Written By Don Archer Connect with him on Facebook
The ability to do everything on the fly and have all your information within arm’s reach at all times has prompted many to create mobile offices in their trucks. Armed with tablets or cab-mounted laptops, towers are taking their work with them. And why not? Besides the convenience of having everything handy, many towers have made the decision to become more streamlined. In order to gain a competitive edge, they’re cutting out the expense of a dispatcher. Reasoning that they, not only save money on the front end, but gain customers on the back end as well. Many believe that—precisely because they’re in the trenches, they can provide detailed answers to questions, they know better what can and can’t be done and when, and can do an overall better job when in complete control.
But there are a few things you need before you can run your business from your truck. And the first is a cell phone. Let’s stop for a moment and pay homage to those who have gone before us. Can you imagine how tow-truck drivers communicated with customers before the advent of the cell phone? Of course they had 2-way radios and CB’s to communicate with each other and the dispatcher. But calling a customer was another story. To do that 2 things must be in place. 1. The customer must be somewhere where there’s a phone, not stranded 20 miles down some road. 2. The tow-truck driver had to have immediate access to a phone booth.
Nowadays everyone has cell phones. You have the ability to call anyone from anywhere. And you can also forward calls straight to your truck. This means that if you want to run your business entirely from your truck you can. If you want to bare-bones it, you really don’t need anything but your cell phone and a pen and paper. But as you’ll see there’s so much more you can do.
Cell Phone? Land-Line? Or Both?
To begin with; to run your business out of your truck you have a few options. You can advertise your cell phone number as your primary business number and just receive calls on it. Or you can advertise an office or home-office based land-line and then forward all calls that come into that number to your cell. There really is no right or wrong way to do it. I suggest having a land-line with maybe 2 or 3 lines, and forwarding the main line to your cell when you need to. Besides maintaining a private cell number, this gives you the option of letting someone else take over when you need the rest.
To forward a land-line to your cell just follow the telephone company’s instructions:
Activating Call Forwarding From a Land Line
- Lift the receiver and listen for the dial tone.
- Dial *72 and wait to hear the dial tone again.
- Dial the number where you’d like to have your calls forwarded.
- You will hear a confirmation that the feature has been activated.
- If you want to change the forward to number, just repeat steps 1-3.
And…if that’s all you wanted from the world of technology…you could let that be the extent of your venture into going mobile. Just forward all calls to your phone and keep a pen and pad handy to record all pertinent information and you’re set. But if you only do this you’ll be shorting yourself because there’s a wide world of technology available just for the asking, and a few dollars. And one thing that you might want to invest in is a laptop or tablet.
If you’re like me it’ll take you a while to be sold on the whole idea of running your business from a mobile office. Maybe you’re in the camp that believes there’s no need to change what aint broke. I understand where you’re coming from but I’ve got to admit my reasons for avoiding going mobile were more due to my ignorance of what’s actually available than the fear of doing something different. For example did you know that your laptop can have internet access out on the roads? Yeah, just like your cell phone, your laptop or tablet can have access to the world-wide-web from almost anywhere on the planet.
Taking It To The Streets-Mobile Computing
All kidding aside, you can get a thing called a Mobile Hot Spot that allows you to do everything in your mobile office that you would normally do in your land-based office. ATT has a little plug-in device called a Beam. Here’s a video that tells you about it.
But if you have an IPhone you can go the easy route and use what’s called a Personal Hotspot to connect your laptop directly to your phone’s WI-FI.
Instructions for setting up your Personal Hotspot on your IPhone:
- Simply touch the settings icon on your IPhone display and look for Personal Hotspot.
- Tap that icon and the next screen is where you turn it on. Below the button that activates the Hotspot will be the WI-FI password, you’ll need this in a second.
- Once you’ve activated the Hotspot on your IPhone, open your laptop or whatever device you want to use and go into your Wireless Network Settings. In windows 7 look for the icon in the bottom right corner of your display that looks like this.
