A Week in

I have always been involved answering the telephone and taking calls since the business was knee high to a grasshopper, but recently because my Senior Controller took the liberty of taking 10 days holiday I was left manning the helm and everything associated with it. In some ways I should not have been taken aback, but it is a year since I last was full-on and how things have changed; and how the work providers are inflicting so much pressure and of course paying no more money.

But some of the problems have not just appeared in the last 12 months. It is probably worth just going over the many nightmares that a Controller faces within a shift: for the benefit of those who read this and aren’t actually running a Breakdown Service, the biggest problem is that on many occasions the customer (member) is being far too demanding and their expectations are far too high for the situation that they have found themselves in and then combined with their own ineptness to assist themselves out of these predicaments.

But the obvious pressure comes about because of the lack of money that seems to be left over now the AA are calling the tunes. Only on a very odd occasion can you dial up a Recovery Club and get them to answer the phone immediately.

It’s more likely to be 10 or 15 minutes or often more: and all this time a truck is waiting at the roadside and wondering whether to do or not to do or, as is often the case, trying to find the member. I find it unbelievable that someone will breakdown, call and Emergency Service and not keep their phone free, fully charged and ready to use.

But I would say in at least 40% of all cases, the member will wander off to an unknown location, have a phone that goes to Voice Mail because they are telling the world that they are broken down, or they just won’t answer the phone at all.

All this is bad enough when you are not very busy but if you have got other jobs waiting, it is a nightmare.

I have to be careful here, not to be wearing too thick rose-coloured glasses: but I am sure that 30 years ago there was less trouble sorting out a breakdown location and less trouble finding the members because, apart from having more common sense, they were terrified if they did not stay with the car or stay at the phone box, they would never get recovered.

It would also relieve the stress on the Controller if somebody would tell these people that it is not our fault they have broken down, and it is certainly not our fault that the car is only a few weeks old or has been into a garage recently: or, worse still, they had been broken down before, only a few weeks earlier. It is not our fault they are going to miss their appointment, which is probably some irrelevant experience that they would be better doing without. I won’t even go into how people react when they are told they have only 10 miles free recovery when they swear blind that the £20-odd they paid was for Crown Jewel Class.

While this is bad enough, we then have the Clubs ringing and Ramming not only when the ETA is passed (by 30 seconds) but because it is approaching. I find it a bit disappointing that no one will answer the phone in a Club Control Room, yet they have plenty of people ringing us to find out what has happened or is happening. Trying to get authorisation and sort a job out is, without doubt, the most stressful part of being a Controller. The request to send an application by RAM is fine, but then you have to sit and wait for a reply, which is just as painful as waiting on the phone.

While all this was happening I was still having to deal with the distribution of jobs and the updates from the trucks, as well as dealing with quotations from casual customers. And then we even have the unnecessary aggravation of dealing with non-Master-Mind contestants who have had their cars taken off them by the Police for various obvious and blatant crimes like running uninsured, abandoning the car on a traffic island because they have enjoyed ale, or had to escape from a burglary, abandoning their vehicle.

They all seem to drone on about a fact that the car should not be with us and how soon can they get it back and, by the way, I won’t be paying and also by the way, I will be round to burn you out. Sounds a bit dramatic but I think every Breakdown Controller can completely identify with everything I have just said.

By now, I think the only thing I did not have to do, was push a brush up my backside and sweep the floor as I went.

Doing the Senior Controller’s job in a 24-hour environment, means the first hour each day is spent sorting the overnight issues. Did I learn anything during my week in hell? Well, not much that I did not know already, but one thing did loom large and I think it probably affects every Breakdown Operator in the country and that is— robbery by stealth.

How many times does a Roadside Assistance or Recovery job get done where the mileage is, say 21, with 20 free, or 27 with 25 free, and because of all the problems that I have outlined the extra mile or two never gets asked for. Remember, it is a pound or two every time.

I once had a conversation with a Finance Director of a company that made matches when a box of matches contained 48. He was always neurotic that 49 did not sneak into the box because one match extra would have resulted in 2% loss, e.g. £20,000 on every £1m worth of matches. Had he been complete short-changing each box and only put in 47, he would have been substantially better off.

We, unfortunately, are working in pounds per mile, not matches; but it is certainly food for thought.

For the record my Senior Controller, Julie, is now well back from her holidays and I think she is the most wonderful person in the whole world.

Fred Henderson
Breakdown Doctor