Running an efficient delivery department is always a top priority for propane companies. The logistics are complicated during the best of days, but even more so during major events like weather or this challenging past year.
With an overwhelming number of variables to consider, the latest technology can help make sense of the data and turn challenging logistics into opportunities for efficiency and outstanding customer service. A robust dispatching process, in conjunction with wireless mobile devices in the field, makes it all possible.
The pandemic has created challenges that have extended right into the delivery department, with sudden safety requirements and a shift to working from home and remote schooling. The change in fuel usage threatened an increase in runouts and unhappy customers. On top of that, our industry is laser-focused on safety, to a level never experienced before. This complicated normal delivery procedures and added a nearly unmeasurable level of stress. Of course, even on a normal, pre-pandemic day, there were challenges, including multiple customers in need of deliveries and a finite number of drivers and trucks to get the job done. Which truck and driver combinations should deliver that product? What is the most efficient route for each? What kind of unplanned issues will come up during the day? How do we handle the growing number of will-calls? It’s not always easy to get it right, let alone maximize efficiency, too.
First, consider the route. A driver may know the area, but mapping optimization can cut miles and minutes out of even the best drivers’ routes. Hand the driver a truly optimized route from your dispatch system from the start of the day — a route that takes all current road conditions and hazmat restrictions into account. Give drivers routes that will have them drive the fewest number of miles while delivering the maximum number of gallons. This can not only present the most efficient path, but also save the dispatcher time and effort. And remember, every mile not driven is money in the bank.
Logistics Made Easy
Giving the best route to the driver is the key, but now the fun starts. A robust dispatching system using the latest technology can facilitate excellent decision making and create a nimble department. Technology that offers both a graphical/map and grid/list view can help with this.
A graphical view can give a great deal of information without overcrowding a display. A picture is worth a thousand words, and that is what is needed here to help the dispatcher make expeditious, informed decisions.
What is needed on this dispatch display? There are a few necessary items, such as truck location and position in route, current inventory, deliveries made and deliveries still left to complete. What’s preferred by one dispatcher may not be ideal for another, so the ability to tailor the display to individual preferences is optimal.
Maybe the dispatcher likes to see the product for each customer, or maybe whether a call is a must-deliver-today stop. Good decisions can be made rapidly if all the information important to the user is there, without having to go back and forth between screens.
Other information can be valuable as well, including details that can help with decisions or troubleshooting throughout the day. This data needs to be at the ready to avoid losing valuable time.
With the latest dispatch displays, roll-over functionality means valuable information can pop up by rolling over a field, without overcrowding the screen. The more information, accessible on one screen, the better for quick, accurate decision-making.
The dispatch screen helps as all the daily hurdles are thrown at dispatchers, like truck breakdowns, will-calls and runouts. These can cause upheavals in organized, efficient routes, but the delivery dispatch display can easily share all the important data for quick decision-making. Where is the driver in the route? How much inventory is left on the truck? What deliveries can potentially be skipped today? And conversely, which ones are must-deliver stops?
After using this information to add the new calls, the route can be reoptimized and the adjusted order can be sent back to the driver to ensure the most efficient route. By adding stops to the route throughout the day, and optimizing them in real time, drivers can save miles and time that could be spent coming back another day. These on-the-fly changes also win customer loyalty, helping the company make more dollars per delivery today and in the future.
While the dispatch screen is the heart of the delivery department, the functionality reaches maximum value by adding a wireless connection to mobile technology in the field, such as tablets and phones. This enables the real-time connection to the office and populates the dispatch display with accurate, up-to-date data that leads to the best dispatcher decisions possible.
Technology in the trucks can also help minimize costly mistakes. Accidentally filling the wrong tank can make the driver run out of product before the route is finished, or even cut sharply into margin if a customer does not agree to pay for the accidental delivery. Fortunately, this can be avoided with the GPS capabilities of mobile devices today.
GPS locations can be associated with an account and a fill location to stop costly accidents. Going one step further, tanks can be easily labeled in the field and then scanned for validation before filling. When combined, you have a foolproof plan to always fill the right tanks the first time.
Stay Connected to Drivers
What about efficient dispatcher to driver communication? Drivers’ eyes need to be on the road, so back-and-forth voice communication between the dispatcher and the driver is a challenge and danger to avoid. With a wireless dispatching connection and real-time information, dispatchers can communicate via messages from the back office directly to the driver’s mobile tablet, and the dispatcher can see what messages have been read and which have not.
This two-way communication system allows most questions to be answered without verbal communication. For example, a dispatcher can add a phone order to a driver’s list, the route can be reoptimized and wirelessly pushed out to the driver’s mobile device. No voice communication is needed, and the route is updated for maximum efficiency.
Speaking of communication, what about those situations that need fixing right away, such as the locked gate, the blocked fill location, or the mean dog? Messaging can be done right through the drivers’ mobile device, saving talk time. The dispatcher can contact the customer, rectify the situation and notify the driver via a message on the device.
Communication With Customers
Taking communication one step further, technology today supports automatic communication with the customer. Mobile technology in the truck means that when the driver indicates that a delivery cannot be made, a text or email can automatically be sent to the customer to quickly remedy the situation. The emphasis here is on the word “quickly,” because time is money. Additionally, when a delivery is made, a text or email can be sent to the customer, so they know they will come home to a warm, comfortable home.
Up to the Challenge
This year has highlighted one more important requirement — ease of use. With the numerous safety issues and quarantines, regular drivers and dispatchers may have needed to take time off. An intuitive dispatch and mobile solution means that temporary workers could more easily function without requiring hours of training. A backup plan is essential, and technology can make the shift less disruptive.
A wireless, real-time dispatch system gives ready, easy access to all the necessary information to lead to the most informed decisions. It allows for the highest level of efficiency, by enabling the best decisions, minimizing mistakes and automating communication.