispatch/operators servicing ground transportation companies in 11 states. Here you see the work of a few dispatchers and their techniques in handling a mind boggling 10,000 wake ups monthly.

Formed in 1989, AYS Dispatch is believed to be the oldest answering service in the country devoted to ground transportation providers. Although this service, like their competitors, attempt to emulate the sound, feel, and performance of their clientele, the wake up is the core of what we do.

I had always assumed it was the driver’s obligation to wake up, no different than any other employee going to work or a student going to school. If it’s the driver’s obligation, and if the driver pawns off the responsibility to his $18 alarm clock, then you just gambled your company reputation and a valued client for $18.

We do not perform wake up calls. In fact, we try not to use that term. It demeans professional drivers. When we call a driver we will say, “Good morning, just double checking.” By confirming the driver is awake, the chance of a service failure drops dramatically. After that, every instance of contact only further decreases the risk. After all these years, I can’t prove a client lost a major account over one sleeper, but I can prove a sleeper incident has been the final straw in losing accounts numerous times.

Not all wake ups calls are routine outbound calls. About 25% of our drivers will call in to cancel their calls. Some do it so we do not bother their families or significant others, while some call in because they will be in the shower when the call is due. Drivers have the option of texting their wake status, emailing, calling, or voicing on Nextel radio. We even have many clients having us wake their passengers as a value added service.

An increasing percentage of drivers will call in or have their office dispatcher send us custom wake up times. Although they still may call to cancel, these times are usually geographically coordinated from either the distance to first order, or the travel time to get a car, but can vary based on any task needing to be done.

By confirming the driver is awake, the chance of a service failure drops dramatically. After that, every instance of contact only further decreases the risk.
By confirming the driver is awake, the chance of a service failure drops dramatically. After that, every instance of contact only further decreases the risk.
Rise & Shiner Plans

A popular wake scenario we perform is what we refer to as “The Baby Sitter,” where a driver for example has a 6:18 am inbound at EWR from LAX, lives only 15 minutes away, and the driver or office will advise we should call him 30 minutes before arrival. In this case we never stop watching the flight, and the driver receives maximum rest.

First, we check for proper departure/arrival time and date compared to the reservation. For every order, once confirmed, we monitor the aircraft until departure.

The next phase is an intervallic monitoring every 15-30 minutes during most of the flight. During the last portion of the flight, we may slightly adjust after every waypoint to take jet stream into consideration.

Another common wake is the “Combo,” when the wake up coincides with a directive. The call is highlighted so when contact is made we will then give the message or confirm they received one electronically while they slept. Typically these include time changes to assigned orders, new reservations being assigned, vehicle designation changes, or confirming booker specific requests such as signage, water, newspaper, and/or car seats needed.

A common complex combination, called the “What If?” scenario, occurs when we have to change a directive based on the result of another action. For example, an office when closing may say a passenger due in this evening at ORD from SFO has a severely delayed flight and may cancel, so the passenger is trying to switch flights to arrive between 5:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. If earlier, give to Car #1 who is heading to the airport with an outbound, or if it arrives later, give it to Car #2, or even the morning dispatcher.

Another possible version of the same scenario would be if multiple chauffeurs with an outbound are heading to ORD with similar ETAs. We will advise all of them to arrive to the first pickup a little earlier; if they clear first, they can take the inbound. Routine rotation: First come, first served.

When an early morning order changes overnight, a quiet calm night can suddenly leave you scrambling to cover orders if there are no safeguards in place. Most providers have a separate schedule for on-call drivers, that when needed, can be the exact tool to get the job done. Some even authorize us to contact certain sub-contractors or authorized national operators.

No Batting A Thousand
Despite all possible preparation, nothing can safeguard against a cellphone being turned off, a business line continuously ringing, going to voicemail/message, a cellular provider going down, power outages, or even the eventual VoIP or local ISP issues we all experience.

Where the challenge gets frustrating is the scores of drivers who sleep with phones off, wake up at a pre-planned time, and call in, only to find out we have been trying to reach them for over an hour to let them know the order cancelled, but had a new order for them that was 20 minutes earlier. In that situation, you have to give it to someone else.

