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Will Technology Eliminate the ‘Personal Touch’ in Fleet Management?

December 13, 2012, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Technology has dramatically changed the fleet management profession, with the overwhelming change being for the better. During the past several decades, technology has transformed the way fleets communicate, especially with the introduction of Web-enabled technology.

However, one unintended consequence of this technologically-induced change has been the increasing de-personalization of the interaction between fleet managers and drivers. In many ways, technology is slowly eliminating the “personal touch” to fleet management, which, since the inception of the profession, has been the hallmark of good fleet management. 

“While technology is making things easier, it is also making things more difficult,” said Mel Pawlisz, fleet manager for Four Seasons Heating & A/C. “We’re losing the personal touch by not getting to know the people we deal with and how they work. Technology lets us do things easily for the many. However, a real fleet manager needs to be able to understand how to help the individual driver.”

Other fleet managers have expressed similar concerns. “Technology has made the management of a fleet more mechanical and automated. There is no longer a personal connection between the fleet manager and the drivers,” said a fleet manager who wished to remain anonymous.

Depersonalized Communication

A growing number of fleet managers believe technology has made the profession more impersonal. Drivers may also see electronic communication as impersonal if their sole communication from managers is through e-mail. Also, e-mail can create confusion, requiring employees to seek more feedback than normal compared to direct personal communication.

For some fleet managers, the decreased personal interaction with drivers has decreased their job satisfaction. One aspect of the job they enjoy the most is providing a valued service to internal customers, which, in their eyes, requires personal interaction. A call from a driver thanking a fleet manager for their efforts makes the job worthwhile and very rewarding.

“The best part of the job has always been dealing with the drivers. While that can also be extremely frustrating, it’s what makes every day different from the day before. I found throughout the years that people do incredibly stupid things in their vehicles, and I continue to be surprised when something new surfaces. But, the overwhelming majority of drivers are satisfied and I enjoy the recognition of a driver calling to say thank you,” said another fleet manager. Nowadays, most communication between the fleet manager and drivers is via e-mail. “While we all like to be thanked for the job we did or how we helped someone, it tends to lose some of its luster in an e-mail. Getting that call with the person you helped always feels better to me,” said Pawlisz.

There is also a generational preference to the use of e-mail and social media as a communication medium. It is no surprise that younger drivers prefer to communicate almost exclusively via e-mail. Although highly efficient and productive, fleet managers complain that e-mail tends to make drivers lazy. One example is with an intranet fleet website, which is designed to answer most fleet-related questions. Instead of using it, drivers send e-mails asking for information that is available at their fingertips on the website. In today’s work environment, e-mail makes it easy to fire off a question, rather than take the time to look up the answer in the company fleet policy.

Not Everyone Feels This Way

Although some fleet managers complain that technology depersonalizes communication, other fleet managers welcome the decrease in phone calls. They prefer e-mail over the phone. When drivers call, they tend to give more detail than is needed to answer the question. It is less time-consuming to respond to an e-mail. Plus, as one fleet manager related, “e-mail offers other advantages over phone communication, such as not having to play phone tag, listen to long drawn-out voicemails, or rely on your note-taking ability; that is, of course, if you actually manage to speak to someone on the first try. E-mail gives you the opportunity to develop an intelligent reply without the pressure of remembering all the supporting facts on the spot during a live conversation.” Likewise, some employees find “live” conversations draining, especially if it involves conflict.

Technology has led to the creation of a “24/7/365” business environment and society. Everyone is reachable any time of day or night via e-mail, texting, social media, etc. Technology is facilitating impersonal communication. Currently, it is more of a generational preference, but, ultimately, they will be the fleet managers and drivers of tomorrow. In the future, personalized fleet management may seem as quaint as the home delivery of milk.

Let me know what you think.


  1. 1. Steve Kibler [ December 14, 2012 @ 10:55AM ]

    Great points Mike, our City Manager astutely recommends: "Never deliver bad news via an e-mail. If the message is not what the person wants to hear, deliver it in person or directly by the phone; never by e-mail, memo or voice mail." Since following this advise, I find customers are much more receptive when communicating directly to them with that personal touch.

  2. 2. Thomas Bray [ December 18, 2012 @ 12:30PM ]

    Excellent article. A fleet I used to be with had gotten to the point were we suddenly realized we didn't know if our drivers were happy, sad, thrilled, mad, or about to quit due to having gone so heavily to technology and never actually talking to the drivers! We actually went "backwards" and required our driver managers to personally talk to their drivers on a regular basis, especially about "important things." They were even required to make personal contact with their dirvers occasionally if there was nothing to talk about!

  3. 3. Allen Mitchell [ December 21, 2012 @ 05:25AM ]

    I guess I am "old school" in that face-to-face communications is my preferred means for ensuring communications are effective, issues are resolved and the parties are on the same page. As you know the vast majority of communication occurs via tone and body language and not the words used, so that is where email and voicemail have shortcomings. Customer service issues need to be addressed face-to-face to avoid misunderstandings, convey genuine concern, effectively respond to the issue(s) and achieve mutual satisfaction with the end result.

    To be sure, email and voicemail are helpful tools for reponding to simple requests and providing succinct feedback when time is of the essence. However, it is far too easy to use technology as a panacea and inadvertently provide less than satisfying interpersonal interactions.

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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