- With this open find the connection that’s associated with your IPhone and click on it. This is where you’ be prompted to enter the WI-FI password from your IPhone. It might take a few minutes, but when you see solid bars again you’ll be all set.
One word of warning, using a Personal Hotspot will use up your data. To guard against going over be sure to avoid sites like Pandora and similar data suckers, and shut down your browser when not in use. Monitor your usage by logging into your cell phone account and upgrade if necessary to avoid going over.
What Can A Computer In Your Truck Do For YOU?
Right about now some of you are thinking “All this is great but what am I going to do with a computer in my tow truck? Won’t it just get sat on by a customer who needs a ride?” And still others are scratching their heads wondering, “Why would I need a laptop if I’ve got my IPhone? It can do just about anything I need.”
These are very good questions that I asked as well.
First let’s talk about what you can do with a computer in your tow truck. The short answer is everything. The long answer is you’ll have the capability to receive calls and dispatch them to drivers without the use of a telephone, or 2-way radio, while keeping a backup of everything you’re doing.
We are a AAA Service Provider and receive calls over the computer through their proprietary software. Each driver has a tablet in his truck, so when a call comes in over AAA’s Portal we assign it to the closest one. The driver then has every bit of information he needs to run, update, and close the call. There’s no fax, no hand-written notes, and no need to communicate anything over the 2-way. This is all possible through the miracle of modern technology. All the dispatcher is required to do is choose the driver. That’s in the office. So with a computer with internet access in your truck you can do exactly the same thing. Try that on your IPhone.
But that’s not all. Even though AAA would like to be the only game in town there’s many customers besides their members. And with a connected laptop or tablet you can receive other motor club calls as well. There are software companies specific to the industry that have the ability to push these other motor club calls straight to your computer. What was once phoned-in, faxed or emailed, is now digitized and sent directly to your computer allowing you to assign it to a driver, sending them on their way.
Here’s a list of some of the more reputable software companies in the Towing Software Industry.
Digital Dispatch: http://www.sscsinc.com/products/towing-solutions/digital-dispatch/
Tow Book: http://towbook.com/
Dispatch Anywhere: http://www.beaconsoftco.com/Products/DispatchAnywhere/index.htm
Besides the ease with which they handle motor clubs, most of these programs allow you to input cash calls and send them to your drivers. One benefit to this is that frequent customers like repair shops will be easy to enter. You won’t need to fumble to write down all their information. A few keystrokes is all it takes and the name, address and phone numbers are filled in for you. Of course you’ll need to enter the breakdown location, vehicle type and name of the customer who owns the vehicle, but you’ll just have to do it once. No more writing it on your paper call log and then writing it on another sheet of paper to hand to a driver. You’ll still want to use your 2-way but there will be less need to go into detail. Just shoot it to their tablet or IPhone and they’re set.
Another huge advantage to using one of these programs is that it affords you the ability to see where all your drivers are on a map. I’m talking GPS. For example AAA’s tablets allow you to see in real-time where all your trucks are and, if the drivers update their calls properly, you’ll have the ability to gage who’s going to be available first. Can you feel the power surging through your veins? You’ll be able to give accurate ETA’s and know if you need to divert or hold-off a driver from continuing on a call. Exciting I know but I feel like I still haven’t gotten you convinced. Maybe it’s because of placement—where are you going to put a computer in your truck?
Another reason why I was opposed to using a laptop in the trucks was the lack of real estate available in the cab. Many of the laptop mounts looked cumbersome and intrusive on the passenger’s seat. Some strapped directly to the cushion while others were bolted to the floor and protruded between the seats. None looked like they would be sturdy enough to stand up to snow days and multiple passengers. That is until I found this one. Pro-Desks has a laptop mount that you can’t be beat. http://www.pro-desks.com/mongoose/superduty-mongoose-nav.htm
But be warned, this truck-mount is expensive, running at about $747. But it’s completely adjustable. It can be tilted so you can see the screen in full daylight. It stays, pretty much, out of the way of the passenger seat. There’s no need for any drilling. It mounts right to the passenger seat mounts in the front. It can adjust to big laptops and you can lock them in tight, so they won’t fall off the mount, even when you’re going down a washed-out driveway.
