A best-in-class fleet operation has excellent interdepartmental relationships. However, this is getting harder to achieve in today’s fiscally constrained environment. Nowadays, not only is fleet experiencing budgetary shortfalls, but so too is every other user department, and to a lesser degree, police and fire. Even in the best of times, interdepartmental friction is an unfortunate fact of life, but as a professional fleet manager, your job is to minimize it.
Today, every department is looking to stretch scarce budget dollars, and this sometimes occurs at the expense of other departments with whom they interact. In many cases, it’s obvious that fleet chargeback rates are insufficient, yet user departments resist allowing these charges to increase. Although users are cognizant of fleet’s budget constraints, some continue to be hypercritical and extremely vocal when they do not receive the same level of service they were accustomed to during the pre-recession period. From fleet’s perspective, some user departments have not made sacrifices proportionate to the sacrifices made by fleet operations. User departments expect fleet to provide the same level of service with less funding, but are unwilling to make any quid-pro-quo adjustments on their part. In today’s fiscal environment, this is the root cause for many instances of interdepartmental friction. One consequence to these ongoing money issues (or, more precisely, the lack thereof), is a misperception by some user departments that there has been a service level degradation by fleet operations. What they tend to overlook is that as capital budgets have shrunk, there has been an across-the-board aging of assets. Under-staffed fleet techs are being forced to maintain an increasing number of older vehicles, prone to lengthier repairs and increased downtime.
Fleet’s Core Mission is to Support User Departments
To be an effective fleet manager, you need to listen to all user departments, especially the squeaky wheels, and understand objectives. It is important to regularly survey your customers to determine their needs, wants, and expectations of fleet operations. An unhappy customer represents a deficiency in your department’s performance. However, as a reality check, it is also important for fleet operations to be cost-efficient by tempering unwarranted user department demands. As the fleet manager, you are the guardian of taxpayers’ dollars. If user department problems are identified, seek to resolve them in a timely manner. This isn’t just for interdepartmental harmony; rather, it is a dollar-and-cents decision, because customer service has a dollar value associated with it. Every hour of downtime costs your organization real dollars in lost productivity. What is your comeback rate? What percent of jobs are completed in one day? On the other hand, there also needs to be user accountability. This includes ongoing education regarding the proper operation and care of equipment, with the ability to track abuse.
Sometimes chronic service deficiencies are the consequence of an unrealistic service level agreement. A common mistake made in developing a service level agreement is overpromising to the customer departments. Many service level agreements fail because the fleet manager didn’t involve the day-to-day supervisory management staff who has to meet these performance standards. Sometimes, downtime standards are guaranteed to a customer department that the shop simply can’t deliver. In today’s environment, fleet managers need to balance in-house service with the use of outside service providers. However, in the final analysis, outsourcing can never be a substitute for an in-house technician who is personally invested in ensuring optimal uptime for all equipment and assets.
Implementing a Team Approach to Solving Problems
It is important to remember the reason fleet operations exist is to support user departments. Admittedly, one or two of these customers (or elected officials) are such a pain that they can make early retirement seem like an attractive career option. But I say this in jest, because these squeaky wheels are the minority. In reality, the overwhelming majority of users appreciate the services provided by fleet and view it as being integral to accomplishing their mission.
Creating a beneficial relationship with a contentious user is not a one-way street, with all the give coming from fleet. User departments must be active partners in meeting management mandates to modify fleet composition, reduce fuel consumption, and increase utilization levels. It is difficult to change an entrenched end-user culture to be open to alternatives, such as downsizing to smaller vehicles and eliminating under-utilized assets. These changes invariably require direct involvement by senior management.
Fleet managers must be good business managers, finding creative solutions to operate with less, while not degrading taxpayer services. Although difficult, solutions are possible when using a team approach involving both fleet and affected user groups.
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