Take a look at the mission statement for some of the nation’s largest fleets and typically there will be a proclamation that goes something like, “we strive to provide the highest level of service to our fleet customers.” But ask many fleet managers how they measure customer satisfaction, and they might be hard pressed to give a black and white answer. Ask the right fleet manager, however, and he or she will be able to spout statistics: “We have an average satisfaction rating of 87 percent,” or “We’ve increased customer satisfaction by an average of 2.5 percent for each of the past four years.” Whether it’s customer satisfaction, fleet efficiency, or total cost of ownership, credibility comes with having hard metrics to back up claims of success. In fact, metrics are the “golden nugget” that enhance a fleet manager’s credibility to managers, colleagues, and customers. And the good news is, collecting metrics is easy. What is a Metric?
A metric is a quantifiable and repeatable standard of measurement. For instance, a fleet’s motor pool management might track common metrics such as the number of vehicles in the fleet, the ratio of assigned vehicles to pooled vehicles, the utilization rate for a particular type of vehicle, or the number of rejected requests for vehicles. Each of these values can be measured, and the result can be expressed in a discrete number. Karen Gerlach, director of student activities at American University, says the university’s fleet primarily uses metrics to determine whether they operate the right number of vehicles in their motor pool. Even with a small fleet of nine vans, the motor pool is better able to meet the needs of students and staff who request vehicles. Metrics Build Benchmarks
Metrics are great, but benchmarks are even better. Benchmarks are a standard by which things can be measured. Note the subtle difference between a metric and a benchmark: Benchmarks are trends or comparisons in metrics. For example, in one month 100 available vehicles are recorded — that’s a metric. Another metric is the number of available fleet vehicles the following month, say, 95. When those metrics are compared, that’s a benchmark. Based upon this benchmark, a fleet manager knows there’s been a 5-percent decrease in fleet size. Essentially, metrics are most valuable when they are compared to another metric or benchmark. At American University, Gerlach tracks the overall utilization of the motor pool on a daily basis, as well as the average utilization throughout each month. Starting with the total number of fleet vehicles, she then subtracts the number of unavailable vehicles (e.g., vehicles are out for maintenance). Next, she looks at the number of vehicles dispatched or used that day. Using these values, Gerlach can determine the pool’s rate of utilization. Gerlach also tracks utilization by the number of total available vehicle hours. If 10 vehicles are available and the motor pool operates on a 12-hour day (the user can pick up the vehicle by 7 a.m., but it must be returned by 7 p.m.), there is a total of 120 hours of vehicle time each day. By analyzing the total number of daily vehicle-use hours, Gerlach knows whether reservations are short or long. (Figure 1) If reservations are short, multiple reservations can be “stacked” on a smaller population of vehicles, meeting overall demand with fewer vehicles. That’s an opportunity to reduce the number of vehicles in the pool. Gerlach can then use a program to run a vehicle utilization report providing utilization by vehicle over a specified period of time. “By running the report, we can identify underused vehicles that may be candidates for disposal. Our ‘Aging by Miles’ report tells us if the vehicle hasn’t been hitting the mileage thresholds that we established for it,” Gerlach said. click here to view Figure 1 The Benefits of Metrics and Benchmarking
Why capture metrics and then benchmark? By doing so, a fleet manager can demonstrate the fleet’s improved performance. Benchmarking can even help verify the manager’s own performance. For example, at the end of the year, when a fleet manager’s supervisor asks what he’s done for her lately, he’ll have some great answers: “I’ve increased vehicle utilization by 12 percent, reduced dedicated staffing for the motor pool by 60 percent, and have seven fewer SUVs in the fleet, and I still meet our customers’ needs.” Metrics help bolster the case for increasing fleet size to a reluctant management. Use metrics-based statements such as “The number of unfulfilled vehicle requests was up 125 percent from the same period last year.” Would it make an impact to state that utilization peaked out at 100 percent 11 days in the past month alone, or that driver-to-vehicle ratio is 22:1 compared to a industry standard of 15:1? {+PAGEBREAK+} Hard numbers are difficult to resist; using metrics to benchmark can yield powerful leverage and improved results. Ed Smith, president of Agile Access Control, says, “I spoke to a fleet manager recently who analyzed data and found that vehicles coming back from repairs were waiting an average of seven days to be inspected before returning to service. Think of that — a vehicle out of service just sitting in the parking lot for seven days!” Gerlach sees many benefits quantifying and measuring fleet operations. “By tracking metrics and benchmarking, we can determine the right size of our