Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Exploring Dispatcher Communication Effectiveness: Implications for Retaining Drivers in the Trucking Industry

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Exploring Dispatcher Communication Effectiveness: Implications for Retaining Drivers in the Trucking Industry

Article excerpt

It is commonly known that pay and regular hours are important to people in the workplace and influence retention (Richard et al., 1995). However, these variables may not be directly influenced by a subordinate's immediate supervisor. What then can supervisors do to promote factors other than pay and time home and consequently improve their firm's internal relationships and employee retention?

Retaining drivers is the primary dilemma facing the motor carrier industry today. Traditionally, the industry has focused on getting the right product, to the right place, at the right time, in the right condition, etc. However, today it is driver turnover that presents motor carriers with the greatest challenge. Some firms have reported turnover rates exceeding 200 percent per year while costs to replace and train new drivers ranges from $3,000 to $12,000 per driver (Ruriani, 1995; Ray, 1997; Isidore, 1996; Richard et al., 1994a).

Compounding the problem, from a customer's perspective, the driver is the company. Quite inherent in service industries is the inability to separate services from the service provider. Simply put, the driver is the front-line contact with the customer (Thompson, 1995). It therefore becomes apparent that firms could enhance their competitive positioning by focusing on areas that may help them maintain a loyal and satisfied driver force.

A discussion of the importance of this issue would not be complete without a review of the positions of truck-driving and dispatching. In general, the motor carrier industry may be broken into less than truckload (LTL) and truckload (TL) carriers. LTL carriers service customers having shipments smaller in size than the full capacity of a 48 or 53 foot trailer. Shipments are picked up from local shippers where they are consolidated with shipments from other customers destined for the same geographic location. Much of the LTL driver work is concentrated in a single local market where the driver may be assigned regular customers and routes. Under such conditions LTL drivers customarily work what is considered regular hours for competitive pay.

In comparison, TL firms are hired to transport shipments that consume full trailer capacity. These shipments are traditionally picked up from one or two customers. Drivers moving the TL freight may travel long distances where they will unload and reload with freight headed to other distant destinations. This process of loading and unloading may cover any number of destinations throughout the United States. TL drivers are frequently "on the road" for three to four weeks at a time. Moreover, these drivers are typically paid by the mile, receiving salaries averaging around $30,000 per year (Ray, 1997). For these and other reasons, time home and pay have dominated the focus of the driver turnover issue.

While the nature of TL and LTL driving positions have their own unique characteristics, the supervisor-driver interaction is very similar across motor carrier segments. Dispatchers have the primary responsibility of supervising drivers in the field. Somewhat unique to this industry is the organizational framework that requires dispatchers to conduct their supervision via the telephone. It is through this system that dispatchers communicate pickup and delivery instructions, routing directions, family messages, and other information to drivers. In addition, dispatchers receive driver feedback and are in the position to respond to this feedback. Of primary importance to this study is the dispatcher's role as the primary contact in the firm for the drivers. In a sense, the dispatcher is the life-line for the driver.

Researchers have indicated that the same marketing concepts used to establish relationships between providers and customers may be used to establish better working relationships between employees and their supervisors within the firm (George, 1990; Greene et al., 1994; Gronroos, 1990). …

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