As an owner-operator, you know that any vehicles in your fleet that aren’t on the road are costing your company. While millions of loads are transported throughout the United States every day, not all of them are optimized for efficiency and profitability.
So how can you grow your operations and find profitable freight? How can you keep your drivers on schedule and meet all customer requirements?
One option is to use a freight dispatcher — someone who can help you find and schedule loads for your fleet to deliver.
In this article, we’ll explain what a freight dispatcher is and how they can streamline your fleet operations. We’ll also look at the tools you can provide them to increase their productivity.
What is a freight dispatcher?
A freight dispatcher, or a truck dispatcher, is someone who represents your company in finding and negotiating freight. Their duties include coordinating with truck drivers, managing delivery schedules, and keeping clients updated.
Running a trucking operation comes with its own set of challenges, from hiring and retaining skilled drivers to ensuring regulatory compliance. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding new loads to haul.
This is where things get tricky.
You can’t just pick any load that comes your way. You’ll need to consider factors like freight type, time constraints, and destinations to determine if a load is profitable enough to take on. Otherwise, you risk losing money.
So how do you find profitable loads to haul?
One option is to use load boards — services that connect you with shippers looking to find carriers for their loads. Think of them as online marketplaces or job boards that you can browse through. Some even have advanced filters that let you refine your search.
Load boards are great tools that can help you find profitable loads. However, sifting through them can consume a lot of your time. Even if you do find something promising, others are likely competing for it, too.
Freight dispatchers work behind the scenes to secure profitable shipping loads and ensure that drivers meet their delivery schedules. They may also communicate directly with customers to provide updates when necessary.
What does a freight dispatcher do?
Freight dispatchers play a valuable role in both growing and established fleets. Let’s take a closer look at what their responsibilities entail.
Find and negotiate loads
A freight dispatcher’s primary role is to help your company find and negotiate loads. They’ll rely on resources like load boards and even existing connections to find loads that match your preferences and fleet capabilities.
While trucking companies often employ dispatchers as employees, they can also work as independent contractors. This gives them the flexibility to work with different carriers.
Manage delivery schedules
Freight dispatchers are also responsible for coordinating delivery schedules. They’ll work directly with drivers to ensure that goods are picked up and delivered in a timely manner.
Dispatchers will often track deliveries in real time using fleet telematics — a system that uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track and display vehicle locations on an interactive map. These systems help dispatchers track deliveries and even provide alerts if drivers encounter any problems on their routes.
Monitor drivers’ logs
Commercial truck drivers are required to complete a driver’s log or record of duty status (RODS), which records information like dates, vehicle numbers, and total driving hours.
An electronic logging device (ELD) automatically records these details and helps fleets comply with the ELD mandate. However, dispatchers may also access data from these devices to ensure that drivers are complying with regulations and safely operating their vehicles.
Plan optimal routes
Freight dispatchers assist drivers in planning optimal routes based on their deliveries for the day. If road closures or weather conditions prevent drivers from safely getting to their destinations, dispatchers must be able to change routes on the fly.
Monitor and schedule maintenance
Proper fleet maintenance keeps your vehicles in good condition, prolongs their lifespan, and prevents costly repairs. Freight dispatchers may assist in scheduling repairs and maintenance.
Dispatchers may use a fleet telematics solution to schedule preventive maintenance based on mileage and usage. They’ll also consider delivery schedules to minimize vehicle downtime.
Communicate with shippers
No two loads are the same. Dispatchers will communicate with shippers to determine whether there are any special requirements involved and relay that information to drivers. They’ll also provide frequent updates if something is affecting a delivery schedule.
Report to management
Finally, dispatchers will report to owner-operators or upper management and provide updates along with any other potential issues. They may also suggest ways to improve fleet operations.
Freight dispatcher vs freight broker: What’s the difference?
When it comes to finding freight to haul, there are several options available. You can either use a load board or work with a freight dispatcher. Another option is to work with a freight broker.
Let’s look at the difference between a freight dispatcher and a freight broker.
An important distinction between freight dispatchers and brokers is who they work for.
Dispatchers are typically employed by — or contracted to — carriers. Since they receive a percentage of the carrier’s rate, they’ll try to negotiate the best rates. They tend to do more admin work for carriers, which makes them valuable hires for smaller operators.
Good dispatchers will consider your lane preferences, preferred freight rates, and equipment specifications when finding loads. They’ll also coordinate with drivers to ensure on-time delivery and provide updates to customers.
The estimated total pay for a freight dispatcher is $55,954 per year ($39,606 base + $16,348 additional pay for bonuses, commissions, etc.).
