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Dispatcher’s cheat sheet to create a better workflow and help with driver retention

Dispatcher’s cheat sheet to create a better workflow and help with driver retention

In the trucking industry, we talk a lot about the driver retention problem and potential ways to solve it, but one aspect not often discussed is the key role that dispatchers can play in this important issue.

The dispatcher shapes the driver’s experience, and therefore can significantly improve it. According to a study by Stay Metrics, high dispatcher satisfaction is associated with 16 percent lower early driver turnover.

This is why we’ve put together a cheat sheet for dispatchers to help guide decision-making and simplify complicated workflows. This can create a more seamless and less stressful experience for both dispatchers and drivers.

1. Go for a ride

First and foremost, the key to building a more streamlined workflow is to understand what it’s really like to be a truck driver. I’ve spoken to many drivers throughout my time writing about trucking, and each time, without fail, I learn something new about their job. There is much more to it than simply getting from point A to point B, and as an outsider, it’s impossible to really understand all of the variables that drivers must deal with in their work.

Consequently, as a dispatcher, you must learn those variables if you are going to effectively manage drivers. When hired as a dispatcher, try to get in the truck with a driver while onboarding. Talk to the fleet manager or see if you can jump in the cab on one of the shorter trips. This experience will enhance your ability to schedule and manage drivers with greater understanding–keeping your drivers happy and on the road.

This increased awareness of the challenges drivers face will also help you protect your drivers. On the road, accidents happen, and more often than not it’s not your truck driver’s fault. Unfortunately, all too often, it’s the truck driver that gets blamed.

By experiencing life on the road first hand, you’ll have more empathy for drivers and a better ability to protect them when accidents occur. Here at KeepTruckin, we can make this important task even simpler.

Tip: We created our road-facing Smart Dashcam that easily integrates with your KeepTruckin ELD and collects exonerating evidence so that your drivers don’t get blamed. Your drivers will thank you for it!

2. Get to know your drivers

Another important, and often overlooked, step in creating an effective workflow is to get to know the drivers. Each driver brings his or her personal preferences and professional goals. Learning these will serve you in two ways:

  1. You will better understand how to manage a specific driver’s loads to keep him or her happy. And, as you can imagine, a happy driver is more likely to keep truckin’.  
  2. You will also form a good working relationship with each driver so that when unexpected issues inevitably arise, you will be able to better work together towards a solution without unnecessary tension.

3. Communicate (and then communicate some more)

Consistently checking in on your drivers and customers enables you to more quickly resolve issues that come up–helping drivers work effectively and without undue stress.

  • Establish communication processes, and stick to them. Set specific times to communicate new jobs, to check in and to confirm details.
  • Use a centralized system to document all relevant information. Drivers should always know where to go to find any information they need to complete their job. All details should appear in written form rather than simply relying on verbal communication.
  • Confirm details before every job. Never assume all details have been received and understood. A simple confirmation before each job can prevent time-consuming and frustrating errors.

Without sufficient communication, issues build up. This creates a situation where you must make less-than-ideal decisions. You’ll start sending drivers out on “Mission Impossibles,” which as one driver on Trucker Form describes as “loads so tight they have virtually no margin for error. Even stopping to use the bathroom means risking on-time delivery.”

Such scenarios obviously frustrate drivers, which is only exacerbating the whole driver retention problem.

4. Be ready for anything

Trucking is fraught with unexpected delays and changes, particularly due to the weather. To give you an idea of how much damage the weather can cause for a trucking company: According to the US Dept. of Transportation, trucking companies lose an estimated 32.6 billion vehicle-hours due to weather-related congestion per year. Also, nearly 12 percent of total estimated truck delay is due to weather in the 20 cities with the greatest volume of truck traffic.

An effective dispatcher’s workflow, though, remains prepared for such unexpected events. This involves remaining keenly aware of:

  • Where all drivers and loads are at any given moment
  • Where they are heading
  • What the weather is doing (and will do) in those areas

As a dispatcher, you must also include time to make adjustments in case of other unlucky surprises along the way.

According to one staffer at Trucker Forum, “Dispatching may look easy on paper, but then factor in a truck that breaks down midway to the consignee, a driver that runs out of hours midway, really bad weather, or a mistake at the shipper” and you begin to realize the unpredictable nature of this business.

5. Keep the four C’s in mind

And finally, here’s an overview of the four C’s all dispatchers should consider when mapping out a workflow:

  • Consolidation: Consolidate items in a container based on safety and the maximum amount of space utilization balanced with ease of transport/delivery.
  • Cost optimization: Consider fuel costs, how long it will take a particular driver to get to the pickup location, etc.
  • Collaboration: Work with your drivers to find who has the right amount of space and time to execute a certain load. (This is where that communication thing becomes so important.)
  • And finally (and arguably the most important in terms of keeping drivers happy), Compliance: Lots and lots (and lots) of drivers feel stifled by regulations. This particular dissatisfaction with truck driving causes plenty of drivers to look for work elsewhere. While a dispatcher can’t eliminate these regulations, he or she can help avoid compliance issues—relieving this pressure off of drivers.

We’re all depending on you

Obviously, a dispatcher’s job requires exceptional multitasking skills, the ability to make quick decisions, and a solid understanding of this complicated industry. The right workflow, though, can make your job simpler and even more rewarding.

Remember, as a dispatcher you have great influence on the driver experience. By maintaining a solid workflow with the driver always in mind, you can play an important role in solving the issue of driver retention.


Katlyn Whittenburg

This story was written by Katlyn Whittenburg (@katlynisit), who is a technology writer specializing in logistics and transportation. She accidentally discovered her love for logistics after working for a startup. Katlyn strives to make the industry that drives our economy as interesting to everyday people as it is to her.