“What is your dispatcher’s job?” Is a question I’ve asked a lot in my line of work, and the most common answer – by far – is to make sure that all of the calls get run every day. If that is your answer, then you should know that you’ve got some work to do.

I’m certain there was a time back when your business was in its infancy where you were scrambling for every dollar. It was just you in a truck, and you needed every single call that came your way just to survive. You didn’t go home until every call that came in was complete, and once you got too busy to get that done, you hired someone else after scraping up the money for another truck and equipment. Once you did that, things stayed relatively the same. Every call that came in got run, no matter what, because they had to be run or the business would fail.

Then you hit a couple more growth points, and you either hired someone to answer the calls and dispatch, or you moved into the office and started doing it yourself. Either way, the message was still “Run until we are done.” And done meant that every call was off the board. But a funny thing happened that you weren’t paying attention to along the way. You became more discerning about the calls you would take, and when you would take them. You began to only run the calls that were worth your time and the others would be taken care of by your team.

Without even knowing it, you were starting to implement “opportunity dispatch” within your business. Opportunity dispatching isn’t a practice that forces companies to stop running maintenance or low-value calls. It means you are being smarter about when those calls get booked and how they are run. As an industry, we have always viewed the dispatch board as a giant to-do list. There’s a flaw in this type of thinking though. That flaw is that once the list is full, we stop taking any more calls. This is where we do our customers and our company a disservice.

Triaging is a term often used in the world of healthcare when medical professionals are treating patients. To triage is to care for the most severe medical conditions first, before moving onto less serious cases. We should really be thinking about our dispatch board like an emergency room team handles its patients. We might have a waiting room filled with people who have temperatures and the sniffles, but if someone with a gunshot wound comes in, everything shifts to allow him or her to be cared for first. Our gunshot wounds are broken units or potential property damage.

Yes, those people with minor problems are important, but I might have to ask them to wait until tomorrow for service. They may get upset and might even take their business somewhere else. You have to be okay with that, because you know that in the end, you are doing the greatest good. Some of you are probably thinking that this analogy is crazy because our customers don’t care about other people’s stuff not working, but I would challenge your thinking here.

Those same people who are upset that we can’t get to their maintenance call today would want us to drop everything if they had a much larger issue. We just need to do a better job of explaining these situations to customers when they arise.

There are a lot of other moving parts required to make this process a success. Regular and constant update calls, better scheduling for maintenance and other low priority targets, and even having something ready to give customers who may be inconvenienced by your process. It’s important to remember that no matter what you do you, you will never please everyone. Taking care of customers with the greatest need will always be the right decision.