Another key difference between dispatchers and brokers is that dispatchers are not licensed or insured. They’re not legally allowed to represent shippers. They can only represent a carrier when finding and negotiating freight. Any agreements in terms of pay and bonuses are strictly between dispatchers and the carriers they represent.
Freight brokers operate independently. They act as a middleman between shippers and carriers and help coordinate the logistics of each delivery.
Like dispatchers, freight brokers earn a commission on each transaction. However, they must find a balance between finding shippers willing to pay higher rates and offering carriers a rate that earns them a decent profit for brokering the deal.
For example, let’s say that a shipper has an open load and reaches out to a broker to find a carrier. They both agree on a rate of $5,000. The broker finds a carrier who agrees to haul it for $4,500 and pockets the difference as commission. However, they’re not obliged to disclose the original rate they negotiated with the shipper.
The following chart shows the average salaries and commission rates for freight brokers in different regions across the US:
Unlike dispatchers, freight brokers must be licensed and registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). While they’re not required to have insurance, most will opt for some type of coverage to limit their liability.
Freight dispatcher vs freight broker: Which one is right for you?
If you’re a smaller company, hiring a freight dispatcher can help grow your operations. Plus, freight dispatchers often handle a lot of the admin work, which means fewer things for you to worry about as an owner-operator.
Freight brokers are often more convenient to use. They also tend to have closer relationships with various shippers, which means they can help you find loads quickly. One downside, however, is that some brokers may not negotiate at all because they don’t want to risk damaging relationships with certain shippers.
If you go with a broker, make sure they’re licensed and registered with the FMCSA. If you go with a freight dispatcher, find someone who can provide the services you need. They should have excellent communication, time-management, and organizational skills. Consider asking for recommendations from other owner-operators.
Another option is to work with a third-party dispatching service. However, make sure the company is licensed with the FMCSA, and be sure to read through any contracts carefully before working with them.
If you choose to bring on a freight dispatcher, it’s important to equip them with the right tools to get the job done.
How telematics can help your freight dispatchers
Freight dispatchers have a lot on their plates, from finding profitable loads to scheduling drivers and ensuring regulatory compliance. Relying on spreadsheets and manual processes to handle these duties just isn’t practical.
Here’s how the CalAmp Application can help your freight dispatchers work more productively.
Gain real-time visibility
Fleet telematics use GPS technology, which allows your dispatchers to monitor fleets in real time. The tracking system lets dispatchers provide accurate delivery times to customers.
What’s more, dispatchers can use the fleet management system to create geofences, or virtual zones that trigger an alert when vehicles enter or leave designated areas. This helps to prevent unauthorized usage.
Plan driver schedules
Inefficient routes increase operating costs and can delay deliveries. With a fleet telematics system, dispatchers can plan efficient delivery routes for your drivers. They can also access real-time weather overlays and quickly reroute drivers if necessary.
These overlays help dispatchers navigate drivers around poor weather delays and heavy traffic.
Improve driver safety
Speeding, harsh braking, hard cornering, and other dangerous behaviors put your drivers and those around them at risk. They can also damage your cargo and increase the wear and tear on your vehicles.
With CalAmp dispatchers can monitor driver behaviors and receive alerts when they engage in risky behaviors. Fleet managers can call these behaviors out and use the insights they gain to improve driver safety.
Of course, the data alone doesn’t always show the full picture. For instance, a driver may have braked hard to avoid hitting something. Combining a fleet telematics system with video-based dash cams provides more context around such incidents.
Fleet operators are required to comply with certain regulations. One of these is the ELD mandate, which states that drivers must have a device installed in their vehicles to record their duty status.
A fleet telematics system combined with a compliant ELD ensures that your drivers comply with all FMCSA regulations. What’s more, dispatchers can warn drivers if they’re approaching their HOS limit or if they forget to perform their daily inspections.
Monitor and track assets
One of the biggest responsibilities that freight dispatchers have is ensuring that deliveries are completed in a timely manner. With CalAmp dispatchers can track the real-time locations of both powered and non-powered assets.
With smart sensors, dispatchers can also use supply chain visibility applications to monitor temperature, humidity, and shock for each package — which is useful if your company delivers temperature-sensitive goods. If a delivery exceeds certain temperature thresholds, dispatchers can act quickly to reduce spoilage.
Dispatchers can use the CalAmp Application to create on-demand reports for each vehicle and schedule maintenance based on usage and odometer readings. They can also receive an alert if a vehicle triggers a diagnostic trouble code (DTC) and either divert the driver to a service station or send a backup vehicle if needed.
Freight dispatchers are tasked with finding and negotiating freight, managing delivery schedules, communicating with customers, and more. Of course, you’ll want to provide them with the right tools to optimize their productivity.