With the right mount you’ll be assured that the things not going to break or be in the way when you need to give someone a lift.
Backup Support- “When You’re In The Trenches”
With the details of how and why to go mobile out of the way, let’s talk about your backup.
You want to go mobile so you can be in the truck and run calls and keep in constant contact with customers. But it’s inevitable, one of these days you’re going to be deluged with calls and need help with the phones.
Imagine this—You’ll have assigned all your guys calls and you’ll be forced to go on a police call. And just when you’re in the middle of performing a reverse rollover in the fast lane, the phone will ring. You can’t NOT answer, you’re the dispatcher now remember. But if you do answer it you chance screwing up. And you chance looking unprofessional in front of Fire, Law Enforcement, EMT’s and possibly the evening news. So what do you do?
I suggest that you have a backup. Someone you can forward your phone to once you know you’re going to be indisposed for a while. Or you can use a feature that some of the cell phone providers have called Call Forward no-answer. In the event that you aren’t available to answer your phone you can have this feature set to ring to someone else’s phone, you can set it to do so after so many seconds or rings.
But if you do use this feature and you know you might need your back-up it would be wise to give them a heads-up. Alert them that you’re probably going to be unable to answer incoming calls for a while—so that they’ll be sure to answer.
Now I barely glanced over it a minute ago but I think there’s something else you might want to consider, customer service. The positives of going mobile are that you’re in the truck and able to stay in constant contact with repair shops and other customers, that’s great. In this regard you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, but what about one-on-one customer service?
When making the leap to going completely mobile you need to be aware of possible customer service issues. Let’s say you’re taking care of a customer, you’ve just arrived and hooked up their car and now you’re having a discussion surrounding where to take it. Then your phone rings. Again—you have to take it. So in order to provide great customer service you must take your attention off the customer standing directly in front of you and give it to whoever is calling. Not cool.
My suggestion for solving this problem is not fool-proof.
First you must become a master on the phone. You need to have the ability to quickly determine who is calling. Of course caller ID helps but lately I’ve seen telemarketers who have found a way to hi-jack local residential listings. If it is a telemarketer, then it’s a no-brainer, just hang up. But the phone must be answered.
Then once you do answer you need to be able to detect if the person on the line needs service immediately or is just looking for rates. Don’t misunderstand, you want to take care to give both types of callers your attention, (no matter how divided). And at the same time you need to be able to read them. Are they able to hold for just a minute while you finish up the conversation with the customer in front of you? Are they eager for the information right now? (Meaning that they’ll just call someone else if you don’t make the time, right now.)
Second you need to have the ability to politely bow-out of a conversation while not alienating your customer. Remember you’re in the middle of an important conversation with a customer when the phone rings. To juggle this situation you can simply apologize and say, “I’m sorry but I have to take this,” Once you know that the call is junk, hang up, apologize again for the interruption and continue the discussion. If you must take the call do it as quickly as possible without alienating either party and once the call is over…apologize again. I know it sounds like you’re falling all over yourself here, but I believe that doing works wonders to salvage the relationship.
Like I said before, this is not a fool-proof solution to the problem but it should help when it comes up.
As a side note, another thing you can do is to buy a hands free device that you can blue-tooth to your phone. I received an email just yesterday about Jabra’s new Stealth device. For those unfamiliar it’s an ear-piece and a microphone in one. It connects wirelessly to your phone using your Bluetooth settings.
The setup any Bluetooth device is quite easy. For the IPhone you just tap your settings icon on the main screen and follow the instructions.
I understand that this handy little device doesn’t entirely solve the issue of taking attention away from the customer who’s in front of you, but you’ll be able to continue working while talking, which could lessen the intrusion at times.
I could go on and on about the pros and cons to going mobile and I may put up another post in the future but I’ll leave it at this for now. I’d love if you joined in so please let me know what you think.