By Mike Antich

The primary job of a public sector fleet manager is managing assets and the services provided to user departments. However, as every fleet manager can attest, as much as 60 percent of the work week is consumed by personnel management. In many respects, people management (staff and interdepartmental) is harder than asset management.

How you deal with "people" issues influences shop morale, user department relationships, and management's opinion of your effectiveness as a fleet manager. Successful people management translates into higher technician productivity, improved operational efficiencies, and improved customer service.

However, in today's environment, it is harder to keep morale up with employees fearful for their jobs, in a no-pay raise environment. Stress levels are up at shops around the country, which decreases productivity at a time when you need to get more out of your staff.

Although you may "think you already know" what is on the minds of your employees, encourage your staff to feel free to express ideas and concerns to you. You may be surprised at what you hear. Listen to not only what they say, but how they say it. Encourage constructive feedback. Adopt an open-door policy and let your staff know their comments will be held in confidence. You should continually gauge the job satisfaction of your staff. The first rule is to get out of your chair and walk the shop. Observe what's going on in the shop and in the yard. Talk with your technicians. When legitimate complaints are brought to your attention from the shop floor, support your team by addressing them with management. The best way to resolve problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Let associates know you are receptive to new ideas to improve fleet operations. Encourage creativity and innovation, which is extremely important in maintaining high levels of customer service.

Gardening vs. Manufacturing

Customer service is more akin to "gardening" than to "manufacturing." You can't "manufacture" customer service; you need to "cultivate" customer service. A hallmark of a best-in-class fleet operation is excellent interdepartmental relationships. This is something cultivated over time. An effective fleet manager listens to user departments. You need to know your customers' objectives. It is important to regularly survey customers to determine the needs, wants, and expectations of fleet operations. If you are not meeting these needs and expectations, then you've failed as a fleet operation. It is important for fleet operations to be cost-efficient and to temper unwarranted user department demands, but an unhappy customer represents a deficiency in your department's performance. You need to identify emerging end-user issues before they become major issues. You need to document downtime, cost issues, and customer-perceived lack of performance. When collecting this information, ask the customer department to substantiate whatever they can in writing. Conduct a work-order analysis to determine the validity of these issues.

Customer service has a dollar value associated with it. For example, every hour of downtime costs your organization real dollars in lost productivity. It is extremely important to discuss service standards with your staff. They need to hear this from you, not read it in a manual. It is important to explain your management objectives to all team members. Explain how each staff member fits into the bigger picture of what fleet operations is seeking to accomplish. You'd be surprised how many technicians do not have a good understanding of the organization's overall goals and how much they appreciate being included in these discussions. It is critical that technicians understand the mission of fleet operations. You need to constantly re-communicate this message so that it becomes part of fleet's everyday operating procedures. However, a departmental customer-service mindset is created by actions, not words. Memos and presentations that tout "best-in-class service" don't mean a thing unless your fleet organization lives, breathes, and delivers this customer service.

Unfortunately, internal customers are too often treated as a captive audience that can be dictated. Technicians must understand that internal customers aren't their nemeses. It is important to remember the reason fleet departments exist is to support customer departments.
Establishing Customer Service Metrics

Customer service has long been the measure that we "live or die" by in this business. As fleet manager, you have to understand service technicians aren't the first line of defense in raising the customer service bar - you are. The fleet manager is responsible for creating a shop culture that values internal customers, even difficult ones. As a leader, your success is based on making your team customer-oriented.

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 and direct observations. These informal methods will alert you to service deficiencies. You also need a way to measure and manage customer service. Unfortunately, people are more often likely to do what you "inspect," rather than what you "expect." Nevertheless, by not using metrics, you run the risk of detaching yourself from customer-related issues.

To be successful in today's difficult work environment, it is more critical than ever to create a shop culture providing high-quality service that focus on the customer, regardless of the circumstances. To develop a customer service mindset, you must view work from the customers' perspectives. Nothing creates more credibility for your team than for senior management to hear other departments compliment you on the quality of customer service they receive. But to receive the praise, you must earn it.

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Mike Antich
Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

View Bio