Automated Dispatch

By Jim Tabb

Dispatch operations vary widely from company to company. Some companies only dispatch messages (telephone answering services for example), but most dispatch people. These include repair and equipment services, sales teams, delivery or pickup services, courier services, alarm services, ATM services, police, fire and emergency services, and many others.

Automated vs. Live Dispatch: The most significant cost in operating any type of dispatch center has, until recently, always been the labor because the typical center has been “live”, meaning operators or clerks take the calls and deliver the messages. In recent years, more and more dispatch operations have been moving toward “lights out” (in business, but no people), through automation of the dispatch processes.

When properly applied, automated dispatch centers significantly improve service while saving enormous sums through reduced labor. To understand what automation means, lets examine the way live and automated centers differ. Live Dispatch & Operators or dispatch clerks receive calls and take messages or orders over the telephone. Then a second call is made to complete the dispatch. This may require calling a paging tower and sending a digital or alpha page, calling another person by telephone or using a mobile radio to contact a driver.

In some cases the person taking the call also delivers the message. In larger operations, the persons working the phone banks specialize in taking calls, then pass messages to others (dispatchers) who specialize in delivering the messages.

Typical Live Dispatch:

  1. Dispatcher takes order
  2. Dispatcher pages out
  3. Service person calls in
  4. Dispatcher delivers order
  5. Service person calls from site
  6. Dispatcher closes out order

In one dispatch, the dispatcher takes calls in Steps 1, 3, and 5, calls out in Step 2, and is involved in all six operations. Each operation is subject to interruption by other calls from customers or from drivers demanding attention.

Live Dispatch Problems; Often the dispatcher can’t reach the service person in the first call, so Step 2 is repeated multiple times. Sometimes a dispatch is rejected due to a problem. This results in a repeat of Steps 2, 3 and 4 until an alternate is found. As a customer base grows, dispatch problems grow on an exponential curve. At some point, more people must be added to maintain growth because as many frustrated customers leave as are added.

Semi-Automated Dispatch: The first step in reducing costs and improving overall operations is a simple one that significantly reduces costs while overcoming the problem most owners have with “customers talking to machines.” In the semi-automated approach, live operators or clerk stake calls from customers for messages or orders which are keyed into the order-entry system. All or part of the call is recorded.

When the caller hangs up, the automated dispatch system does the rest. The operator is only involved in Step 1 of the semi-automated operation, talking to customers, while steps 2 through 6 are completely automated. The best of both worlds!

Fully Automated Dispatch: Some dispatch operations are already fully automated. Many large corporations use a company-wide voice mail system to take and deliver messages, including service dispatch. Many other dispatch operations lend themselves to a full “lights out” operation, such as those that have service contracts with customers for equipment maintenance and/or telephone support. These companies can usually improve service while significantly reducing costs by fully automating.

Each customer is given a personal account number. When they call for service, they are greeted by name, and given options, such as:

  • A selection of topics or information to be faxed immediately.
  • Self help on frequently asked questions or problems.
  • Options to have someone call back with the answer.

Service people are instructed to listen to the recorded problem, look up the service history, research the problem and dedicate themselves to fixing the problem in one call-back. The customer soon appreciates that their calls are answered on the first ring. They can receive information without being put on hold, and when they do get a call back, the right person is on the line who is dedicated to their call without interruption.

A second category suitable for total automation includes companies where the dispatch operations are primarily employee-to-employee. These include medium and large corporations with internal service, message and/or dispatch centers. When one employee is holding up another employee, the entire company suffers. Automated message and dispatch centers make it easy to communicate across time zones and across shift changes.

Messages can be taken while out of the office, during meetings, and while on the telephone, then delivered and responded to without ever talking directly to the caller.

Automated dispatch problems are usually caused by the attempted use of systems not specifically designed for automated dispatch. Short comings of this system include:

  • Insufficient levels or queues
  • Inability to select alternates
  • No automatic escalation
  • Inflexible dialing options
  • Lack of paging ability
  • No reporting ability
  • Calls, dial-outs are not logged

The minimum system should be capable of multiple choices, have the ability to change menus and announcements by time of day and day of week. Features should include order entry, 8 or more levels of dispatch per account, automatic selection of dispatch by zone or time, automatic escalation of dispatch and complete call logging.

The complete system: It should include a full featured voice mail system with capability to selectively transfer calls to an employee. In addition, it should have wake-up or reminder capability and a means to automate job completion and time keeping.

[From Connection Magazine, May 1995]