Truck breakdowns historically have been nightmarish events involving a flurry of phone calls with drivers’ fleet supervisors and service truck companies and exhaustive logistics on the whereabouts of the breakdown events.
Before digitalization came into emergency roadside assistance, the service was purely responsive. A supervisor at the trucking company spoke with his driver to check if the truck had a problem that could be solved via phone instructions, and if not, jot down the truck’s location by figuring out which mile marker was closest and then call up a service truck service to get it to the scene for an in-person checkup.
The process required the supervisor to report every minute detail concerning the truck — its make and type, years of service, the possible issue and other nitty-gritty. And once the service truck was dispatched, the supervisor was usually left in the dark, having little idea of the estimated time of arrival, quality of service or the potential costs that would be incurred.
“This was how it was done for decades and it was a very slow and tedious process,” said Dennis Harrison, the head of emergency roadside service (ERS) at HGS, a logistics solutions company. “Roadside assistance now is very different. When there’s an event, the driver can click a button on a standalone app or an app run by the trucking company and there’s an immediate transmission of all the data that is needed about that event.”
A digital dispatch system takes stock of the situation and connects with an assistance provider that is not just the closest but also is equipped to handle the issue at hand. Once the service provider is zeroed in, the driver and his supervisor get details on the dispatched service truck, including track and trace and estimated time of arrival.
“The whole process can take only about five minutes instead of 20 minutes or more that drivers would have to be on the phone to hook up with the right service truck a decade ago,” said Harrison.
The use of bots in roadside assistance services can help stranded drivers instantly access help — without waiting on the phone. During inclement weather conditions, trucks can break down on the highway, often causing manual service lines to not be responsive due to excess volume of assistance requests. A bot circumvents this issue as it can respond to every driver at any point in time, take down details and instantly look for service options in the vicinity.
Data analytics also are a huge differentiator in the business, contended Harrison, pointing out that service companies can leverage data to provide flat pricing rates for customers who are looking for an annual service subscription.
“When I talk with trucking companies, I question them on the number of roadside events they have per year and most of them fail to give me an exact number. The same goes for the percentage of those events that end in the truck getting towed. Companies have the data stored somewhere but cannot get hold of it readily,” said Harrison.
The percentage of tows in roadside events is a critical determinant in pricing services for subscription. For instance, a company that has only 5% of its roadside events ending in tows can pay a lot less premium compared to a company that has 95% of its roadside events ending in tows.
Flat-rate pricing on roadside assistance service works well for companies as they can put it down as a fixed annual cost rather than shelling enormous amounts of money as “add-ons” for one-off services.
“Trucking companies get bills from service providers where they have add-ons for various reasons. For example, they could ask for more money as the truck was stationed 10 miles away from the mentioned location,” said Harrison. “Flat-rate pricing is the best way forward, and for this, it is important for fleets to look at their roadside events data and create better policies around assistance needs going forward.”