These situations happen almost weekly, where time critical directives need to be delivered to someone who is unreachable and the applicable window of notification has expired. One of our forward thinking clients actually included a clause in their driver and farm out agreement where one must have their phone or device on three hours before each order. The real bottom line is the wake is timed to allow the house to cover the order if necessary.

AYS dispatchers primarily work late second shift, all third shift, and partial early AM shifts. (photos courtesy of Richard Ramis)
AYS dispatchers primarily work late second shift, all third shift, and partial early AM shifts. (photos courtesy of Richard Ramis)

No Excuses
There are no valid reasons for any driver or provider to not have a 24/7 open line of communication.

I believe every driver should have at least two cell phones of different make and model on differing cellular services not reliant on the same power source to charge at night. Even then it seems maybe the next big 80s remake should be the pager.

As for providers, not only should your office be wired with multiple ISPs, separate VoIP carriers, and/or good old copper wired POTS, vehicles should have more than one form of GPS. The overall idea of crisis management cannot accurately be done without secondary redundancies.

Talking to your drivers or licensed operators about it is not a trust issue with them personally, but a safeguard for finding alternate coverage. We encourage all operators to endorse these practices and recommend advising your affiliates to adhere to these guidelines. Maybe a simple recommendation from a colleague is all it takes for some small operation to take itself to the next level.

This brings us to our chicken or egg question: When to notify drivers of changes in schedule. If all drivers were always reachable, there would be no issue, but all drivers think and react differently. A few clients insist changes be delivered to drivers as they come in. We always try to act in the driver’s best welfare since no one wants to wake a driver just to put him back to sleep. Also, mid-sleep messages are not 100% guaranteed to be retained by people awoken from a sound sleep.

The key is balance, getting to know the drivers, understanding their modus operandi, and then do what is best for them individually.

Daylight Savings Dangers
Every year, daylight savings time also proves extremely challenging at both instances of change. We simply have a small percentage of drivers/passengers that just don’t get it; even passengers can add to the confusion. The fall change back an hour is inherently less risky, since the worst that can happen is a driver wakes up or arrives an hour early, whereas in the spring forward losing sleep is dreaded among many.

Of course, it’s not that easy for us operating in various states in all contiguous time zones of the U.S. Each seasonal variation offers its own unique puzzles. On those days, we dedicate a dispatcher to being a time translator for wakeups, which are all done in Central Time, and adjust as we approach 2 a.m. in four time zones.
On a side note, every company should review their orders days before you ‘fall back’ this Nov. 5, and clarify or reschedule orders between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. to avoid confusion. There’s nothing worse than a driver showing up at 1:45 am for a 2 a.m. only to have the clock jump back to 1 a.m. just minutes later. On March 11 2018, don’t book anything in the 2 a.m. hour; it will literally not exist that day.

No Phone Home
The big question is what happens when the driver does not answer the phone?

We deploy our action plans as the clock starts ticking. First is confirmation of the wakeup time based on the order. Next we reference GPS to see the vehicles status. After that, we try backup phone numbers until exhausting all options, and at that point we send an SMS message to their cell, email them, use Nextel if available, just about anything we can. We even once messaged a driver’s teenage son on Facebook and had him wake up his dad, and it worked. If all those fail, then we reach out to a manager-on-duty for assistance. Once we contact said driver, we always ask about a back-up number or an emergency contact to reach in case the issues happen again.

Typically, we eventually reach 99% of all our wake ups daily, and those outliers who do not answer frequently do not last long.

We can’t be all things to all people. I believe it’s hard enough for operators to get 100% out of their own in-house staff. If you think you can replace or augment them during prime times for 20 cents on the retail dollar, you are fooling yourself.

With a few exceptions, we primarily operate late second shift, all third shift, and partial early AM shifts.
During this time of the night, we act not as your agent, but as a reminder to your clients that although they can use technology, book online, by email, or by phone, if they need the friendly interaction of a live customer service agent dedicated to their sole needs in the middle of the night, we’re always here.

As for the most dreaded wake-ups? Well, we have about a dozen drivers who wear sleep apnea masks.

Richard Ramis of AYS Dispatch (http://aysdispatch.com) in Chicago was a writer for LCT Magazine from 1983 to 1988.

Related Topics: chauffeur behavior, dispatching, driver behavior, employee management, How To, Richard Ramis, time management, wake science

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