I was recently struck by an observation related to me by Tim King, a fleet consultant, who is also a retired 30-year fleet manager. Below is his observation:

“Many fleets are part of a larger organization; whether it’s a private corporation or a public entity. For most of these, the fleet has always been the default service provider. As a result, many have never given any thought to the prospect of competition. This has created a culture best exemplified by the use of the term "users" to describe customers. Historically, and even for some fleets today, this continues to be a technically accurate term. However, in the context of an increasingly competitive business environment, it is increasingly problematic and poses unseen risks.”

The above quote is an excellent observation on the part of Tim King. I would like to build upon this observation to state that I totally agree and believe that fleet managers must reassess their mindset when dealing with drivers. Ask yourself: Do you view drivers as customers or as users? I often catch myself referring to drivers as users, but this is a wrong way to categorize them.

If you think this is nothing more than semantics, then you have the wrong mindset. The driver is a customer to whom you are providing a customer service. Promising good customer service is not the same as delivering it. To be successful, it is critical to foster a fleet culture that provides high-quality service with an unwavering focus on the customer. Not only does this entail understanding customer needs, wants, and expectations, it involves having an almost obsessive desire to fulfill them.

Some fleet managers have an adversarial relationship with drivers. These internal customers aren’t your nemesis. In order to develop a service mindset, you need to view work from the customers’ perspectives. Define your functions with the customer in mind. The fleet manager is responsible for creating a fleet culture that values all internal customers, even difficult ones.

Develop a Customer Service Mindset

To build a customer service mindset, you must employ both formal and informal metrics to measure progress. Solicit regular feedback from customers using customer surveys, but also use informal methods as simple as conversations (What can we improve?) or direct observations. These informal methods will alert you to service deficiencies. By not using informal metrics, you run the risk of detaching yourself from customer-related issues.

You must communicate service standards to ensure everyone in the organization understands what are acceptable levels of service. Use e-mail, staff meetings, and one-on-one conversations to continually reinforce the high customer service standards you’ve set for fleet operations. You need to constantly recommunicate this message so that it becomes part of fleet's everyday operating procedures. However, a customer-service mindset is created by actions, not words. E-mails and presentations that tout “best-in-class service” don't mean a thing unless your fleet organization lives, breathes, and delivers this customer service.

The most important (and perhaps most difficult) task is to develop a customer service mindset. You need to be excited about customer service and to be passionate about satisfying others. The internal customer is your No. 1 priority. However, the most important aspect to customer service is consistency. Consistent customer service means the departments and drivers you support and service will be complaining less and complimenting you more.

Talk the Talk & Walk the Walk

Internal customers are too often treated as a captive audience that can be dictated to and shown less respect. However, it is important to remember that the reason fleet departments exist is to support customer departments. Customer service has a dollar value associated with it. For example, every hour of downtime costs your organization real dollars in lost productivity. As a fleet manager, you are a crucial component to the company’s success.

Establishing a customer-service mindset within your fleet organization creates customers satisfied with your services. Nothing creates more credibility for your team than for senior management to hear departments compliment you on the quality of customer service they receive. But to earn the praise, you must talk the talk and walk the walk. Customer-focused fleet managers are goal setters. They are goal-oriented in all aspects of fleet management and employ metrics to continually benchmark productivity, vehicle downtime, fleet utilization, and effective management of both fixed and operating costs. These fleet managers are committed to achieving specific results and govern their operations with these results in mind. Another important point is that fleet is ever-changing and customer-focused fleet managers must be willing to adapt to change instead of fighting it.

Customer service has long been the metric used to measure the effectiveness of a fleet operation. However, customer service is more than making statements, it requires making customer service a living, breathing daily part of your organization. If it wasn’t for the needs of your customers – the drivers – there wouldn’t be a need for a fleet manager. This is an important fact to remember.

Almost every fleet organization has a mission statement. Take a moment to candidly reflect on this question: Do you practice what you preach in your mission statement?

Let me know what you think.

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About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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