When you expect opposition from multiple directions, honing your internal customer service style and defining your guardrails in advance will give you the framework to manage these situations effectively.  -  Photo: Canva/Automotive Fleet

When you expect opposition from multiple directions, honing your internal customer service style and defining your guardrails in advance will give you the framework to manage these situations effectively.

Photo: Canva/Automotive Fleet

The day-to-day of fleet management can be pretty cut and dry, until it isn’t. When those uncomfortable or sticky situations arise, that’s when you’re really tested. How are you able to not just squeeze out of those situations, but come out as a champion? How do you produce a fair, constructive, and equitable outcome?

As a fleet manager, you can fall back on fleet and HR policies that are, by design, black and white. But the reality is often more complicated. There are many gray areas in fleet management that often lead to those sticky situations.  

In an all-too-familiar case, what if the fleet manager tells a driver he or she can’t have a certain vehicle, and the driver’s manager calls asking why they can’t have that vehicle? 

How about when you know you’re right, or you believe you chose the best course of action, and no one agrees with you? How many have been in a situation where HR said back down? 

In these sticky situations, this is where your internal customer service style matters, according to a fleet manager of a large Midwestern passenger car fleet. “You start by asking: What does customer service really mean, to yourself and the parties you deal with?” 

It’s good to adopt a customer-service mindset. After all, the daily life of fleet managers is based on internal customer relations. But the adage, “The customer is always right” should not be taken as gospel.

“Really, it boils down to why are we doing this for our customer?” he asked. “Is it just because we want to be a nice person? Is it company policy, so we have to do it?”

“There are always gray areas, those one-offs that just drive you nuts, that's just the nature of the business,” he continued. “But we make critical decisions everyday with our customers. And if we don't have guardrails to run our fleet business, we're going to get pushed all over the place.”

Guardrails. It’s a good way to describe your give and take within a situation. Think ahead and define your guardrails in advance when you expect opposition from multiple directions, the fleet manager said. And then you’ll have the framework in place to manage the situation effectively. 

Fleet Management & Termination

Sometimes, the sticky situation becomes much more important, as the following incident illustrates. Since this incident involves a sensitive matter, the fleet manager asked to remain anonymous to be able to speak freely.

The fleet manager had recently been notified that an employee had been pulled over in her fleet vehicle by the police for suspicion of DUI. The driver was apparently given a citation and the police impounded the vehicle. The fleet management company recorded the First Notice of Loss (FNOL), yet there was no mention on the FNOL that the driver received the citation.  

At a glance, the situation seems like grounds for termination. Not only did it appear as if the driver lied, the actions of the employee presented a danger to herself and the public. The consequences in this instance are severe – a well-liked, long-time employee would be out of a job, and the company could face consequences. 

In this instance, customer service extends beyond HR and executive leadership to the FMC, insurance company, and law enforcement. The company is facing new hire costs, legal costs resulting from a possible lawsuit from the employee, and a potential loss of sales revenue. 

Managing Internal Customers Effectively

Turning away from this incident for now, there are many other commonplace situations that also test a fleet manager’s ability to manage their internal customers, define their guardrails, and stick to them.

For instance, at what point does a driver’s medical condition warrant extraordinary accommodations for vehicle type, beyond the medically approved models? If company policy states that the employee needs a new doctor’s report every four years to identify that he or she still has the medical problem, is it worth it to force the issue? 

A seasoned fleet manager knows what will work in most situations, “But you’ll still get the pushback,” this fleet manager said. In a case like this, “I’ll ask them to try the approved vehicle for one or two months, then let's talk.”

In another instance, a driver contended his height (6’ 9”) prevented him from driving the largest full-size SUVs the company offers. The fleet manager made the decision to test this assumption by meeting the employee at a work event with the large SUV in question to try it out. Sure enough, the driver couldn’t fit comfortably in the vehicle. “His knees were in the dashboard,” he said. 

The fleet manager switched the driver to a full-size pickup and dealt with this sticky situation with grace and tact, with guardrails in place, and internal customer service in mind. 

There are new gray areas as it relates to driving under the influence of marijuana. With newfound legality, enforcement is evolving and varies state by state. The psychoactive component of marijuana, THC, can stay in the bloodstream for days after. 

More tricky situations: A driver could be pulled over, test positive, and get a citation, but not have smoked for two days. Should the driver serve a short suspension? Does your policy reflect this new environment? 

Strategizing the “What Ifs”

In cases involving law enforcement and multiple parties, the facts come in stages. There is a need to strategize on “what-ifs” based on the information at present and the information they’ll need to obtain.

In the DUI case, the employee refused a breathalyzer test, so blood alcohol concentration couldn’t be determined. The fleet manager didn’t have the police report yet. Regarding the employee failing to mention the citation to the FMC, perhaps the FMC didn’t take down all the information properly? 

It’s the fleet manager’s job to dig in further and double verify with the FMC. “You're going to become your own private investigator and try to gather the facts without pointing fingers,” the fleet manager said, particularly with as a potential lawsuit looms. “The onus falls on me to find out who's telling the truth.”

This is Risk Management 101: If you terminate in this case, but you don’t in another, how will that inconsistency create future problems? If you don’t terminate, what future potential liabilities lie ahead that could be catastrophic?  

Ask Yourself These Questions

Again, it’s all about defining your guardrails and honing your customer service. The fleet manager suggests answering these questions as a way to prepare for dealing with these sticky situations, which range from the commonplace to the extreme: 

  • Why does a person want to use the service I provide? Is it because I act as a consultant, having in-depth knowledge as a subject-matter expert? 
  • Do I make great business decisions, understanding the balance of time, resources, and people management? 
  • Am I a great negotiator or collaborator? 
  • Am I a person who gets things done? 
  • Do I have good character qualities of integrity, reliability, dependability, and responsibility? 
  • Do people look up to me as a leader? 
  • The bottom line, he said, is to ask the question, “What is the package that I bring to the table that makes people want to do business with me?”

As of now, the situation with the DUI has not been resolved. But the fleet manager has a plan in place to confidently produce the fair, constructive, and equitable outcome.

About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, Fleet Forward, and Business Fleet, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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