Most dealer-management systems offer an automated-service dispatch function that can streamline service-technician workflow, aid customer satisfaction and increase fixed-operation profitability.

So why don't more service departments use this great tool?

Jim Skeans, of Jim Skeans Consulting Group, says he knows why, and there is more than one culprit.

“Of my client base, 80% have automated dispatch and almost none use it correctly,” he says.

Automated dispatch, which uses the DMS to assign technician workload and jobs, is not the same as electronic dispatch, which is like paper-based dispatching although orders are sent to technicians via computer.

Automated dispatch makes sure workloads are distributed fairly and prevents technicians from cherry-picking the jobs they prefer to do.

It keeps technicians in their bays working, rather than at the dispatch desk looking for plum jobs. It ensures customer jobs are slipstreamed into the workflow equitably.

“It's a great tool for making better use of everyone's time,” Skeans says. “Techs work on jobs that are better for the company and for customers. Ideally, it should increase productivity and billable hours. Everyone makes more money, including the technicians.”

Yet, many service departments don't use automated dispatch or don't use it to its full potential to improve the business.

Dealership managers who think their staff is using it might consider running an automated dispatch override report. This will indicate if the service staff is overriding the computer's automated decision-making. More than a few overrides per week is cause for concern.

“Overriding automated dispatch is akin to air traffic at an airport on a bad weather day,” says Skeans, whose company specializes in DMS consulting.

“Even one delay backs up not only the immediate air traffic but air traffic around the country. Once events are being overridden, every job backs up. And out of frustration, dispatching going forward defaults to manual.”

Often, the systems are flawed from the start. Companies that market automated dispatch get data for these systems from a dealership's service staff. But rarely is this information complete, Skeans says.

DMS personnel setting up the tool at the dealership may lack adequate knowledge of fixed operations. That can compromise the system, too.

This productivity tool is expensive, so it doesn't make sense not to use it.

Skeans recommends working with system providers to complete, update and verify all inputs. Then get staffers to use it and assess penalties for more than just occasional overrides.

To engage your automated dispatch so it works for the dealership, be sure of the following:

  • Labor operation codes must be properly set up with dispatch codes, pricing and good estimated repair times.
  • Dispatch codes must include technician skill level settings, as well as which techs are primary and which secondary.
  • Technician setups are vital. Special attention should be given to skill levels, including efficiency objectives with a system in place to keep them up to date.

The rest of the setups for full automation are standard stuff, such as labor rates and accounting procedures.

Even thorough setups can be defeated by an inattentive or untrained dispatcher. Skeans calls it “automation-interruptus.”

Questions or comments about this column?
Send us an e-mail at