Back when I was a laborer in DuPage County, Ill., we were pumping a few hundred yards for state Route 59. The foundation, including the parking garage underneath, was stacked over 20 feet high. After about the first 60 yards, for some unknown reason, our service went downhill. It was an afternoon pour, the sun was getting low, and so was our morale.
Phil, our foreman, called the ready-mix plant several times to complain. The dispatcher came back with the most hated phrase in our industry: It’s on the road. From our perch up on the scaffolding, we could actually see the plant off in the distance. No trucks were heading our way. Phil, dropping a few F-bombs, told the dispatcher he knew the trucks were on the road because they weren’t flying through the air! Hanging up, Phil let the dispatcher know what an idiot he thought he was. Did our service improve? Hardly.
Dispatchers can either help your day go well or they can be your biggest source of frustration. I called a few plants and asked dispatchers what they wanted us to know. If you want to get your dispatcher’s fullest cooperation, think about passing on these ideas to your crews.
Give directions, not landmarks
The number one response from dispatchers across the nation was, “Give us the clearest address and best directions possible.” Don’t give them landmarks; they want street names, lot numbers, and 911 addresses. GPS doesn’t work off of, “I’m not sure, but I think the name of the subdivision is...” And these directions won’t help much either: “Over the second hill, turn left past the rusty old silo or maybe turn right.” One dispatcher in Tennessee, on the state-line, told me a contractor once said, “Just ship eight yards to the Baptist church in Virginia” That was all for directions.
Dispatchers also said, “Make sure you place your order at least two days in advance.” If you wait until the morning of your pour to call in your order, you are asking for trouble. And don’t wait until late in the day for the weather to clear to call in an order and expect a miracle either.
Dispatchers don’t mind calculating your yardage, but if you ask a dispatcher to figure the yardage, you can’t complain when your order is off. It’s never a good idea anyway to phone in your measurements and ask the dispatcher to figure your yardage. Call me old-school, but I think that’s a mistake. Have your yardage estimated in plenty of time before you call in.
Dispatchers also told me they like to give their drivers a heads-up too; drivers like to know if you’re pouring a foundation or flatwork. It helps them identify the site and make any necessary preparations. You don’t benefit from keeping this information to yourself, so overload them with any information that will help everything flow smoothly.
No matter how well prepared your crew is, without excellent service from the ready-mix plant, you aren’t going to be productive, and that means you’re losing money. You want an edge over the competition? Get in sync with your dispatcher.
Plain and simple, you must do your part to facilitate good service from your dispatcher. Treat him or her with respect and meet halfway. Growing up, my dad said, “Use your head for something besides a hat-rack.” If you are frustrated with the plant dispatcher you deal with, maybe it’s time to think about what he needs from you: a reliable address, plenty of time, accurate figures, and a reasonable heads-up on what to expect on the jobsite.
Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who’s also a writer and communicator. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.