While You Were Out … Keeping Your Company in Motion

    It’s  two  o’clock in the morning and a customer calls to get the price for a car that was towed last week.

    You are at the grocery store with a cart full of groceries, and as you start putting your items on the belt and the checker has asked you if you found everything, your cell phone rings with a three car accident from the sheriff’s department.

    How about this,  you and your spouse are out for dinner,  the kids have a sitter, but your company doesn’t and the phone rings during the main course with a drunk yelling at you for towing his car.

    Sound familiar?  All too often this is what happens because you have no one to answer the phones when your office is closed.  So what are your options, if you have finally decided that you would like your life back ?

    A storm hits your community and you lose power and phone lines,  can you transfer your company to another answering point that can continue to service your customers.

    The toughest thing to do is to release control of your company, you have worked hard to make it work, you got permission from your family to be gone at all times and it does put food on the table.  Most companies are family owned and operated .  Because of this there is more on the line than the bigger corporation owned companies.  So what to do?

    There are several options, and we will go into each one and look at the pros and cons.  The first one of course is to have the night time driver answer your phones.  However, this creates problems because of spotty cell phone coverage, and the other drivers are mad because he takes all of the good money calls and leaves the rest to them.  Not to mention you do run the risk of employee theft.

    Next up is the family member or friend that agrees to take your phones at night and on the weekends to make a little spare spending money.  This is a great plan as long as the person can take it.  Being awake all night in your house waiting for the phone to ring is not as much fun as it sounds, after awhile fatigue sets in, the phones rings, the person is asleep and misses the call on a rollover.  It never fails.  We will ignore how hard it is to fire a family member.  This makes for interesting conversations around the thanksgiving table.

    This brings us to the final three avenues open to you.  The answering service, the company  that has its own dispatch like a cab company or an ambulance company, and finally the company that does nothing but towing and recovery dispatching.

    The answering service  vs a dispatch service.  What’s the difference ?  I tend to believe that the difference is that an answering service takes a call and passes the information along to someone else to take care of.  A dispatch takes that same call and turns it into an action.

    There are several good reasons to use an answering service, among them cost and if you use a local company they all know your area.  The downside of course is that they answer phones for all sorts of companies and our industry is a highly specialized one.  Also you don’t want information passed from one person to another, you want the information turned into an action.

    Next up is the company that has their  own dispatch but takes on outside accounts to supplement their in house costs.  While this may be attractive, because now you are dealing with a dispatch center there are a few drawbacks.  The cost may be more than an answering service, and also there may be an issue of training.  It is difficult to serve two masters.  The major drawback is that they  will take care of their own customers before they take care of yours.  In my local community we have an ambulance company that also dispatches for the industry.  As a citizen of the area, know that if I have a heart attack I want them to send the ambulance to me before dispatching a 24 hour abandoned tow.

    So that leaves the dispatch centers that are dedicated to the towing and recovery industry and that is all they do.  Again, you are looking at a higher cost, but you are also getting more specialized service, because they do only one thing, dispatch for the towing industry.  There are only a hand full of these types of companies nationwide, so selection is limited.   They need a bigger market to exist, you may have a dispatcher on the west coast dispatching for an east coast company, this may result in the occasional foul up of addresses.

    It is important that no matter which avenue you take you take the time to investigate each avenue given.  Just because an answering service doesn’t work for friend’s company, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you.  A dispatch center may work well for a larger company but may get lost in the shuffle of a large center.  How do you stack the deck in your favor when making such an important decision ?

    I am a firm believer in relationships.  The owner of the dispatch/answering service company must be someone that you feel a personal confidence in.  You must feel comfortable turning your company over to another company to run, and that can only be accomplished if you firmly believe that the owner of the after hours company  genuinely cares that your customers will be taken care of.

    Ask for references, check other companies.  We are a very close knit industry and word travels fast.  What is their management structure ?   Do they have people on duty that are responsible in handling your questions should they arise.  What type of emergency procedures do they have in place, to guarantee they can stay up and running when others can’t.

    The company should have the ability to handle as many inbound calls as you can throw at them.  Their phones should be recorded so that you can listen to inbound calls to guarantee that your company is well taken care of.

    Make sure that they have enough staff to handle your account.  The tendency is to reduce personnel to turn a larger profit.  Service levels  fall when dispatch personnel care cut.  Investigate their web-sites, listen to calls they have handled, in other words do as much investigation into this as you would for a daycare provider, because in a very real sense that is exactly what you are doing but for your company, not a child.

    Remember once you have made your choice, make sure you give the company any and all information that you can to help them be successful.  You are hiring not only a company, but you are hiring another 15 to 20 people.  That’s a lot of catchup for them to do.  Make their job easier by giving them all of the information necessary will make the transition easier.

    Especially in the cases where you are using an out of town dispatch, it is vital that you keep the lines of communication open between you and your provider.  All too often a good sound working relationship is ruined by the lack of two way feedback.  The drivers and the dispatchers have to get along, and with the dispatchers being miles away, drivers will sometimes get the feeling that there is nothing that can be done if there are problems.  Make sure you have a good two way relationship with your provider and small bumps in the road will be just that and not major holes in the road, that could lead to the  degrading of your service

    Regardless of whether you are a large company who wants to reduce costs by outsourcing your dispatch or you are a smaller company that is desperate for some down time, you have several areas open to you.  However, making the first step, the leap of faith is the toughest thing in the world to do, but may end up being the most important one for you and your company.