Dispatchers to drivers: ‘Don’t blame us’

Feb. 26, 2016
Dispatchers are caught between the driver and the customer, trying to keep both happy. Dispatchers don't have the power or flexibility drivers think they have.

Carol was a dispatcher for eight years but could no longer take the pressure, so she became a driver.

"As a dispatcher, I found it very stressful and frustrating. I would make appointments, and the drivers couldn't make those appointments," says Carol (all the dispatchers in this article asked that their real names not be used). "Then I'd have to reschedule for the following day or the day after that, and I would find that extremely frustrating. I went back to driving, because it's just so much easier."

"The dispatcher is on the frontline with the customer,” Carol continued. “When there are complaints, it goes through the dispatcher, and they get an earful. Then they get it from the other side, too, the drivers, and they weren't happy about the changes. I guess nobody likes change, but that's the trucking business."

Now, as a truck driver, Carol understands better the dispatcher's side of things, and she's more sympathetic to their challenges. "The dispatcher has to keep the customer happy, avoid complaints from them," she says. As for driving, "I have no one to be responsible for except myself. And I love it."

Other dispatchers agree that they're caught between the driver and the customer, trying to keep both sides happy. It's not easy because dispatchers don't have the power or flexibility that drivers think they have.

Mary says that drivers don't understand or don't want to understand the dispatcher's place in the hierarchy. "The main thing that drivers need to appreciate is that dispatchers don’t have total control over the loads that they receive and have to dispatch; the load finders are the ones who do that. The dispatchers pretty much have to go with what they’re given. Drivers think that it’s their dispatchers who are giving them either bad loads, loads that are difficult or loads that are going places that they don’t want to go," says Mary. "Whatever they’re disgruntled about, they blame their dispatchers when it’s not the dispatcher’s fault. Dispatchers are basically secretaries; they’re the intermediate communication between the load planners and the drivers. That’s all they do."

She adds: "We’re not bosses; we don’t have a lot of discretion. Once in a while you can get lucky, play office politics and get in good with a planner and sometimes you can go to bat for your drivers and get them what they want. But it doesn’t happen that often. It’s a hard situation to be in… Dispatchers are just employees like the drivers."

Mary now works for a smaller fleet but she used to dispatch a fleet of 57 trucks. She says that dispatchers working at large fleets have similar challenges because they're only assigned a certain number of trucks. In a sense, she says, it's as if they’re working for a smaller carrier. "It’s not like any of them have a huge amount of trucks to control."

Dispatcher Bill admits that he's cynical about drivers and feels that he and other dispatchers are blamed for most everything negative that drivers encounter. "The dispatcher is just the middle man and is passing on information. Of course, we get blamed for the weather, the traffic, oversleeping. Drivers just blame us for everything. We're their scapegoat. We're the easiest person for them to point the finger at when stuff is not like it should be," he says.

He has several theories about why drivers take their frustrations out on dispatchers besides the fact that they're the main contact point. "It baffles me why there's such mistrust other than  – I've been told - a lot of dispatchers aren’t honest and they will flat-out lie to drivers to tell them what they need to get the job done." He also believes that drivers spend a lot of time behind the wheel and waiting at docks with too much time to think. "I've dealt with drivers with whom I've had to make a change and they say 'fine.' Thirty minutes later they'll call me back, raising hell because it wasn’t going like they thought it would go. They had time to think and stew about it."

Like many dispatchers, Bill tries to build a level of trust with drivers which, sadly, can break down quickly over a behavior that, to him, doesn't make sense. One time he had a driver in Florida who wanted to return to the Northeast so Bill worked hard to find a load for the driver, but he couldn't find one that paid more than fuel. "I told the driver, 'look, it's the best paying load. There's just nothing else coming out of Florida. It will pay for your fuel; that's the best I can do.' So what does the driver do? At first he said 'okay,' but then waits until the next morning and says 'I'm not doing it.' He chose to drive empty all the way back from Florida, which is really stupid, and it hurts me as a dispatcher, because I was trying to build a relationship with that broker."

Bill, whose company handles mostly truckloads from Virginia to Florida and the Midwest, adds: "I think drivers are not getting that the dispatcher is there to help them, not to hinder them."

Craig has been dispatching for 10 years and echoes other dispatches experiences but says that many drivers blame dispatchers because they don't see the big picture. "I would like drivers to know that any time something changes it’s not necessarily their fault or about them," he says. "Things go bad if you have truck driver 'A' who misses a load which affects a plan all the way down the line to truck driver 'D.' There could be a truck breakdown or a customer changes things. We are a service industry and the old adage is that without drivers you don’t have a company, but without customers and without freight, all the drivers in the world aren't going to matter."

His way of keeping drivers calm about unexpected changes is to be honest about the situation. Even then, it may not work. "Unfortunately, I don't always have the time to explain every little detail. There are time constraints. But I try to let them know the reasoning behind the changes so they don’t think that it’s just me trying [to make their life miserable]. We're trying to get in touch with the driver, to get information for the customer. Then we're trying to explain things to them. There's a lot going on all at once."

He adds: "I know that sometimes things don't make sense from the driver's perspective. I understand that, but you have to look at it from a broader viewpoint. I tell my drivers that we plan for success, but plans change. There are outside influences. I try to do the best for my drivers, but sometimes a new situation is not ideal for anyone."

About the Author

Larry Kahaner

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