It’s often said that knowledge is power. For fleet professionals who don’t always have the time to learn by trial and error, knowledge can mean everything. It’s the difference between spending time reinventing the wheel and instantly putting best practices into play.
The term “best practices” refers to using the method available that has provided superior, or “best,” results over time compared to other methods.
Generally, best practice techniques are derived from benchmarking data across an industry. Benchmarking is the means of evaluating or comparing the way one manages a project to others in a particular industry.
Solid benchmarking data is invaluable for fleets. Data is constantly being collected on everything from the use of alternative fuels to what comprises a company’s safety policy. Comprehensive and unbiased benchmarking data can be purchased from companies, such as Utilimarc®, but fleets can also collect valuable benchmarking data on their own through the use of surveys.
The Internet has made it extremely easy for fleets to create and conduct their own surveys. In addition to the process being rather simple, data is collected much faster, and is available for analysis much sooner than the traditional, paper-based surveys of the past.
Choosing an Online Survey
Survey websites, such as surveymonkey.com, freeonlinesurveys.com, kwiksurveys.com, and eSurveysPro.com, are effective, fast, and inexpensive ways to create an online survey. Many even offer the ability — albeit generally limited — to create surveys for free. If sophisticated analysis tools or comprehensive survey designs are needed, this will most likely require paying for additional services; however, if the fleet’s company has an in-house computer programmer, it may make sense to develop a survey program from scratch, which would allow for more customization and features than an online site will offer.
The first step in creating a survey is developing the questions. This is one of the most important steps in the process. Begin by narrowing down the topic. Shorter, more direct, and to the point surveys will generally get the best results. Always remember that participants have busy schedules; don’t ask questions unrelated to the main goal.
Equally important is making sure questions do not appear biased, giving the impression the survey is aiming for a certain, obvious result. If the goal is to seek best practices for an industry, avoiding any hint of it is critical.
Finding Survey Participants
Survey results will reflect the participants involved, so it’s important to invite the “right” people. A good way to approach this is by taking a look at the information you hope to collect. Does it pertain to a certain geographic area? A certain type of fleet? If it’s regional, you could invite people from the local NAFA chapter or State Chamber of Commerce, for example.
For particular types of fleet, turn to trade associations within that field. If it’s national, ask your fleet management company for suggestions or look toward the Internet. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for fleet managers with dozens of fleet-related groups available to reach fleet professionals quickly. NAFA Fleet Management Association, Automotive Fleet magazine, and the Fleet Management Forum are three examples of LinkedIn groups worth exploring. There are also groups for specific topics, such as telematics, safety, and leasing.
Just join a group and post an open invitation to the survey and it’s likely to get a good response.
Analyzing the Data
The final step is to analyze the data, which isn’t as difficult as it sounds. There are two main ways to approach data analysis.
One is to focus on ways the data proves what the fleet is doing is correct or in line with the rest of the industry. For example, if you believe the fleet’s safety policy should forbid all cell-phone use in a vehicle — whether in motion or standing still — and the majority of respondents say their policies do just that, you will have gained data to support your premise. Likewise, if seeking to change the organization’s approach, you can use the data to signify that there is a need for change.
The other method is to seek out current trends in the industry. To do this, look for something that stands out as out of the ordinary. For example, when conducting a survey on cell-phone policies, if it is discovered that a significant number of the participants were using cell-phone blocking equipment in their vehicles, this might indicate a trend taking place within the industry. Look for numbers or percentages that appear to be the opposite of what is initially expected.
Surveys can be excellent tools for managing a fleet, if used correctly. Pick a topic and give it a try!
About the Author
Gary Wien is the communications manager for NAFA Fleet Management Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.