Balancing Customer Service & Fleet Goals

September 4, 2015

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Fleet professionals need to find a balance between customer service and optimal fleet management. Unhappy customers can look for service elsewhere. However, if your next audit talks about the city’s excessive fleet size (because customers got to keep all the vehicles they wanted, for example), it’s blamed on inefficient management.

In compiling this year’s list of “Bright Ideas,” I’m impressed by the improvements fleets are making at their operations, many with the goal of providing better customer service.

Going Beyond the Expected

When public agencies consider outsourcing maintenance, they may cite a labor rate that seems excessively high, or a perceived poor quality of service. One point that is often brought up by those not in the industry is the comparison to the “quick lube” down the street that costs $20 and takes 30 minutes.

There are many reasons why a “simple oil change” costs a fleet customer more than $20, but why not try to provide the drop-in service customers request? From our list of “Bright Ideas,” you’ll read about the City and County of Denver’s initiative to provide a drop-in quick-lube service. This addresses its customers’ request, and it also provides drivers with waiting options that are much more useful than donuts and some magazines — or scrolling through Facebook on a smartphone. Customers can check out a short-term loaner vehicle, walk to a nearby building for a meeting, or work at an available computer that’s connected to the City and County’s computer system. This convenient system means drivers are more likely to bring their vehicles in, which helps the fleet ensure vehicles are well maintained.

An idea we heard about last year was to reduce the cost of preventive maintenance services to incentivize customers to come in. Of course, the fleet’s cost to operate is the same, and management has to juggle around its budget to make sure it recoups enough costs, but this at least addresses customer concerns about reduced costs for simpler services.

Another idea a fleet implemented is changing its shop hours to better accommodate customers. The Ohio State University fleet changed its automotive shop hours from opening at 7 a.m. to opening at 5 a.m. Technicians dedicate these first two hours to preventive maintenance — that means any vehicle dropped off in the afternoon for maintenance will be ready and waiting when the driver gets in at 7 a.m. Will your local quick-lube shop do that for its customers?

The City of Tulsa, Okla., worked for months with the IT department to create a real-time status board online for customers so they could see at any time if their vehicles were ready for pick-up.

The City of Houston is making sure air conditioning units in fire trucks, which often broke down, become part of the preventive maintenance program so firefighters don’t have to sit in overheated vehicles while they race to and from a fire.

I’m sure there are stories every single day of fleets improving their customer service. We often talk about how important the customer is in fleet management, but hearing these stories emphasizes the fact that fleet departments really look out for their user departments.

When to Say No

Customer service, however, doesn’t necessarily mean always giving in to customer demands. There are some requests customers make that fleet managers usually won’t approve, such as keeping underutilized and unnecessary vehicles or purchasing a bigger or more luxurious car than what’s needed.

If it doesn’t make sense for your operation, no matter what the customer says, the best business decision is to say no.

How have you improved customer service at your fleet? What are some requests you’ve refused?

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  1. 1. Allen Mitchell [ September 08, 2015 @ 11:55AM ]

    Well said Thi.

    In my opinion, the fleet organization only exists to the extent that customer departments are well-served. To provide that service, PM must be performed on time and at convenient hours. Costs need to be under control and equal to or less than competitors' costs. Reports should provide all the information customers need for decision making and they should be readily available through usual organizational IT department menus. Exceeding customer expectations is another route to customer service.

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Author Bio

Thi Dao

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Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.

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