Sunday, April 21, 2013

There’s an App for that.

I just finished my first week. I have to say that I quite enjoyed it. The work is a good mix of steady and slow with bursts of holy heck where did all this come from?!? My boss is good, both as an employer and as a man, and my co-workers are excellent although one has some issues and may not be there much longer. Patience with him has run thin, deservedly so.

I think the job is going to provide a lot of blog fodder, although the most common topic may be how to communicate your location effectively to the dispatch. Where are you? Across the street from the old Save-u. Okay, what road are you on? On the road that runs in front of the old Save-u, isn’t really helpful, but in the fairgrounds parking lot across the street from Walmart is. They’re the same location.

I’ll get started with the topic that the title references.

I’m not going to use a Motor Club unless I’m in absolute dire straights and have no other option. Let me step aside for a moment and explain something about motor clubs that a lot of people don’t realize. Many people have motor clubs/road side service through their insurance, groups they may be members of, their banks, credit cards, cell phone providers, I think I saw a thing for road side assistance attached to a grocery store membership card and I’m pretty sure you can get one with a cup of coffee these days. Smile The vast majority of these services contract with one of a handful of companies to handle the calls for them. One of the major players in the field covers Progressive, USAA, Nationwide, State Farm, Travellers. and many other accounts. Geico and Allstate have their own motor clubs, Allstate also accepts some accounts (they just got GM away from the aforementioned major service provider) but Geico is pretty much just for Geico customers.

We use an app that one of the major contractors (see above) has developed that sends job orders straight to our smart phones. We can take in the job order on their app, open the app that our dispatch software comes with and dispatch to the driver on the fly. Very handy for middle of the night dispatching from home. Often the job order arrives in the app while we’re still on the phone with the company. It supports multiple logins, which is very handy since we have 9 drivers, 3 dispatchers, and a couple of other people that get pressed into service when needed. Unfortunately it doesn’t give us any information about how many people are logged in to our account. It stores all the job orders we have received, although it tends to only show fifty or so at a time. I paged back a few months and could have loaded more but my finger got tired.

The nature of the information on the job orders is quite personal but it’s necessary. Vehicle owners name, policy holders name, telephone numbers, location of the car (complete with mapping service), year/make/model/vin/plates of the car (the vin is necessary, we have to verify it against the one on the car to make sure the vehicle is the one covered by the job order otherwise we don’t get paid), nature of the problem, whether or not the car is attended, location of the key, what the policy holder is covered for, what charges the company has approved, how many passengers the tow driver will have, and the destination of the tow.

All of this is vital information for us. The app really helps us do our job more efficiently and to help make the process less stressful for the customer. However, I’m not necessarily comfortable with it. I just opened it to see if I could find an example of why. A lady is on the interstate east bound at mile marker XX with her check engine light on. One passenger for the wrecker, which means that she’s alone in the car. Anybody want a victim and a 2012 Toyota? Yesterday we had a lawyer with a flat on a $50k SUV in the parking lot at the court house. He needed it towed because the tires have locking hubcaps and he didn’t have the key with him. The app told us “Cust left keys on r front tire, do not call!” We had his key location, his vehicle location, his swanky home address, and we knew he’d be tied up and wouldn’t be answering his phone. Jackpot!

There are less than scrupulous local guys with minimally functioning equipment that want to do nothing but run motor club roadside service calls. They accept any and all jobs they’re called for, call and change their original ETA to something ridiculously long, then show up to the calls with the wrong equipment to handle the problem. If the customer is still there they’ll mess around for a few minutes, tell the customer the motor club sent the wrong information, vehicle needs a tow not a jump, some other excuse, and go home with their $15 consolation prize. I’ve met a few of them and there’s a reason why they’re known in the industry as bottom feeders. They also tend to do a lot of abandoned vehicle pick ups for businesses, booting cars in pay lots and the like. One of them lines the roads in his neighborhood with vehicles he’s “impounded.” Classy. If they have a smart phone they have access to the app. So does anyone they’ve chosen to share their login with.

My boss runs a good shop with very little employee turnover, but he had a driver who moved on to a different industry last year and his replacement is skating on thin ice. If the boss does wind up letting him go we’ll get another login, but it will mean going without motor club calls for anywhere between 1 and 24 hours while their system updates. I don’t know if many of those bottom feeders would be willing to go through the process, or even care, when their newest “business partner” flakes off with the app.

Now, the information isn’t randomly broadcast to every company in the area. It’s only sent to the company who accepts the job, but if we weren’t diligent about our login a smart criminal could watch for road side service on unattended vehicles and beat us there and we wouldn’t know. It’s pretty common to show up for a jump or a lockout to find the customer figured out a way to fix the problem and left without bothering to call. Especially if you give a ridiculously long ETA like the less reputable people do.

There are reasons to have and use a motor club, I’m sure, but if I need assistance I plan on finding my own tow service and submitting the bill for reimbursement. I really don’t want that kind of information being broadcast to anyone not of my choosing but I will freely admit that I’m paranoid.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I have a J-O-B

Starting tomorrow (Monday) I will be working as a part-time dispatcher for a local wrecker service. 

Poor Rhye will have to get used to spending his days in his crate. I think he’ll adjust eventually, although I do anticipate my name will be mud until the kids are out of school and can supervise him while I’m at work.

They wanted a minimum of a year of dispatching experience, which I do not have, so I asked what software they use and found a “getting started” manual and a set of training videos online and made a book length study guide for myself, adding in notes from the videos. A poor substitute for experience but the boss was impressed. He kept me in his office talking for an hour and a half during the interview on Wednesday and they called Thursday to offer me the position. The children and I did a happy dance and a celebratory Kermit flail for good measure. I went outside to clear more weed trees out of the azalea bushes and Monster Girl surprised me by making dinner. She opened a jar of my sweet and sour pork and served it over rice, for dessert she made mint chocolate chip ice cream (from a mix) and chocolate cake made from scratch. She also made a tremendous mess in the kitchen, but I didn’t mind.

This is the first paying job I’ve had outside of the home since NAFTA allowed Motorola to send my division overseas 12 years ago. I’m so excited!