fleet and the right mix of vehicles,” she says. Gerlach’s motor pool has seven 12-passenger vans, one accessible van, and one 6-passenger minivan. If they don’t have enough vehicles or the right type of vehicles, users aren’t satisfied. If they have too many vehicles, they incur unnecessary costs. “If we don’t have the right types of vehicles, then a portion of our fleet may be sitting idle,” she says. “If we don’t have the right types of vehicles, our users may rent from an outside car rental agency and, thus, cost the university more money.” By carefully tracking the numbers, Gerlach avoids each of these pitfalls. And she sees benefits, too. “We use Agile Access Control’s FleetCommander software for our nine-vehicle fleet, which is a student-run van transportation service called AUTO,” she explains. “The metrics are helpful to both the student AUTO staff, primarily for financial justifications of budget allocations, and to university staff (myself and my staff) for contextual information.” Ingredients for Getting Started
If metrics and benchmarks are so powerful, why doesn’t everyone use them? Smith thinks he knows the answer. His company developed FleetCommander, a fleet and motor pool management system. “I can guarantee you that if your metrics program does not have these three ingredients, it will not be a success: ease, value, and desire,” he says. “If collecting metrics is not easy, it will be perceived as a burden and it won’t happen. If people are tasked to collect metrics and the data is suspect, or not used in a timely manner, they will perceive that the metrics program is not valuable. And finally, if management and the fleet staff don’t desire to have metrics tell the true story about their fleet, then the program stands little chance of success.” Gerlach offers the following advice for novice metrics collectors: “Choose the metrics that allow you to make decisions that benefit everyone. Decide what metrics are important to the organization and involve internal departments (finance, reservations, maintenance, etc.) in these decisions,” she says. “Make sure everyone is on board and knows the importance of the metrics. Metrics are useless unless valid data is collected and entered into the system.” To demonstrate the value of metrics and benchmarks to staff and management, start small and grow. Choose one area of fleet to focus on initially and start with something that will most likely have a positive outcome. Customer satisfaction is usually relatively simple to measure and is a good jumping-off point. If the fleet/motor pool management software has an automated feedback function, use it. If no automated tool is available, use paper to generate a customer feedback form and plot results in a spreadsheet program, such as Microsoft Excel. Many of Smith’s customers use Agile FleetCommander fleet and motor pool management software each month to automatically e-mail a link to an online customer feedback survey. This software lets the user send the form only to persons who have used the motor pool. The results are automatically tallied, and the user can see trends in customer satisfaction ratings. The ultimate key to getting started is to simply start somewhere. Customer feedback metrics like those illustrated in Figure 2 are fairly straightforward to collect and understand. Other metrics such as fleet utilization rates may not be as straightforward. When considering vehicle utilization, what is the most important metric to track — the number of days per month a car is used, the number of trips taken, or the number of miles driven? Or is utilization as a percentage of billable hours the right metric to track? There is no right answer for everyone — each metric may be appropriate in different environments. So, start simple and then define where to go next. The beauty of technology these days is that collecting metrics is easy. Modern fleet and motor pool management systems capture metrics as a normal course of business. When performing routine tasks such as dispatching a vehicle or performing an inspection, small “nibbles” of data are collected that tell a great story. “We use Agile Access Control’s FleetCommander software to track metrics and to perform benchmarking. It has made the process tremendously easy,” Gerlach says. “Our user population makes the vehicle request over the Internet directly into the application. Our fleet dispatcher only needs to approve the vehicle request. We track when the vehicle leaves campus and when it returns. At the end of the month, we can easily run a motor pool utilization report.” Click here to view Figure 2 Once you’ve started collecting metrics and realizing the benefits, do not stop there. Collecting and analyzing metrics should be a continuous process. Fleet managers should constantly evaluate whether there are additional metrics to capture. Proactive fleet managers will even look for benchmarks from outside of their organizations. Want a real challenge? Swap fleet benchmarks with colleagues in a similar fleet environment. Or compare yourself to industry benchmarks published by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) or other fleet associations. “Benchmarking definitely needs to be done,” Gerlach says. “By tracking metrics, you know exactly your fleet’s utilization. You’ll have a much better sense of your fleet. And, you’ll have metrics to prove it.”