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Great Dispatch, or Great Customer Service

Excellent article taken from Transport Topics, Aug. 11, 2009.

Opinion: The Customer Service, Dispatch Dilemma –

By Greg Shelton, Dispatch Consultant

As the recession deepens, there is growing awareness in the transportation industry of the role dispatchers play in keeping third-party logistics firms and freight brokerages competitive, particularly in the areas where dispatch and customer service collide.

This article reviews the fierce competition that exists in today’s market.  More and more Brokerages and 3PLs are striving for higher levels of customer service standards to keep customers.  Let’s face it – “keeping customers happy is a matter of corporate life or death”, states Shelton.

Think of it as the evolution of dispatch, in which basic survival depends on a company establishing and observing customer service standards. In a normal economy, hiring more customer service staff might solve the problem, but that’s difficult during a belt-tightening recession. It’s a dilemma that has caused some companies to reach outside the transportation industry and hire customer service and call center managers to help them make do with existing staff.

An experienced manager from another industry could help a company become more efficient by instituting phone upgrades, call accounting and service standards and by creating clear guidelines for various problem-escalation situations. An outside manager also could optimize staffing models by examining call volume spikes and pinpointing scheduling needs by means of forecasts.

But there is a caveat: Bringing in a manager from another industry might sound good to a company in this chaotic environment, but it also might prove to be counterproductive.

Look at this way: Hockey and lacrosse are somewhat similar sports. They both use sticks, have face-offs and use goalies. A hockey coach, while unfamiliar with lacrosse, could use the same techniques to motivate players and evaluate talent on the field, but that is where his effectiveness would end. Shooting a puck off a stick while on skates is radically different than running full speed and launching a ball out of a net.

This is the potential problem with managers from nontransportation backgrounds. Their intentions are good, but relying solely on their previous experience and knowledge will block any chance of success.

Customer service’s focus is on the individual caller and on never giving that caller cause to consider the experience negatively. Call center managers are trained to promote efficiency and work inside statistical models — calls should be answered in so many rings, resolved in so many seconds and agents should answer a predetermined number of calls per shift.

But one cannot assume these methods will translate effectively in a dispatch environment. A dispatcher’s job is to keep freight moving, and as a result there are countless situations encountered on a daily basis that may require excessive time or a firm hand. A manager has to realize that.

There is a real danger in companies becoming so dazzled with call reports and efficiency upgrades that they fail to see the department actually is regressing. Dispatchers become less self-reliant, less diligent and less focused on the overall goal.

Should dispatchers be evaluated using negative feedback, efficiency and call totals? Of course, but letting these philosophies be the only criteria in defining the position will undermine the department’s effectiveness.

My favorite point that Shelton makes is “Can one learn to swim by watching someone or by reading a book?  Perhaps, but without getting wet, you’ll never know what it’s like.”  This means that in order for a company to be successful, those that manager dispatchers need to know exactly what it’s like by doing it.  They won’t learn or understand how to fully motivate, teach, inspire, or otherwise manage a dispatch team if they have no idea what it is really like.

The Question, as Shelton puts it, is “Which service did your customer pay for?”  Are they paying you for dispatching their loads, or are they paying you for your customer service abilities, which will inevitably become, empty promises.

During this downward trend in the economy, focus on what you do best.  Focus your efforts on your company’s Core Goal.  And strive for that goal in everything you do.  It’s time to simplify processes, re-think programs, and get back to the basics of customer satisfaction.

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