The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

2013 Fleet Industry Report Card

The results are in and the industry should congratulate itself for doing a good job in meeting the needs of commercial fleet managers. However, there still remain several areas that present opportunities for further improvement.

April 2013, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Photo via Dom Sagolla/Flickr.
Photo via Dom Sagolla/Flickr.

In a first-ever survey to provide an industry report of services and products offered in the commercial fleet market, fleet managers rated fleet management companies (FMCs), OEMs, and upfitters. Based on the survey data, the commercial fleet industry is doing many things right and fleet managers are generally pleased with the quality of services and products they are purchasing.

However, there are several areas that fleet managers cite as opportunities for improvement. Below are these suggestions from fleet managers, in their own words, on what the industry can do to take customer satisfaction to the next level. Responses have been kept anonymous so as not to identify specific FMCs or OEMs.

Better Customer Service Needed from FMCs and OEMs

"I find the FMCs are very forward-thinking technologically, but in day-to-day proactive customer service, there has been a downturn; in particular, follow-through on issues. For example, going to an FMC with a problem and two weeks later I am the one following up on the report or the answer I was looking for is not acceptable.

"Customer service is also an issue with OEMs. Our OEM fleet reps have become so stretched in their territories, they have very little leeway or authority to actually 'service' their customers. In the old days, the OEM fleet rep was capable of negotiating with the customer. Now, they have to go back to finance for approval and may or may not get it."

Order-to-Delivery Process Needs to be Improved

"Both the FMCs and OEMs fail in giving us a clear picture of where our vehicles are once vehicle production is done. We have this enormous black hole of four to 10 weeks in the life of the vehicle, in which we know nothing about it. The OEMs can and should do a much better job informing FMCs on the whereabouts of fleet vehicles, even if the logistics of moving the vehicles are in the hands of a third-party. FMCs should insist on getting this information and updating their fleet customers.

"Too often we have units that fall through the cracks and get lost in the system for weeks or months, just to be found at a later date, sometimes with damage that occurred during the movement of vehicles from location to location. Many times, a vehicle damaged during transportation becomes a battleground of who is paying for the repair. The vehicle ends up sitting somewhere waiting for someone's decisions on repairs, and meanwhile we do not have the vehicle available to the fleet. We've had vehicles that have been stuck in this scenario for six or more months."

Eliminate the Limitation of Using Third-Party Vendors

"FMCs work hard to provide a full range of products and services to the fleet manager, but sometimes they limit the ability to choose third-party service providers, because it is difficult to integrate the data from outside vendors into their systems. There are many choices available in the industry today for GPS systems, remarketing, safety programs, fuel cards, and transportation of vehicles — the list goes on. Today's fleet manager should find the best products and services for their fleet needs, then the FMC should facilitate the integration of information provided from the chosen vendors into one database for reporting and analytical purposes."

OEMs Should Spend More Time Listening Than Selling

"The auto manufacturers need to spend more time 'listening' and less time 'selling.' Inevitably, when I open the door to meet with a manufacturer, because there is a need it may be able to fill, I wind up in an endless conversation about other products that I don't have a need for today. My suggestion to OEMs is to get in the door, listen, devise a plan, be successful, and the rest will come."

Provide Better Service to Smaller Fleets

"I believe FMCs need to reach out more to their smaller customers. So many times, the little fleets are not paid enough attention and they have just as many issues (if not more) than the bigger fleets. FMCs need to make more of an effort to get out to the smaller fleets and make them feel as important to them as their larger clients.

"The OEMs have the same issue as the FMCs. Smaller fleets do not get invited to attend the manufacturer shows, or to sit on manufacturer advisory boards, and are generally ignored. Manufacturers need to recognize smaller fleets buy vehicles, too. If a manufacturer makes the effort to reach out to these fleets, they will find they tend to be very loyal to those that help them."

FMC Should Eliminate the One-Size-Fits-All Strategy

"Although technology is great, too often we see an FMC promoting a new product rather than adopting a simple initiative without being asked. Fleet managers are noticing if it is not in the FMC's structure or script, unconventional needs are all too often dismissed. These are replaced with responses, such as 'trust us' and 'we have always done it this way and it works best.' The question remains, who does this work best for?

