I recently attended a seminar comprised of fleet drivers from different corporations, and what surprised me was that none of them knew the name of their company fleet manager.
Is this important? I think so.
I know driver communication at most fleets has been outsourced to fleet management companies out of expediency because there are not enough hours in the day for an under-staffed in-house fleet manager to field numerous driver calls. I also know many of these calls often pertain to questions that could be easily answered if the driver bothered to first read the company fleet policy. I understand all of this, but the fleet driver is your “customer,” just as the department heads to whom they report.
A driver communication strategy is just as important as an asset management strategy. One tenet of a driver communication strategy is to increase fleet policy compliance to help reduce unnecessary costs. Fleet policy is a crucial part of a company’s over-all cost-control strategy. Based on my experience, the best-managed fleets are those whose drivers adhere to a written fleet policy.
All too often, managers attempt to control fleet costs on the back end. The best time to control costs is before they occur and the way to do this is by establishing policies and procedures that inhibit unnecessary spending and protect corporate assets. Fleet policy provides the mechanism to curb money-wasting behaviors. Think about it: If you want to reduce fuel costs, some ways to do so are to ensure that drivers maintain properly inflated tires, avoid excessive idling, and drive the posted speed limit. This isn’t rocket science, but it is effective in producing time-proven end-results by the simple fact of drivers complying with written fleet policy.
The overwhelming majority of drivers want to do what’s right for the company; however, just because your company implements a written fleet policy doesn't mean it is followed. A common problem is that the fleet manager communicates policy to the drivers’ managers, but the word doesn’t get down to the individual drivers. Most fleets make fleet policy easily accessible to drivers and managers by posting it on the corporate intranet. But, is this effective or simply a feel-good justification that you’ve done your job in communicating fleet policy?
As the Apple advertising slogan says, let’s “think different.” For instance, have you considered communicating policies and procedures regarding company vehicles during the new employee orientation? Or, what about setting aside time at company meetings to make face-to-face presentations on fleet policies to the drivers and managers? For drivers who work in regional offices, you can hold periodic webinars or teleconferences. During these meetings, not only emphasize the importance of policies designed to control costs, but, just as important, emphasize how fleet policy can make them more productive by minimizing downtime.
My rule of thumb is that fleet managers should engage in driver communication whenever practical and appropriate. For instance, sales and service organizations often hold meetings where they receive training for new products and services. Fleet managers should request some time at these meetings to remind drivers about fleet policy or identify best practices. Since many drivers are in sales, they often attend annual sales meetings, where they go over the prior year’s activity, present awards, and receive face-to-face training. Why not use this opportunity to ask for time on the agenda to discuss the same items that they would on a conference call, but in greater depth, and answer questions from attendees? In other instances, some fleet managers travel to field locations to ride with their service technicians to see firsthand how they use their vehicles and solicit suggestions on what can be done to improve the vehicle’s work environment. Do you really know how your drivers use the equipment you are ordering? What suggestions might they have for improvement? The information gleaned from these driver interactions can be invaluable when working with your FMC and upfitters.
How often should you communicate with drivers? Drivers will tell you they welcome the communication so long as you keep it short and make it pertinent to their job. Build into every message a feedback mechanism to allow engagement by the driver or field manager. Drivers can provide a firsthand perspective and share insights on how fleet managers can improve their experience as drivers. A fleet manager needs to know what is and isn’t working from a driver’s perspective, along with soliciting suggestions on how to improve the driver experience.
In the final analysis, an effective driver communication strategy will win the support of drivers, field fleet administrators, and regional or branch managers. These are potential “fleet advocates,” whose opinions and behaviors can help or hinder operational goals. If you want to control fleet’s bottom line, you need to know your drivers, and they need to know you.
Here’s my challenge to you: Create a driver focus group, with rotating members, and hold periodic meetings to solicit feedback on the fleet program. I know some will say this opens the proverbial can of worms and nothing good will come out of it. I disagree. You’ll discover it’s a terrific opportunity to keep your ears to the ground, be made aware of new issues as they are emerging, and receive honest feedback from drivers — all of which will make you a better fleet manager.
Let me know what you think.