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December 10, 2012 4:15 AM, EST

Communication Is Key to Getting Trucks Fixed After Roadside Breakdowns, Repairers Say

By John Baxter, Special to Transport Topics

This story appears in the Dec. 10 print edition of Transport Topics.

When trouble strikes and a truck is disabled, establishing clear lines of communication between the driver, the driver’s dispatcher and the technician handling the problem are paramount to ensuring that the vehicle gets back on the road quickly and at minimal cost, according to the managers of several roadside-repair networks.

Karen Piccolomini, manager of truck service strategic programs for RoadSquad Connect, said the company works to keep “both the driver and the fleet fully informed. GPS is installed in each of the 450 service trucks in the . . . network, which ensures exact timing on critical points in the repair such as dispatch and arrival. In addition, all [call-center representatives] utilize a tech hotline to ensure smooth communication between the field and the dispatch center.”

Launched earlier this year, RoadSquad Connect is a division of truck-stop operator TravelCenters of America.

Heather Holt, director of marketing for FleetNet America, the road-repair unit of Arkansas Best Corp., Fort Smith, Ark., said the call center representative gathers all the information about the breakdown and calls the appropriate vendor to get a technician out to the truck.

“Our goal is to get a technician working on the truck within 30 minutes. But, the process doesn’t end there,” Holt said. “The representative will then call the vendor periodically for updates until the work is complete. Communication is constant with text messaging, Web access, e-mail alerts and more. The process is very transparent,” she said.

Many roadside service providers are part of a network that uses technicians from repair facilities across the nation. That can add to the burden for the repair coordinators, who need to understand the technical aspect of trucks so they can call the right vendor for the job — a roadside service call, a tow or advice for the driver on how to get the truck running well enough to be able to drive it into a shop.

In addition, cost is an important factor in a roadside repair.

Jill Gingrich, director of client support for WheelTime Network, Greensboro, N.C., said, “Applicable roadside repair charges are clearly communicated to the customer before a technician is dispatched. While the final repair cost may be undeterminable at that point, the customer will be informed of as many specifics as possible. . . . This includes dispatch time, mileage charge, hourly repair rate and the labor time standard used.”

Jerry Olson, mobile fleet assistant manager for WheelTime member Pacific Power Products, Ridgefield, Wash., said, “We’ll give advice to help the driver solve the problem if that’s possible. We can help him to check fuses and battery connections, or reboot the [engine control and monitoring] if that is likely to help. This often saves the fleet money by eliminating the need for a road call.”

Byron Lay, director of Ameri-Quest Road Rescue, a unit of AmeriQuest Transportation Services, Cherry Hill, N.J., said, “All our coordinators have transportation industry experience. Many have served as service writers, or even tech school teachers. They need to know the basics of what keeps the truck running — like having enough coolant or oil, how to help drivers correct simple problems and coordinate services with the probable cause of a problem.”

Lay also said, “Communication throughout the process is key to keeping the driver happy, which we feel is the most important thing we can do to make the process as painless as it can be.”

Rodney Franklin, director of maintenance at RRR Transportation Co., Calhoun Ga., said he switched to AmeriQuest in May. The fleet is a refrigerated carrier with 61 power units and more than 70 trailers.

“One thing they do is to stay in touch with the driver,” Franklin added. “They call him to let him know what is happening, updating both driver and dispatcher when anything changes and providing an [estimated time of arrival] for the service truck or tow truck.”

Jane Clark, vice president of member services at NationaLease, which also is owned by ATS, said, “We developed our call center so our members and customers can call and get directed to our nearest NationaLease member or, if necessary, get in contact with an outside vendor.

“We know how important it is to our members and customers that this be a seamless process,” she added. “We shoot for having the truck back on the road in two hours with a quality repair.  . . .”

Chuck Miller, maintenance director at Parrish Leasing, a NationaLease member, said Hurricane Sandy showed how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected. “We lost power in our building for five days, something that had never happened before. We relied on Road Rescue to assist us. We’d refer our breakdown calls from drivers to them, and they would take the ball and run with it. We’d make one call, and that was all we had to do.

“I felt like I was still in control. They would call me and explain everything that happened,” Miller added. “I signed up for the service believing I would never have to use it. But no breakdown goes like you expect it to. They would never let go of it [until] it was completed.”

RoadSquad’s Piccolomini said, “Dispatchers receive technical training on tires and mechanical repairs, including annual seasonal training, such as cold weather mechanical issues.”

She also said that through its parent company, “RoadSquad Connect has full access to its dedicated technical training team. In addition, TA has a 24/7 Technical Support Center that is located with the RoadSquad Connect dispatch team.”

Another such service is Uni-Maxx Truck Care — which is a service network of independent Goodyear dealers, Wingfoot Truck Care Centers, Bosselman Boss Shops and Highway Service Ventures/Patriot Farms Flying J shops.

Randy Gard, Bosselman Inc.’s director of business development, said, “Our focus is on the driver, speed and performance. We focus on being driver-friendly and building trust with the end user.”

Don Doty, Bosselman’s executive sales director, said the staff follows up with the customer to make sure the service call went smoothly and that feedback influences the company’s business initiatives.

“Drivers tell me, ‘I have never had somebody call up before to ask me how things went,’ ” Doty said.

Gard added, “Most of our call center staffers come from a service writer background. They’ve interacted with technicians and know what is required to do a job.”

Aaron Aylworth, area tire care manager for Love’s Travel Stops, said, “We pride ourselves in communication and efficient service. In an effort to maintain the level of service our customers have come to expect, our dispatch and field employees are trained to follow up not only with each other but also with the driver and the company to keep all parties aware of progress and completion times.”

One advantage of using these services is that vendors are prescreened and their performance is constantly reviewed — which produces quality service and competitive pricing.

FleetNet’s Holt said the company deals with more than 1,400 vendors: “We know who to call and who not to call. The third-party vendor charges are determined by negotiated rates, and we leverage our relationship with the vendors to obtain the best rates and services.”

Holt said FleetNet rates every vendor’s performance every time they are used.

AmeriQuest Road Rescue’s Lay said, “We provide national ac-count pricing on tires and parts. Although some of our vendors are independent, we bring them into a vendor agreement that guarantees they are viable and insured and will charge us less than their standard, advertised prices. We use our leverage to help keep charges under control, and we scrub invoices to make sure the charges were correct. If they overcharge, we won’t visit them again.”

Love’s Aylworth said, “We have successfully overcome such concerns by maintaining open communication, aligning ourselves with industry-leading service networks that scrutinize ethical performance in the workplace and by offering tools such as digital pictures to support the fleet breakdown department’s decisions when determining the best repair alternatives for their given circumstance.”