Working for the government may be a bit different than your average nine-to-five, but it doesn’t mean you can downplay the importance of customer service. Charlotte Ashcraft, director of fleet management for Franklin County, Ohio, knows that although her department’s customers are other government workers, they are still valued clients. This mentality is reflected in every decision she makes to help make her team the best it can be.
Making the Right Calls
Ashcraft oversees a fleet of about 500 vehicles, all of which are owned by commissioners and managed by the fleet department.
“Even though our customers are the sheriff's office, economic development, and animal control, they still drive our vehicles. We're ultimately the ones responsible for how those perform. Our main purpose here is to keep all of our customers on the road so they can do their job,” she explains.
If fleet has to juggle vehicles around to make sure their customers can help the citizens of the county, they make it happen.
She is currently working on the budget for next year, which she finds to be the most fun part of what she does.
“When it comes to staying within the budget, it’s one big prioritization puzzle, especially now with COVID-19 budget cuts. I have to figure out who's going to have to keep what they have, even if I want to replace it.”
Learning from the calls she makes helps her improve year after year. “There are many variables that go into making the decision to replace a vehicle, even down to who drives it.”
The biggest challenge she has faced in her career occurred when the department implemented a fleet-wide telematics system in 2015. Drivers were originally skeptical of how the data being collected would be used.
“I kept trying to explain to them what we were doing from a fleet perspective. I care more about how the car is working than I do about tracking where they are going. It’s been tough being able to sell it to them in a way that doesn’t make it sound like they are being watched by Big Brother 24/7,” she says.
The fleet department needs to know when check engine lights come on and other vital information telematics provide that enable them to extend the life of a vehicle. The data also helps Ashcraft creates replacement plans.
“It's not to catch you doing something you're not supposed to. It's just to make sure the cars are running properly. It’s always about the car, never the driver. The technology in these cars these days is just amazing; we needed to leverage that to do a better job.”
Implementing New Fleet Software
One of the projects the department has been working on since the beginning of 2020 is implementing a new fleet management system called Fleetio. With it, all drivers can download an app that will allow them to make appointments easier and report any accidents right on their phone.
“To this day, we still kill trees with the paperwork that's involved going back and forth from person to person. It’s really not necessary with the technology we have now. We need the information, but it doesn’t have to be on a piece of paper.”
Staff is taking time to get accustomed to it, and will be rolling it out when they are extremely well-versed in all of the available features.
One of the lessons Ashcraft has learned during her time as a fleet manager is it’s important to really get to know the strengths of your team.
“When people think of the traditional mechanic, they conjure this image of a grease monkey. Fleet mechanics have a knowledge set and skills that are far more advanced than the cliché would have you believe. People are often shocked at what we do and say ‘wow, you guys do all of this?’ Our team is capable of everything you can think of and a lot more. Do you realize how many computers are in a car? There's a lot more to this than you think.”