"Today's fleet departments are becoming more advanced with increased demands in performance, costs, and reporting. It is time for FMCs to remove the 'one-size-fits-all' strategy and align with the increased accountabilities being asked of fleet managers. You cannot do today's job with yesterday's methods and be successful tomorrow."

OEMs Must be More Strategic Dealing with Commercial Fleets

"The one area auto manufacturers need to improve is to be more strategic when working with their commercial fleet customers. In short, account management is more than understanding volume and negotiating a commensurate rebate. Some are better than others in this regard. However, I know it is a growing frustration among my peers; so much so, it is becoming a joke among corporate fleet professionals.

"Instead of just stating a problem, let me better define 'strategic,' which means different things to different people. To me, 'strategic' means having a clear understanding of the fleet department's value proposition to the company, clear KPIs that measure the performance associated with the delivery of that value proposition, and a plan (strategy) to execute for the immediate to longer-term.

"For an OEM to be strategic, it needs to understand how its individual account defines value and how its product can enable that value. This could be in the form of access to ergonomic, safety, or environmental professionals within its company; understanding its product pipeline and how that aligns to our needs; and certainly should include a more global view. OEMs are, at best, regional in their fleet perspective, which is a mistake." 

FMC Technology Not Fully Integrated with Other Services

"As FMCs continue to improve their technology, it's important they understand and test how various pieces of a process affects other areas of fleet management. For example, when a record is updated, that update should be reflected in everything else it affects.

"It sounds very simple, but without full integration, time-sensitive issues can fall through the cracks and compromise areas of compliance with state, local, and regulatory agencies. It seems to me that sometimes conceptual thinking has been replaced by 'technology thinking' and, in some cases, that's a little scary. Before acting on behalf of its clientele, FMC employees at the worker-bee level should ask a basic question: 'Does this make sense?' "

OEMs' Lost Opportunities with Courtesy Deliveries

"Manufacturers need to get their act together regarding 'lost opportunities' involving courtesy deliveries (CD). While many dealers have well-trained staff, who do a good job with courtesy deliveries, there are just as many, if not more, who could care less. When this occurs, what the dealer (and ultimately the OEM) fail to recognize is the driver picking up a CD vehicle is now 'foot traffic' that might not have otherwise come into the dealership.

"This is an opportunity to establish a relationship — not a sales job — with the driver. Sometimes, I wonder if some dealerships fully understand how much they spend on advertising and marketing and how it translates into foot traffic, and, ultimately sales. With a CD delivery, you have a 'no-cost' potential customer walk through the door, not to mention the dealer is also receiving the actual CD fee for this opportunity. How can you plant the seed of a relationship in the minds of drivers without 'selling them' right out the door, never to return again?

"Maybe dealers can have the registration and license plates installed before having the driver pick up the vehicle. No one wants to take the extra trip back to the dealer to pick up the plates. When dealers refuse to register the new vehicle, it takes away from the driver's productivity to go to the state motor vehicle office.

"Would it be possible to have a fleet-only bay and technician two to three days a week? Fleets are incurring unnecessary rental expenses to keep drivers productive. Maybe on two days the dealer could dedicate a bay for just fleet vehicles for faster service. Maybe the dealer could also have a work area set aside with free WiFi so drivers can work while waiting for service to be completed."

FMCs Need to Improve Consultative Services

"Since a leasing company has a wider perspective than an individual fleet manager, I feel that they could be more proactive in prompting their individual clients with what they see as industry trends and what other clients might be doing that would benefit all. Since not all fleet managers are able to attend industry conferences, perhaps they could share what trends and ideas that are emerging with regard to safety, new-vehicles, and green initiatives, etc."

Complaints About OEM Option Package Contents

"A pet peeve of mine is buying packaged options, which include non-required fleet-type equipment to get the one thing in the package that you 'need,' which is non-value added. My second pet peeve is safety equipment not being available on the base models if being used in a fleet option. The manufacturers generally reserve safety options for the upgraded vehicles. I don't get it; everyone deserves the same right to drive a safely equipped vehicle. The manufacturers  know fleets will pay for it, and that's okay, so just offer it!

