Preplan for Success

On a recent stop in Lincoln to get some truck issues attended to, I took the time to visit with the off hours second shift dispatch and load planners—taking a closer look at how things work after our day asset managers go home. Things were pretty slow so I was able to sit down and talk with them about the challenges they face on a nightly basis. There are always a few new people, but some names I’ve become familiar with over the years as well.

I watched them field drivers’ calls and listened to how they handled the various items that drivers call in with. This may surprise some of you—but they dealt with things in a calm, friendly and professional manner. Everyone working there is different, just as we are as drivers. Some were friendlier than others. But just like us, they all have a job to do. And sometimes things don’t go the way we or they would like.

Sometimes a driver needs a load with better pickup and delivery times or more miles. Having looked at the actual load planners’ screens, sometimes it’s a fact that the sort of load a driver is looking for or needs just isn’t there. One of the planners showed me an area he was covering. He had several trucks due to be empty soon and there was a serious shortage of freight available for late night pickup. What he did have, was not particularly good. What we as drivers have to realize—and be understanding of—is that there will be times like that and there’s really nothing the load planners can do about it.

During second and third shift, drivers have to realize that there won’t be as much freight to be planned out due to the simple truth that not every customer operates 24 hours a day. And now that Crete has focused on preplanning more drivers during the day there will often be even less unassigned freight available during the overnight hours than before.

One key thing the load planners showed me was their driver screen. They pointed out a long list of drivers who had been planned out on their next load, but only a small percentage of them had responded to the preplan messages. By a small percentage, I’m talking like maybe 15-20 percent of the drivers had communicated back to Crete to accept their preplans. So what effect does this have? Primarily, it leaves a big open question for the planners as time continues to march on: Is the load is effectively covered or not?

So what can we as drivers do to ensure we keep as productive as we would like to be? First and foremost, as I have spoken on this subject repeatedly in the past, communication is the key to everything. Monitoring and updating your PTA anytime you find that it changes helps tremendously in getting the best loads for you on a daily basis. And now that the primary job for getting you preplanned falls on your regular day asset manager, keeping them informed and up to date with an accurate PTA gives them the foreknowledge to work with the day load planners to get you set up for productive loads.

If it starts to look like the load may not get picked up in time because the driver hasn’t committed to the preplan the planner might have to reassign the load to another driver. This can cause us as drivers to miss out on what could be a good load that keeps us running and results in our next preplan being simply a load from the freight pool of what’s left. Again, communication is the key to success. They do understand that sometimes a driver may be sleeping when a preplan is sent out, and I explained to them that the PeopleNet system display unit gives only a very soft alert tone when a message comes into the truck. I can speak for only myself here, but it certainly isn’t loud enough to wake me when I’m sleeping.

Getting back to using good communication, what can we as drivers do to help our asset managers keep us productive? Again, communicate as often as necessary to keep them informed of your PTA as circumstances change. When you set your PTA, be sure to account for how much time you will be at the customer delivering. This includes dock time, drop and hook time and whether or not you need to take extra time at the customer for things such as your 30-minute break.

We all know that every customer is unique in how they operate and the amount of time you can expect to spend there. Learning those specifics for any given customer comes with experience, but you can estimate based on some realistic expectations. Performing a drop and hook delivery can take as little as 20-30 minutes once you are on the yard. Doing a live grocery warehouse delivery can take several hours. Delivering a load of the large paper rolls might take only 30 minutes to unload if there is no waiting for a dock. Every load is different, but you can use basic expectations to give your asset manager a solid PTA of when you should be empty and available for another load.

Being a driver who runs on a reset schedule, I also make a point of communicating even more information when I near the last couple shifts of driving hours. If for example, I will have about 5 hours left to drive after I deliver the load I am running, and have a full days hours to run the next day—but will be below a useful amount of hours to run for a 3rd shift of driving—I’ll communicate that I’m looking for a load that can run a maximum of around 900 miles and deliver the next day. Or perhaps something longer that has time on it for me to do a reset en route to delivery. Sometimes this little extra information helps them match a load to my hours that keeps me running at my maximum potential.

Unfortunately, as we all are aware, we don’t always get our first choice of loads. It happens to all of us. Sometimes they do need us to run a load that has a high ranking for customer service but isn’t productive on our end as drivers. And here is where good communication again comes into play. Maybe the load just needs to get picked up and moving to satisfy the customer on the shipping side but could be T-called en route. Sometimes that will be a yes and sometimes it’ll be a no. Time to communicate some more. You could ask them to please look for a good load to back up the unproductive one. On this count, they usually will try to go the extra mile for you.

It sometimes seems when talking to other drivers, that there is some false belief for any number of reasons that not getting a productive level of miles is because “someone” doesn’t want them to be productive. I see it in some of the Crete Facebook pages as well. But the one thing I also see as I scroll through the posts is that they generally do not utilize good communication skills to their advantage. Sending a message explaining your concern or issue is good. But when you don’t receive a response and fail to follow up it puts the problem back in your lap. Just like when a planner sends a driver a load and they fail to respond. If I don’t get a message back responding to my question or concern within about 30 minutes, I call and speak to someone.

Being successful and productive is a two-way street that requires good communication on both sides. With Crete’s new focus on having drivers preplanned, if you are within 5-6 hours of a delivery and you haven’t received a preplanned load, it’s time to communicate this to either your day asset manager or night operations so they can start working on finding you your next load. And when you do receive one, make sure you communicate back promptly whether or not you can do the load.

I will admit that the system still needs some work to become more effective, but good communication and teamwork will help make it better.