Bandy, from Trainsitions Consulting Group LLC, Mission Viejo, Calif. (www.trainsitions.com), said that paying attention to what dispatchers do on a daily basis will give contractors "a greater appreciation for the dispatcher's role and how that role can be better supported by management." Her seminar, "Get Inside Your Dispatcher's Head," was presented at the Mechanical Service Contractors Association (MSCA) annual meeting.
She described six wellness strategies that can help improve the effectiveness of a service contracting operation by improving the health of the dispatcher's role.
"You make it work," said Bandy of the strategies. "You make it happen. Dispatchers play a significant and awesome responsibility for your profitability. We need to create health and wellness for dispatchers."
The association interviewed several high-performing HVAC service dispatchers as part of its new dispatchers program. The study concluded that, among other things, "The dispatcher's job affects internal and external customers, the service manager, and the technicians," said Bandy. "The way the job is done can affect technician retention, company efficiency, profitability, and customer loyalty. The dispatcher is the pivotal point of service."
Their chief role, said Bandy, is "to move people efficiently and productively. It's a pretty awesome responsibility."
Two-thirds of new hires will disappoint their employer within the first year, she said. Two-thirds would rather work somewhere else. "Most hiring decisions are made too quickly."
"Today's dispatcher requires a skill set that includes an exceptional combination of technical, interpersonal, and self-management skills," she said. "Dealing with a diverse customer base, handling numerous fire drills, and keeping varied personalities in the office happy requires someone who can navigate through a unique and quickly changing cultural environment."
Dispatcher turnover is particularly hard for a service company to absorb. In addition to costs associated with finding and training a replacement, there are issues of low productivity and service before the old dispatcher leaves, in addition to lower productivity and reduced customer service during a new dispatcher's learning curve. The cost of replacing a good dispatcher, Bandy said, is around $100,000.
Therefore, it's important to hire a suitable dispatcher in the first place. "Research has shown that if a multitude of resources are used in selecting candidates, the employer's chance of finding a correct match are greatly increased," she said. For the best results, use a face-to-face interview, reference checking, personality testing, abilities testing, interests testing, and a job matching consultant (who comes into the company and benchmarks a position's traits; new hires can be measured against profiles).
"Phone skills can be tested in prescreening when you call them to set up the interview," Bandy pointed out.
The best place to start looking for a new dispatcher is within the company, she said. "Your best source is going to be within your organization."
Wellness Strategy #2: Energize the environment.
"All successful business enterprises start with a leader who sets the standard for how the company will operate on a day-to-day basis," Bandy said. "The key to creating a motivating environment is making sure all the necessary elements are in place."
Dispatchers interviewed by the MSCA said they thrive in an environment where:
Bandy was asked, "Where do you draw the line on how hard the dispatcher pushes technicians during busy times?"
"The dispatcher needs to understand techs' points of view and develop a good relationship with the service manager," she replied. "There needs to be open communication and understanding of each others' roles."
Wellness Strategy #3: Optimize resources.
"You need to get your resources to the right places," Bandy said. "Whenever owners hear the word resources, dollar signs immediately come to their minds. Fortunately, dispatchers don't always view resources in the same way. Many of the tools they need to do their jobs actually cost very little.
"For example, a simple call form provides them with a job aid that will help ensure that all information is obtained during the initial service request, paving the way for an efficient transaction from service call to billing," Bandy said. It can be used by anyone answering the phone, not just the dispatcher, so it alleviates some of the constant strain placed on the dispatcher.
Other types of resources fall into the following categories:
"Ask them what's getting in their way," said Bandy. "Most dispatchers say they need correct information from salespeople."
To help improve workplace empathy, "Have a dispatcher drive with a technician and have a technician sit with the dispatcher."
Wellness Strategy #4: Outline opportunities.
"Quality dispatchers are almost a breed of their own," said Bandy. "They are fast-paced, organized, decisive, seek challenges, require variety, and adopt a lifelong learning philosophy. Companies with dispatchers who possess those qualities thank their lucky stars every day for their good fortune.
"It's always a sad day when a well-respected dispatcher leaves the company," she continued, "but it's even sadder when they leave for better opportunities - something that could have been prevented."
Contractors can help their dispatchers grow by:
Wellness Strategy #5: Empower your dispatcher.
The concept of empowerment has its challenges, Bandy said. "Managers are often frustrated when employees fail to make decisions and take ownership of day-to-day problems. On the other hand, employees are equally frustrated when managers don't listen to their input, don't trust them to make decisions, and don't truly empower them."
The question to explore, she said, is whether empowerment is given by managers or taken by employees.
Benefits of empowerment include:
"Operations are much more effective if decisions are made at the level closest to the situation," Bandy pointed out. "The goal is to achieve an outcome that satisfies customers, retains goodwill, and ensures continued profitability for the organization."
Successful empowerment requires three elements: direction, authority, and resources. "There is a tendency for managers to take an all-or-nothing approach," Bandy said, "especially with dispatchers who are reliable, high performers who adapt to the most challenging of situations. Because they have the ability to figure things out on their own, managers sometimes inadvertently set their dispatchers up for failure by telling them to â€˜take the ball and run with it.'"
To increase empowerment in a service organization, Bandy recommended these leadership actions:
Wellness Strategy #6: Support teamwork.
Finally, Bandy recommended using teamwork for bringing all the elements of wellness together.
"When work groups develop synergy - a cohesiveness that significantly enhances the group's power - there are many benefits," she said. "Perhaps the most important in today's fast-paced, competitive service environment are increased responsiveness and efficiency of operation.
"Work groups that develop teamwork respond to rapidly changing scenarios because they understand each other's jobs, trust each other, and want to see the whole team succeed. Synergistic work groups are also more innovative because they have learned to tap the full potential of all employees, opening a wide range of ideas, skills, and talents."
Of course, teamwork also engenders a more positive work climate. "Genuine caring is more common and people seem to enjoy their work," Bandy said. "A solid team makes life much easier for a manager."
The dispatchers in the MSCA survey said teamwork is "absolutely critical" for a service operation's success. "Coincidentally, it is also the weakest link in the overall operation and could benefit the most from improvement," Bandy said. Company leaders can encourage greater teamwork throughout the organization by:
Most, if not all, of these areas can be improved by improving the health of the dispatcher's role, according to MSCA presenter Nancy Bandy
Publication date: 12/19/2005