"Auto manufacturers are becoming very competitive and each model-year's release seems to bring about changes in the specifications of the vehicles. I've been surprised to discover that the power driver seat that was available on last year's model is no longer available on this year's model without an upgrade. It would be nice if there were more flexibility on package offerings so we don't have to get a lot of things we don't necessarily need to get the one feature that's an absolute must-have. Whatever the manufacturers can do to make the vehicle selection process simpler would be welcome."

FMCs Should Provide Better KPIs to a Fleet's Senior Management

"FMCs walk a fine line between being a good corporate citizen to their client organizations and being protectors of the fleet personnel they've done business with for years. In my opinion, FMCs must ensure that not only are they measuring themselves in SLAs and KPIs, but that their client organizations measure (and value) the internal success of the fleet team. Who really knows what the fleet team does if there are no numbers that show movement in the right direction?"

FMCs Need to be More Proactive About Cost-Reduction Initiatives

"FMCs have to become more proactive initiating measures resulting in minimizing fleet costs and taking on more administrative responsibilities. FMCs are great at collecting data and providing reports, but do they ever look at the client's costs unless a fleet manager first raises the question? I would like to see more FMCs call a fleet manager and say, 'I noticed your costs are increasing this quarter, should we change this procedure or implement this program to keep your costs under budget?' This is what makes the difference between being a true partner and just taking orders at a drive-through window."

FMCs Should Eliminate Their Complacent Mindset

"I do not see that FMCs are really 'digging deeply' to challenge the mantra of 'that is how we have been doing it forever' or 'that is the generally accepted status quo.' A certain degree of complacency appears to have settled in some areas.

"The one area FMCs need to improve is to continue to invest in IT, product development, and dedicate resources toward supporting branch offices and truck fleets. They have spent so much time and effort on tools, technology, and products for sales and sedan fleets; but, they are behind when it comes to truck fleets. All of the FMCs are 'talking' about doing so and are moving slowly about improving branch and truck-related online technology, resources, and products; however, in my opinion, they are still far behind from where they should be."

OEMs Need to Work on Minimizing Parts Delays & Shortages

"There need to be faster deliveries and more readily available parts when new vehicles need repairs. There is a cost for the faster deliveries, but, there is no excuse for the lack of available replacement parts, unless the supplier went out of business (which has happened), but then there needs to be a backup plan."

FMCs Need to Do a Better Job in Vendor Management

"I find that FMCs are understaffed and underdeveloped when it comes to vendor management. Many still believe the only vendors they need to spend time and resources with are our national maintenance vendors and the OEMs. For upfitted fleets comprised of vans and trucks, the universe is incredibly diverse and the FMCs haven't yet realized they need expanded staff, IT connections, and new tools developed to get basic order status, and, most importantly, micro-manage upfitters, truck dealers, and medium- and heavy-duty OEMs."

Vehicle Availability Needs to be in Sync with Fleet Timing

"The auto manufacturers need to be more cognizant of fleet needs and, more importantly, of fleet timing. Pricing needs to come out sooner; new-vehicle releases need to be timed better; and fleet availability of those vehicles needs to increase. Additionally, they could communicate better with the FMCs, so that vehicle status (which my drivers crave) is more up-to-date and real-time."

Eliminate Inconsistency in Fuel Report Product Codes

"The data generated for fuel card purchases and the need to properly categorize diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) leaves much to be desired. I simply cannot understand why data 'from the pump,' which is provided as a summary for fuel card purchases, might indicate a specific grade of fuel that may be different than the printed receipt at the point of sale.

"To explain, a driver dispenses fuel and obtains a receipt at the pump or inside the store. The receipt states 'X' gallons of regular, mid-range, supreme, etc.; however, on the report the fleet manager receives, the gallons are the same, but the product description may differ. This is always explained as 'the setting at the pump is screwed up' and, if it is an independent operator, there is little or nothing anyone can do to 'make the changes at the pump.'

"The industry needs to get in front of this opportunity and create a specific product code that clearly indicates DEF. Not only do we perpetuate miscoding of basic fuels, but there is still no product description for DEF. This results in charges for DEF that are being listed under product codes for 'propane, diesel, gasoline (any grade), or a wash.' Does it really need to be this difficult, especially when the driver is typically provided an accurate receipt at the pump or inside the store?"

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